Up The Ra And All That

By Jim Slaven

It has now been a week since the SNP government passed their Offensive Behaviour Bill in the Scottish parliament. Since then much has been written and said about the draconian and anti free speech nature of that legislation. In essence people have been restating positions which were already well laid out in advance of the vote and not many minds, on either side of the debate, have been changed. If anything the last week has seen opinions become more entrenched as the language has become more intemperate. It is not my intention here to go over our opposition to the legislation all over again. Life is too short and many others, including many I usually disagree with, have done so far more eloquently than I could.

Now is the time turn our attention to some of the wider implication of this law for Scotland’s Irish community and particularly how this new law targets the interconnection between culture and politics for many Irish Scots.  It is by now very clear that this Bill is, at least in part, an attempt to drive any reference to the IRA out of public discourse in Scotland. From Salmond’s repeated references to ‘a terrorist organisation’ to the SPL directly linking offensive behaviour to groups proscribed under the British state’s Terrorism Act we can see who it is that is in the sights of the state. This law is aimed directly at the Irish community and instead of protecting a community which is up to six times more likely to be a victim of hate crimes than Scots Protestants, it is attempting to criminalise certain expressions of Irishness.

First of all it is obvious that the Irish community, by which I mean the ethnic, multi-generational group rather than those of Irish nationality, are not a homogenous group. Like other immigrant communities the Irish in Scotland are a complex, diverse (politically as well as economically) and often contradictory group. So, not all Irish Scots will be affected by this law. It follows therefore that the following analysis relates only to a section of that community, that section which identifies with radical republicanism and for many that means the IRA. It is a minority of the Irish community in Scotland for sure, but it is a larger minority than many Scots wish to admit.

IRA- The People’s Army

When the United Irishmen rebelled against the British in 1798 they were supported by the United Scotsmen. In the various nineteenth century rebellions, whenever Irish men and women have challenged British occupation, Irish Scots have rallied to the cause. This revolutionary tradition continued throughout the various phases of struggle in the twentieth century and continues to the present day. For many this means direct involvement in Irish politics rather than Scottish politics. For others it means a keen interest in Irish affairs whilst engaging politically in Scotland through one of the political parties or the trade union movement.

However for a huge amount of Irish Scots it means a cultural affiliation with the politics of resistance, with the songs and the iconography of struggle. While this culture itself is not an engagement with revolutionary politics, politics cannot be disassociated from this revolutionary culture. For many of us the periods of revolution and resistance (including the IRA) in Irish history are a source of pride and identification. The new law attempts to outlaw certain expressions of Irishness. It seeks to reduce our history and culture to limited, acceptable (to the state), confines such as St Patricks Day. It attempts to exclude the revolutionary content from that history and culture altogether.

It may be offensive to many Scots, and to the Scottish government, but many Irish Scots have a deep connection with Ireland and part of that, for many of us, is a strong sense of solidarity with Irish resistance to British occupation. Our families may have come to Scotland (and as Scots never tire of telling me I was born here) but our interest in Ireland, and Irish politics, remains. This is not unusual and is entirely in keeping with the experience of other immigrant communities in Scotland and indeed with the Irish internationally. Indeed, given Ireland’s history of emigration, the right of the Diaspora to contribute to debates about the future of the nation is enshrined in the Irish constitution.

In most parts of the world this has been accepted and indeed celebrated. In places as far apart as Brooklyn or Birmingham or Buenos Aries the Irish contribution to the host society is welcomed and the community participates in Irish culture or discusses Irish politics and there is not a problem. The same cannot be said of Scotland. Following the IRA ceasefire and the development of the peace process many commentators talked about a ‘peace dividend’. They explained that this would not only boost the Irish economy and promote a more welcoming image of Ireland internationally it would also boost the Diaspora. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I took part in several meetings where this was discussed. I was always very impressed by how the peaceful backdrop created by the IRA had allowed for Irish enterprise and culture to develop globally.

