Call to make sectarianism history in Scotland

By staff writers
August 6, 2013

Members of the Scottish government's independent advisory group on combatting sectarianism said yesterday evening (5 August) that the time for change is now.

The comments came in a panel discussion at St John's Church, Edinburgh, as part of Just Festival, which is providing a platform for topical discussion as well as art and culture.

"I'm tired of sectarianism, and so are the great majority of people in Scotland," declared the Rev Ian Galloway, a Church of Scotland minister with over 40 years experience of working in deprived urban areas

"It's time for change," he added. "There may be a way to go, but I believe we can achieve it... and I'm amazed at the shift in attitudes and behaviour I've already seen over the years."

"The message is to stop being scared and start acting as neighbours to build the kind of Scorland we want," concluded Mr Galloway at the end of a lively and engaging discussion.

The panel featured four of the five members of the Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland, established by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.

Dr Cecilia Clegg, lecturer in practical theology at the University of Edinburgh, spoke from her own engagement with peace and reconciliation issues in Ireland.

It is important not to confuse sectarianism with simple religious bigotry, she said. It could take subtle forms, was to be seen as part of a pattern of wider hostile or threatened behaviour, and involved using beliefs as a way of excluding and stigmatising others.

Sociologist Dr Michael Rosie stressed the need for good data and qualitative analysis, as well as surveys and reportage. He warned against getting stuck with competing anecdotes.

Margaret Lynch, a member of a faith-based community organisation in Coatbridge, spoke from her experience of moving across religious communities, and of the importance of issues of security and identity at a grassroots level.

Members of the advisory group said that they wanted to improve the level of understanding, information and analysis on problems of sectarianism available to government and civil society actors.

Their job is not to spend money or allocate resources, but to help those who have to make decisions about these things.

Challenged about the gap between rhetoric and action, the Rev Ian Galloway said that the fruit of their work was not going to be a 'grand plan', but initiatives that began locally and grew.

He spoke of around forty projects or initiatives of this kind, including work in education, with youth, in sport, in communities, in public institutions and beyond.

The issue of schooling and religion was acknowledged to be a 'blue touchpaper' issue. Progress could be made by encouraging good practice rather than making sweeping judgements, the panel agreed.

The Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church (Corner o(Princes Street and Lothian Road) and some 27 other venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* Two live blogs from this session on sectarianism can be found here and here on Just Festival News. It is hoped that a sound recording will be made available at a later date.

* For more information on Just Festival, visit and

* Ekklesia is a sponsor of Just Festival. Our news, reporting and comment is aggregated at:


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