Scotland’s Ivory Towers And Sectarianism – The Squalid Reality

'We only want the earth'- James Connolly
‘We only want the earth’- James Connolly

By Wladyslaw Mejka

Have you ever wondered who amongst the long list of illustrious dead from Scotland’s past should be awarded the Honorary Doctorates passed out each year to the great and good by Scotland’s universities?

Just a few weeks ago, Edinburgh university granted this award to a mixed bag of people, still alive, including Eddi Reader [singer], Lynne Ramsay [film director] and Ellen Kullman [chief executive of duPont].

In May 2016 it will be 100 years since the execution of James Connolly, born in Edinburgh in June 1868 not far from Edinburgh university, and who went on to become an internationally respected socialist and freedom fighter for an independent Ireland.  Connolly’s legacy to Scotland and indeed the world is massive and can certainly bear comparison with anything achieved by those on this year’s list of honorary doctorates at Edinburgh university.  It would be a radical and daring decision if Edinburgh university were to award, posthumously, James Connolly an honorary degree of doctor of letters, as the quaint phrasing has it.

It would be but a small step in fostering good relations across Scotland’s festering sectarian divide, where Catholics have long been kept several steps behind the progress being made by Protestants in all walks of Scottish life, whether it be in education or in employment.  Who better to recognise in this way than someone who was born in Edinburgh, in poverty, and yet who left a gigantic footprint in history on matters of equality and social justice?

It would be naught but a small step in a Scotland which was comfortable with itself, which recognised that prejudice and discrimination are alive and affecting the lives of tens of thousands of people every day, and which was as determined to eliminate that discrimination as it appears to be determined to replace one flag with another, even at tennis matches.

Trouble is that Scotland is not comfortable with itself.  Elsewhere on this blog you will find evidence of how bigotry, prejudice and discrimination stalks the landscape of what we call the public sector in Scotland.  My more recent blogs have shown that our NHS is, after decades of ducking and diving on meeting the law on eliminating discrimination on the basis of disability, race and gender, still unable to deliver the basics of equality, such as equal pay for women.

Evidence of just how uncomfortable Scotland is with equality can be found in reports universities published in April this year to meet the newest legal duties on equality.  One of the many things they were required to do was profile their workforce according to protected characteristics, including such as whether a worker was disabled, from an ethnic minority, lesbian, gay or bisexual, and what religion/belief they identified with.  My latest research provides an overview of how Scotland’s universities are performing with meeting the law and eliminating discrimination.

On the employment of Catholics, the data reveals a stunning complacency in universities.  Out of the 16 universities and schools Scotland has, 11 don’t collect the data.  Just 3 universities are able to report on how many Catholics there are on their payrolls.  Out of the 38,555 people employed across the university sector just 373 identify as Catholic.  Less than 1% of the workforce.  The Scottish Bishops’ Conference estimated at 2008 that the proportion of the population which is Catholic was at that time 12.9%.

As well as being poor, James Connolly was also born in Edinburgh’s Cowgate of Irish parents and was a Catholic.  Edinburgh university is only able to report that just 1.77% of the workforce is Catholic.  I wonder what Edinburgh’s figure will be when the centenary of his execution comes around in 2016?

This article was first published on Wladyslaw’s Blog, Equality- If Not Now, When?

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1 Comment

  1. I have worked at Edinburgh University for five years, and have never been asked – formally or informally – what my religion is. Before this I worked at Glasgow Uni, and there were enough ashen foreheads on Ash Wednesday and colleagues with Irish surnames (perhaps not an entirely scientific yardstick, but still…) to convince me that the balance there was more representative than you suggest.

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