International Solidarity

At each of these gatherings I pointed out that no such ‘peace dividend’ would develop in Scotland. My simple rationale was that for many Scots we would always be Fenians. Scotland has a problem, and this law is not part of the solution it is part of that problem. Implicit in the legislation and the political discourse which accompanied it is a view of racism (and bigotry) as psychological and individual phenomenon. More than that it reinforces the myth of Scotland as an egalitarian society, where a progressive (anti racist) consensus exists and is only sullied by the behaviour of a few (mostly working class) football fans.

According to this worldview the state is neutral playing no role in the creation (or reproduction) of discrimination. In fact the state is not a neutral arbiter but is an active participant in these social ills. If the Scottish government wants to end anti Irish racism and bigotry they should start by taking a good look at the state institutions they control. Instead they have given these state apparatus more power over the Irish community including allowing the police to determine what (unspecified) displays of Irishness will be offensive and illegal. As many have pointed out the target of the law is often explicitly stated to be political expression, despite the fact politics by its very nature is contentious. It should also be pointed out that for a party that claims (although only recently) to be interested in ending bigotry the SNP seem strangely reticent about challenging or even mentioning the Orange Order!

The James Connolly Society started campaigning on the issue of anti Irish racism in 1992. Our view then, as now, was that to describe the societal problems labelled ‘sectarianism’ as intra-Christian disputes as the Scottish government does is absurd.  Equally absurd are attempts to reduce Irish ethnicity to religion or football. The ethnic and historical dimensions are crucial to developing a better understanding of the problem. In 1992 most people, including some of our own community, questioned whether such a community existed. We have come a long way since then. The Irish in Scotland have gained their consciousness. And part of that consciousness is an understanding of our revolutionary history, politics and culture. The radical Irish tradition in Scotland needs to be contextualised rather than marginalised, or worse criminalised.

As Scotland moves towards independence we also need to move beyond the limited and conservative vision offered by the SNP, of which this law is only one part. Scotland needs to create space for a proper debate to take place about what kind of country we want to live in. For many of us who advocate the breakup of Britain that must also mean an end to monarchy and to British militarism. It will be a Scotland which ‘cherishes all of the children of the nation equally’ and celebrates (rather than criminalises) divergent views. It will be a Scotland of Thomas Muir and Wolfe Tone, of MacLean and Connolly, and of Bobby Sands. We believe in independence not because we believe Scotland is a great country but because we believe it could be. Rather than criminalising expressions of radical republicanism indigenous Scots need to recognise it as a shared heritage for Scotland and Ireland. Its time has come

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9 Comments

  1. an excellent piece — the only negative criticism i can perhaps mention is that the irish struggles did not necessarily end for many republicans with the ”provisional IRA” and the provisional sinn fein agreements.
    i feel that the depicted image in your piece of the provisional IRA, while instilling great pride for me personally and, no doubt, many others in the organisation, should have been expanded to include and recognise that many many republicans still continue this struggle today outwith the ”provo” movement, by whatever means necessary and should indeed receive recognition of this !!!.

    1. Allan “the provisionals/provos/provies” were nicknames given to the IRA which, as you know, originated from the split in the movement. However, the “Provisional IRA” only existed for aproximately 12 months until a General Army Convention could be held which ratified the legitimacy of the provos
      The name Provisionals/Provies/Provos stuck though and that’s how they were referred to by the public/media but no one should be in any doubt: they were defacto The IRA.
      The same cannot be said for the republican microgroups that you beg recognition for. These wannabes have not only brought shame on the cause, there very existence and illegitimate status renders all their actions as nothing more than the works of a criminal gang.

