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By Jason Michael
MANY OF US IN SCOTLAND were raised on the familiar – yet entirely false – narrative that “religion is the cause of all wars.” Sure, religion and religious people have caused their fair share of social and political strife. Human institutions, especially those intricately connected to politics and power, have and do instigate tensions which have and do often lead to violence and war. Organised religions, as very human institutions, are no exception to this rule. But to lay the blame for “all wars” at the feet of religion is a bit of a stretch and an oversimplification in the extreme. While it is true that there are religious elements to sectarianism in Scotland, Scottish sectarianism isn’t about religion. Had this be the case, the attention of sectarian bigotry in our country would be focused on matters of faith and theology, but they are not. It is indeed rare to encounter bigotry with a comprehensive understanding of the doctrines of limited atonement and transubstantiation or of the Church Councils.
Sectarianism in Scotland is a reflection of the historical, social, and political tensions of Scotland, dating back – of course – to the Reformation. Even then however, from the mid-sixteenth century, the struggle between Catholicism and the various Protestantisms of the Reformation period was always, in essence – as it was in England and on the continent, a power struggle. With the Peace of Westphalia – ending the Wars of Religion in 1648 – where states recognised the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, which granted the monarch the right to determine the religion of the state, intra state political sectarian feuding became more acute. Given that the religion of the monarch largely determined the foreign alliances a country would make, the various political factions within the state – each vying for different sets of alliances and foreign relations – naturally found the religion of the monarch a matter of vital importance, and thus a source of internal conflict.
We're not going to be able to talk about this until, as Paul writes, we recognise that sectarianism serves a purpos… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Fiona Robertson (@FionaSnp) February 22, 2019
When we think of “sectarianism” in Scotland today, however, few of us think of the early Reformation struggle between the Catholic Stuart monarchy – James V, Mary, and James VI – and the Scots noble factions aligned to reformers Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and more particularly to the brand of ecclesial Presbyterianism preached by John Knox. While this sectarianism was closer to being about religion, modern sectarianism in Scotland – a sectarianism of a much more bigoted and violent nature – is rooted in foreign events imported into Scotland from England with the political union of the two kingdoms and from the island of Ireland in the centuries after 1801. Our sectarianism – “Scotland’s shame” – has a distinctly political flavour in the battle between the Hanoverian Crown and its politicised Protestant ideology and the struggle for Irish independence.
Oddly, Irish Republicanism, which began shortly after the French Revolution and the establishment of the French Republic among Ireland’s Protestant ascendant class and its Presbyterian dissenters, is not – and never has been – a politicised Catholicism. Naturally, given the overwhelming Catholic population of Ireland, most Irish Republicans have been Catholic, but from the point of view of the Catholic Church hierarchy of Ireland and Britain Republicanism – the movement for the abolition of monarchy (and considering the Papacy is a monarchy) – is an enemy of the Church as much as it is an enemy of the Crown. Sure, in the context of a 220-year national struggle, it has found support among individual priests and bishops, but it has always been met with the official displeasure of the Catholic Church in Ireland – as it was in revolutionary France.
In England, political Protestantism is different. Rather than the religious institutions condemning the state-political use of religion, the Church of England – and later the Church of Scotland – were co-opted by and subsumed into the state as the “established Church,” thereby becoming instruments of the state and its political ideology. To be English was to be of the Protestant, a member of the established Church of England. Loyalty to the Crown, to “God’s appointed monarch,” was expressed in religion and in the state-political fusion of the sacred and the secular. Therefore, to be a rebel – to rebel against the Crown – was not only an act of treason, but the highest form of heresy.
So muslim terrorists can walk the streets of Britain in rallys and celebrate their culture and preach death to us b… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Bucky93:20 (@john7buchanan) February 23, 2019
How this development of Anglo-Irish sectarianism comes to Scotland is the result of the complex histories of England and Ireland, and that of Scotland within the union. Scotland’s native resistance to the union of 1707 did not rally primarily around Catholicism – well, not Roman Catholicism, but around the Protestant Episcopalian Jacobinism of what would become the Scottish Episcopal Church – a member of the Anglican communion of churches. Yet, with the destruction of Jacobinism and the transformation of Scottish civil society into a loyal and unionist North Britain, from the early 1800s and more especially after the Irish Famine, the influx of immigrants from Ireland altered the dynamic of political sectarianism in the country. Growing hostility towards Irish – mainly Catholic – immigrants proved fertile ground for the introduction of true British sectarianism.
