Glasgow City Council has a keen sense, it seems, of what is or might be controversial. When the rest of us imagine that a handful of words to mark a long-distant historical event could never be more than anodyne, the council is alert to the affliction of controversy. It is a condition to be avoided at all costs.

Still, what have we here? As we reported yesterday, the Scottish National Party group on the council drew up a motion to mark the centenary of Ireland’s Easter Rising and the role of Scots in that affair. According to the SNP, one of the council's most senior officials exerted pressure to have certain words removed. That’s interesting.

A council spokesman says instead that officers merely “advised the group to consider whether the motion could be regarded as controversial, and whether that would risk the meaning of the motion being understood”. That’s also interesting.

For one thing, when a phrase such as “could be regarded” is used, you first note what’s missing. By whom? For Ireland, the 1916 commemorations could hardly matter more. A failed insurrection is central to the creation story of a modern state with which the United Kingdom these days has the friendliest relations. The president comes to dine; the Queen goes to visit; long-denied memories of the 1914-18 war are restored. These facts are not controversial.

What might cause controversy, if anyone had a mind, is the apparent attitude of senior people within the council towards the 1916 Rising Centenary Committee (Scotland). The SNP’s suggested motion – Labour seems to want its own – was in part to support a year-long series of events. There will also be a book, Scotland and the Easter Rising, to which (if the disclosure counts as controversial) I have contributed a small chapter.

All of it is part of an attempt by the Irish government to involve a vast diaspora in the 1916 commemorations. The governments of Scotland and the UK are also supportive. The governments of the United States, Australia, and many others besides, will be adding fine words in Dublin next Easter. From which quarter, then, does Glasgow City Council fear controversy? Or is that, still, one of those things I’m supposed to know without being told?

One sentence in the SNP motion is a source of dispute. There is a further argument over which words were questioned (though not over the fact that questions were raised). According to the SNP, the line scrubbed under pressure was “Irish Republicanism at this time [1916] was also heavily linked with both the labour movement in Ireland and the push for women’s suffrage”.

In our report, Sir Tom Devine cleared this up. Anyone troubled by a single word in that sentence has a difficulty: it’s all true. Any klaxons going off over “Irish Republicanism” can be disconnected. Those inclined to fear controversy, and those liable to ensure a controversy, can apply to the historical record. Failing that, for now, there’s me.

Many more Scots than Scotland knows played parts in the Rising. Only James Connolly signed the proclamation of the republic. He also, as “commandant-general”, directed military operations in Dublin during the insurrection and was executed by the British Army for his pains. One of his socialist verses said “We only want to earth”, but you can’t have everything. One reason I know these things is that Connolly’s brother John was my great-grandfather.

I know a bit more. If Glasgow City Council, or its Labour majority, fear controversy at the mention of republicanism and Ireland’s labour movement, they should take it up with the Irish Labour Party. Connolly founded that, with James Larkin and William O’Brien, at Clonmel in Tipperary in 1912. Is there a chance that Ireland’s Labour Party would find the fact controversial? Or would they be offended that anyone would even make the suggestion?

Somehow I doubt that Irish trade unions would be more forgiving. Connolly was the Belfast secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, forerunner of the modern SIPTU, when a Labour party began to seem like a good idea. In 1913, he and Larkin were ring-leaders – as they said even then – during a six-month lock-out when employers decided to eradicate the transport union.

Here the words “Irish Republicanism” become interesting if not, or not to historians, controversial. When Larkin was off in America trying to raise funds, Connolly became acting general secretary of the transport union. In 1914, he also took charge of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a militia of union members founded by himself and a fascinating character called Jack White as a self-defence force against police who behaved as the employers’ private thugs. The ICA, born of the transport union, was Connolly’s contribution to the Rising. For SIPTU, even today, there is no controversy in the fact, just pride.

James, mostly self-taught, wrote a lot. One legend says he first wrote on scraps of paper with a blackened stick from the fire. Another goes that he loved Shakespeare but could never afford to see a professional performance. It’s known that he had a reading command of several European languages. His internationalism even led him – let’s call it endearing – to study Esperanto. Historians who know anything will advise, nevertheless, that this Scot was one of the major Marxist intellectuals of his or any age. Has that become controversial in 21st Scotland?

My own fondness is for words that still sound spontaneous. So: “the push for women’s suffrage”? Here’s James in 1913 sending a message of support to English suffragettes when even the notion of votes for women courted “controversy”: “When trimmers and compromisers disavow you, I, a poor slum-bred politician, raise my hat in thanksgiving that I lived to see this resurgence of women”.

In the history books, under Connolly’s name, his founding of the Irish Socialist Republican |Party (ISRP) is often mentioned. James, to be fair, founded more than a few parties and unions. If it helps anyone within the council, he was in at the birth of something called a Scottish Labour Party long before Keir Hardie achieved anything. In America, there is no history of the International Workers of the World (“the Wobblies”) without Connolly. But his 1896 programme for the ISRP would pass for controversial even now.

Nationalisation of railways (and canals)? Of banks? Progressive income tax? Reducing the working week? “Free maintenance” for all children? Agrarian reform? Or how about “Free education up to the highest university grades”? And – point 10th and last – universal suffrage. All of this in 1896.

I doubt Connolly often worried about “the meaning of the motion being understood”. For my part, I am familiar with Edinburgh’s willed amnesia where his name is concerned. Blacklisted into unemployment by the capital’s council bosses, he had trouble enough with city fathers. Even he might have drawn breath, though, at Glasgow having a fit of nerves over events from a century back.

If a friendly Irish government honours Scots, what’s Scotland’s remaining problem? Or am I just supposed to know? Perhaps I’ll get my answer when the Glasgow City Council Labour group puts every one of those disputed, factual words into its own statement. Why would it do otherwise?