  2. Paradise, our holy ground consumes the passionate hearted
    From Brother Walfrid’s altruistic dream, Celtic football club was started
    The Irish fled their homeland, escaping famine and oppression
    Many came to Glasgow, greeted with sectarian aggression
    Forced to live in squalor and looked down upon by all
    Soon they would have hope, through their faith and through football
    The objective when the Celts were born. “To make charitable donations”
    To feed the starving kids and refugees who fled the Irish nation
    The Irish link will never die for it’s written in our name
    CELTIC – Not for power, not for wealth and not for fame

    A Fenian activist on the run was captured down at Dublin quay
    His name was Patrick welsh, his captor sergeant Tom Maley
    Tom Maley was an Irish catholic man who could not let this stand
    So he helped this Irish rebel cross the sea to old Scotland
    Pat Welsh became an integral part of Celtic Football Clubs formation
    He and Brother Walfrid were at the forefront of its creation
    Now if we sing a song of rebel choice, we’ll be classed as bigoted crooks
    Yet an Irish rebel helped form our club, read up the history books
    The Irish link will never die for it’s written in our name
    CELTIC – Not for power, not for wealth and not for fame

    From the start, when the club I love was formed until this very day
    Our proud Irish roots and heritage they still try to take away
    The SFA in 52, said don’t fly the Irish flag it’s not welcome in our game
    The SNP government create new laws to make us shoulder the blame
    The biased Scottish media ignored the signing policies of some
    The police forces will lock you up now if you dare use the word “Hun”
    The consciously intolerant and culturally ignorant still persist
    Racism against the Irish always has and will exist
    The Irish link will never die for it’s written in our name
    CELTIC – Not for power, not for wealth and not for fame

    There is a legislation that pretty soon will be passed
    It’s a nonsense fucking bill, aimed at covering up their arse
    They need to make it look like the bigots even out
    Yet the fucking brain-dead arseholes couldn’t spell sectarian out
    It’s time to be united and stand up for the cause
    As football fans will soon be blamed for the death of Santa Claus
    I’m sick of the Philistinism bullshit about two sides to the same coin
    Fans against Criminalisation – If you care you must join
    The Irish link will never die for it’s written in our name
    CELTIC – Not for power, not for wealth and not for fame

    Celtic Football Club was instituted for reasons closely related to Irish Identity and Catholic charity. It emerged out of the poverty that prevailed in Glasgow’s east end of the 1880’s. Times were housing conditions where dreadful, high rates of infant mortality and there was little or no formal education at all.

    Brother Walfrid was the man whose imagination and inspiration was largely responsible for bringing the club into being. As leader of the teaching institute the Marist Order in Glasgow, he had witnessed the poverty and despair that was the lot of the Irish immigrants in the city’s east end. Crowded into the slums, they were the victims of discrimination and hatred from the locals because of their willingness to take work at a lower rate of pay than Glaswegians, not to mention the foreignness of their Roman Catholic religion. This life was just a slight improvement on their possible fate had their families stayed in Ireland and become victims of the great potato famine of 1845, which seen tens of thousands of Irish emigrate to America and Britain, purely for survival.
    After a suggestion from Hibernian’s secretary John McFadden provided Brother Walfrid with the idea of achieving two aims simultaneously. Parishioners in Glasgow would achieve something that was truly their own and if successful would provide them with pride and belief in themselves. He also planned for it to provide practical help, with the financial profits going to the poor children’s dinner table and other deserving charities.
    On Sunday 6th November 1887, Celtic FC was formed in St Mary’s Hall. Brother Walfrid chose the name Celtic very cleverly because it immediately provided the club with both and Irish and a Scottish Identity.

    Despite the tough long hours working manual labour or trolling the streets seeking employment, they still provided labour in the evening free of charge to help build a ground for their new club.

    Patrick Welsh, one of Walfrids closest associates was a Fenian activist, fighting against the British Army’s occupational force in Ireland – For weeks in 1867, Welsh had been on the run from the British authorities, but was apprehended by a 37- year old British soldier – Sergeant Thomas Maley (snr.) of the Royal North British Fusiliers – at Dublin quay, as Welsh was attempting to flee his country of birth for the prospect of a new and peaceful life in Scotland. Fortunately for Welsh, whose fate might have been imprisonment or the gallows, Sergeant Maley was an Irish Catholic who had wrestled with his conscience while serving Queen Victoria in Ireland. Maley had had no such doubts about soldiering elsewhere in Britain’s vast Empire, but for him the Army was a career that brought internal conflicts while he was serving Her Majesty in Ireland. Also fortunately for Pat Welsh, there were no other witnesses to his capture.