In Ireland, the Orange Order had proven a useful cultural weapon against Protestant Republicanism as it drove a wedge between the Protestant Ascendancy class and the majority Catholic population. This Orange loyalism – a radically politicised Protestantism – became one of the most powerful forces of unionism and British cultural supremacism in Ireland, and in so doing it forged a new identity among Irish Protestants; a quasi religio-political sense of Britishness over and against the conquered “native Irish.” It was precisely its usefulness for dividing Catholics and Protestants and for bolstering a sense of loyalty to the British state – something that was slow to develop in Scotland – that made it so valuable to the ideology of the Crown and the union state.
In Scotland, other than the natural forwards and backwards flow of people between Ireland and Scotland, Orange loyalism was encouraged and imported into Scotland as a handy instrument of colonial rule. Its function, by 1821 – the year of the first Orange march in Scotland, was as much to replace among Scots Protestants their sense of Scottishness with that of Britishness as it was to remove the possibility of rebellious collaboration between Protestants and Catholics – an alliance which almost cost the British state Ireland in 1798. Sectarianism in Scotland has performed this dual function ever since, effectively keeping the Scottish Protestant nobility and upper classes in a position of dominance over and against a Catholic minority kept in check by the inclusion of the Protestant middle and working classes in the Orange Order.
The purpose of sectarianism is to keep the British state in power.—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 23, 2019
Nothing of this, however, absolves the Catholic sectarian institutions that have formed or have otherwise been imported. The clandestine organisations of dispossessed Ulster Catholics came to Scotland along with successive waves of Irish immigrants. From the late 1700s these groups – styled “Catholic Defenders” – were formed against the background of land agitation in Ireland, whereby Catholics removed from their land by Protestant settlers sought revenge. Such groups continued in Scotland, seeing themselves as defenders of the Irish Catholic immigrants in a hostile environment, and were gradually absorbed by later, more organised bodies such as Fenian societies, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Republican Army, and other militant physical force Republican organisations. Certainly, the activities of these groups and their continuation did little to reduce the sectarian divide in Scotland, but each of these was a response to the active state-political sectarianism against Ireland, and the Irish in Britain – and therefore, by connection, against Catholics.
Much has changed. The Orange Order is a dying institution today, Fenianism, and the IRB have gone, leaving only a scattering of militant Republican sympathisers. But this changing reality does not mean that political sectarianism has gone away. Sectarianism, especially in a Scotland where the desire for independence is growing, remains a politically useful tool to the union. Great efforts have been made by the pro-British media in Scotland to associate the independence movement with both Irish Republicanism and Catholicism, and the agenda of many unionist activists has been to construct in the popular imagination a sense of threat from an entirely fictive latter-day Popish plot. These ploys work, of course, because sectarianism – thanks to its long history in Scotland – has entered into the cultural base of the country. While the Orange Order has all but died a death, the sentiments of Orange loyalism have long been soaked up by the industrial and cultural institutions of the working class – the trade union and the football ground.
It's Rangers for me (@colingers) February 21, 2019
This sense of British loyalism continues as a default, and so acts as a bulwark against an independence movement easily caricatured as a Catholic threat to those things held sacred by the loyalist; the Protestant Crown and the Protestant British state. Again, these Protestant emblems are not religious in any meaningful sense. That is, they are not “Protestant.” They remain as they were, the politicised notion of a religious identity that was never native to any denomination of the Christian faith in Scotland. While its counter in the shape of Irish Republicanism continues to be ideologically hostile to the notionality of the Protestant and therefore anti-Irish British state, it has at its core a means of escaping the cycle of animosity – at the heart of Irish Republicanism is the memory of Protestant and Catholic unity, embodied – albeit somewhat brutally – in the shrine to its first martyr, the Protestant lawyer Wolfe Tone.
It is more difficult to see such an exit for unionist sectarianism, given that its central mythology is wrapped up in the existence and preservation of the power of the Protestant Crown and the Protestant state, other than the deconstruction of these totems. Perhaps this was the genius of its architects when they fused and so confused the state and its most potent symbols with the religious, cultural, and political identity of besieged seventeenth century state-Protestantism. In fact, it could be argued that the very existence of the British state guarantees the reproduction of sectarianism.
Still, and in conclusion, Scottish sectarianism is not the product of religion, and it never has been. It is the product of a political system of dominance which has forever sought to protect itself by hiding behind a particular and distorted view of religion. In Ireland this sectarianism was the result of a British colonial project. In Scotland it has functioned primarily as a weapon of the British state, to halt the development of any pan-Scottish sense of national solidarity and replace the national identification of the majority of Scots as Scottish with a sense of loyal Britishness.
Fears of rising sectarianism in Scotland following independence vote