LIKE many people from Northern Ireland, my wife and I chose to leave our country to escape the Troubles. Both of us grew up in the 1970s and 80s. Murder, terror, hatred and sectarianism were the themes of our childhood. By the mid-90s, the idea of raising a family in Northern Ireland was unconscionable. We wanted a new life for our children, a better one than we’d had.

We came to Glasgow, and it immediately felt like home. Both of us quickly fell in love with Scotland. We’ve long considered ourselves adopted Scots. Our two daughters are Scottish to their core. That makes us very proud. There’s much to admire about this country and its people.

When we arrived, new Scottish friends thought it funny that we’d come to Glasgow to escape sectarianism. But to us, Rangers and Celtic and a few Orange and Republican flute bands and marches were almost laughable in themselves.

If that’s what the Scots called sectarianism, we thought, then we’d nothing to fear. Though we always wondered to ourselves: why the hell did the otherwise intelligent Scots accept this ugly hangover from Ireland in their society?

But to us all that mattered was that the orange and green yobs weren’t gunmen. Football hooliganism wasn’t political murder. Back then, Scottish sectarianism was so mild, in my eyes, compared to what had gone on back in Northern Ireland, that it was almost invisible to me. And it remained that way for a long time.

Now, though, something is stirring in the darkest recesses of Scotland’s soul and it’s ugly. At the weekend, we had yet another display of sectarian hatred imported from my country and played out on the streets of Glasgow. There were arrests and a police officer was injured after a Republican march and a Loyalist counter-demonstration clashed.

The parade was organised by the West of Scotland Band Alliance - ostensibly over Bloody Sunday. The far right National Defence League organised the counter protest. Hundreds of police were deployed. Missiles were thrown.

Back in August there was a riot in Govan when a similar scenario played out - a Republican flute band was met by Loyalist demonstrators. In September, a police officer was injured following two Republican marches and subsequent clashes with Loyalist protestors.

When it comes to the weekend marches, some will apportion more blame to Loyalists than Republicans because Bloody Sunday is seen as a good cause. I’d say this: calling for the truth about Bloody Sunday, and the prosecution of British soldiers involved in the murder of civilians, is the right thing to do. I support that fully. However, nobody needs lessons from Republican flute bands anymore than they do from extremist Loyalists. The messenger matters, not just the message.

And as so many people from Northern Ireland who now live in Scotland think: why are these marchers, on both sides, bringing the hatred of Ulster here? March if you like, but do so in Belfast or Derry.

I should lay my cards on the table. I come from a religiously mixed family, with a Catholic mother and Protestant father. I’m an atheist. When it comes to Northern Ireland I support neither side. However, politically, I do support the reunification of Ireland solely by democratic means. I detest the IRA as much as I detest the loyalist murder gangs that ruined my country.

I’ve also reported on the Troubles and the legacy of the Troubles my entire working life. Much of that work was about exposing crimes the British government committed. I hold a torch for no side. I’ve had guns pointed at my head as a reporter, and death threats. I’ve been attacked, kidnapped.

I know the type of people attracted to the kind of sectarian demonstration which is becoming more frequent and more daring in Scotland. They aren’t good people. They’re dangerous. The ideas in their heads shouldn’t be let loose in society.

Republican and loyalist extremists are in love with the romance of violence.

I said earlier that I love this country, and I do - that’s why I really fear the growing confidence and visibility of these people. They’ll take any opportunity to turn Scottish society into something dreadful.

Last week, two protestors heckled Nicola Sturgeon in Parliament, shouting: “How many support the IRA in your party?” The men were reportedly connected to the Progressive Unionist Party - which is linked to the UVF.

MSPs like the SNP’s John Mason and Conservative Murdo Fraser have added fuel to a fire that needs no kindling. Previously, Mason apologised for saying some see the IRA as ‘freedom fighters’, and Fraser referred to Rangers as ‘the Queen’s 11’. Only fools flirt with the Devil.

Recent years have taught us that anything can happen in politics. Extremists can emerge from the shadows before the public knows what’s happening.

In England, Brexit allowed extremist identities to flourish. Political opponents were disparaged as ‘traitors’ or ‘Nazis’. We need to guard very strongly against extremists trying to hijack the debate over Scottish independence.

Apart from some ugly scenes by loyalists in Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum, the constitutional schisms in Scotland have been remarkably decent.

However, those Republican and Loyalist extremists have been animated by the tensions between independence and the union. They’ll try to make this fertile ground for themselves. Scotland needs to stop them doing so at all cost.

Many friends of mine from Northern Ireland who live in Scotland would ban these marches outright. I support freedom of speech and assembly, however - although, not if it imperils public safety.

If these demonstrations are a risk to safety then ban them. Nor do these marchers have any right to parade through the city. They can find another place to march. If they wish to march in a particular community then it should be incumbent on Glasgow City Council to ask every member of that community if they’re happy with such a demonstration. If a majority of locals are happy, then let the demonstrators parade in a local park.

At every turn, box these extremists in, undermine them, challenge them, exhaust them - because these people want to take the society that I’ve come to love very dearly in Scotland and destroy it, just the way they destroyed Northern Ireland many years ago.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year