    Our Clubs heritage, identity and unique history are at risk of being destroyed with the introduction of these comical new laws. This is my biggest fear and worst nightmare. We are an Irish Club, created by the imagination of an Irishman, with a proud Irish Identity and heritage, playing in Scotland. The formation of our club and its sole purpose makes us one of the most unique clubs in world football. We are about to be classed as common criminals for singing songs that remember and celebrate our proud Irish heritage and roots. Don’t allow it to happen.

    “Anti-sectarian” legislation – (Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications
    (Scotland) Bill)

    My main concern is the laughable new legislation which WILL be introduced into Scottish football. This new law is apparently aimed at eradicating the bigotry and sectarianism which pollutes our “Beautiful” game and disgraces our country, absolute utter nonsense. This new legislation has one purpose and one purpose only, the mass criminalisation of the Celtic support. This was recently confirmed by Justice Committee Chair Christine Graham’s view that the law should be seen as an ‘evening-up’ process, allowing the criminal law to capture Celtic fans as well as those of our city rivals.

    The days of Sectarian chants from the Celtic support are a rarity and almost non-existent. Over at Ipox, the biggest majority of their songs are filled with hatred, venom and sickening anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish lyrics. They proudly sing about being up to their knees in fenian blood, “Why don’t you go home…..The famines over”, therefore a new Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill has been created to charge fans deemed to be singing, shouting or acting a manner that could be deemed offensive, which could result in a maximum 5 year jail sentence. You honestly couldn’t dream it up.

    Anti-Irish & Anti-Catholic agenda in Scotland

    The struggle the Irish in Scotland have faced and continues to face is couched in rhetoric and belief that their cultural upbringing, which shapes for many their national identity, is in some way different from those within other immigrant communities. The hostility that exists stems from the centuries old promotion that the Irish are somehow children of a lesser God and that mantra has been the subtext to both the racism that the Irish have had visited upon them both as an immigrant community but also on the island of Ireland itself.

    From the elements in the media who have propagated their hostility towards Irish footballers such as Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy, to the racist ensemble who have directed the Famine Song at those who are Scottish born but who are proud of their cultural and ancestral identity, to the fig leaf of the Show Racism the Card organisation who have shown little interest in what the aforementioned players have had to endure, both of whom have had careers in Scotland characterized by ubiquitous racist abuse and the muted response of this particular anti-racist body, conveys the message that somehow the Irish in Scotland are not to be afforded the same recognition as other immigrant communities. It is also vitally important to point out that we do not hope for or seek any preferential treatment, we are fully aware that our friends and neighbours who are of Indian extraction, Pakistani extraction or who are from African and Caribbean backgrounds and identities, and indeed others, have to contend with racist abuse and through visual identification are far more susceptible to racist attacks than the Irish are.

    It is facile to merely look at anti-Irish racism and deduce that the problem can be exclusively sourced to those who persistently air such racist abuse through such extreme invective. This is folly and only serves to exculpate those in empowered positions and platforms of influence. It is imperative to continuously focus on all areas where there is a lack of equity for the Irish community and not be drawn into and simply absorbing that such vitriol is exclusive to those who are enveloped with a profound hostility and hatred of all things Irish. Both parties, whether the culturally ignorant or consciously intolerant are persistent in their attempts to demonize and sectarianise our culture and certain commentators in recent times have opined that any overt display of Irishness can justifiably have antipathy and contempt as recourse. They disregard and are dismissive of some of the fundamental principles of Equality, the right to celebrate identity and the right not to be discriminated against as a consequence of identity.

    Last year In England, the Cricket 20/20 World Cup took place. Unlike its footballing counterpart, that took place in South Africa, many of the competing nation’s supporters had not travelled overseas to watch the extravaganza. In essence there were cricket lovers who were born in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, London and a host of other towns and cities in England, as well as I am sure from Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland. They turned up to support the land of their fathers, mothers and forebears, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, all this despite the fact that the land of their birth were hosting and competing in one of the games most prestigious tournaments. These fans added colour and camaraderie to the spectacle. Consequently the tournament was viewed as an overwhelming success which was reinforced by the coverage in the sporting press.

    Yet in Scotland there is a contrasting view which emanates from many, including sections of the press around the issue of Irishness and those born in Scotland who are of Irish extraction and especially those who are overt about that Irishness. Raymond Travers writing in the Scotland on Sunday opined that ‘there is a section of the Celtic support in particular who turn my stomach with their allegiance to the Republic of Ireland in preference to the nation of their birth’. John McKie, writing in the Daily Record in asserted that ‘the fact that Glasgow sports shops sell as many Ireland tops as Scottish tops is both pathetic and ultimately unhelpful’ whilst Jim Traynor, again in the Daily Record comments that he offers ‘no apologies for being a proud Scot and this fixation with Ireland that so many Scots have makes by blood boil’

    Many a commentator and columnist within the press actually believe in their musings that they are crusaders against the social cancers of racism, sectarianism, religious intolerance etc. Trust me; they are nothing of the sort. Their views are symptomatic of the anomalies and abnormalities that exist regarding the Irish in Scotland. Such opprobrium does not exist towards the Irish in England, or elsewhere. The racist invective that did exist in such a large scale has been eroded to the point of it being negligible, certainly when we consider it’s more critical manifestations.

    Anti-Irish racism can be defined as any attack on any facet of Irishness, if the motivation is owing to Irishness, in full or in part, whether that is at a cultural or personal level, it can be the constant contempt of someone’s cultural identity or national identity. This is as pertinent whether the victim was born in Coatbridge or Croy, Cork or Cullyhanna. The racism in Britain that impacts upon those of Pakistani, Indian or African extraction is generally directed at those who were born in some part of England, Scotland or Wales, yet there is no ambiguity or reservations in deeming it as racism. Whilst the reality is that many immigrant communities have to contend with and endure racist attitudes there is a constant attempt to undermine the cultural identity of the Irish who were born in Scotland. Broadly speaking, and again to give an example, those of Indian extraction born in Scotland are not vilified for wearing clothing, jewellery etc that is a reflection of where their forebears came from and this does not engender comments that they are Imitation Indians or encourage commentators to adamantly state that ‘They are Scottish’ and they should at once discard such adornments and attire.

    In August 2008 the same Indian community paraded through the street of Scotland to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Indian independence, they flew the Indian flag and no doubt played songs that pertain to the struggle of liberation. This commemoration was covered in a very positive light on the Scotland Today bulletin later that evening. I doubt anyone would contend that the Irish Community and the celebrations they have regarding the Easter Rising and War of Independence would be afforded such a positive portrayal. This again illustrates the inequalities that the Irish in Scotland endure.

    If modern Scotland wants to adhere to the promotion of ‘One Scotland Many Cultures’ and that we are all ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’ then it has to accommodate those that see Roisin Dubh as their mother.

    In the west of Scotland there has been a disgustingly obvious strain of anti-Irish and anti-catholic racism shown by almost all sections of society which has been evidently clear for anyone to see. Yet for decades upon decades it has been brushed under the carpet and deliberately ignored by political establishments, the police, the Scottish Football Association, media organisations, and almost everyone in between. Some even had the callousness of passing off anyone who dared question the blatant “Hibernophobia” that exists in this country, as having mental health issues. This exists to a certain extent today. For as long as this vile problem has lived here, the powers that be in this country have tried to blanket any wrong-doing through sheer ignorance, intolerance or even by cowardice actions or remarks aimed solely at downplaying the situation for reasons that can only be fully justified by the culprits themselves. These actions have been the norm and it is commonplace within Scotland to be deemed paranoid, delusional, to have lost the plot or to be imagining things should you question the integrity of the sections in Scottish society guilty of playing their part in this dark “not so” secret racist agenda.

    Yet now we have to shoulder some of the blame…….I DON’T FUCKING THINK SO.

  3. Reblogged this on 107cowgate and commented:

    Well done to everyone involved in FAC’s Roll of Honour campaign. Here is an article from the 107 Cowgate archives on why rebel songs matter to so many in Scotland and the politics of the Offensive Behaviour Bill.

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