I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.
– William Lloyd Golding, “To the Public”, No. 1 (1 January 1831)
When I started Wilderness of Peace, I knew that I was going to dip into some deeply emotive subjects. That was a conscious choice: I’d made a point not to discuss politics, religion, and so forth on my other blogs – The Blog That Time Forgot and the Bannockburn Comic Blog – precisely for that reason. But even so, there are some matters – subjects I don’t discuss with many people at all – which I did not want to bring onto the internet: very private things, specifically things that affect me on a personal basis.
But right now, one of those things is being fostered, quite deliberately, and quite powerfully, by certain groups and individuals in order to further their goal in the campaign. And I am genuinely afraid that if something is not done to stop this, then we run the risk of driving what was the most peaceful independence movement in history back into the gutter. Because let’s be entirely clear: George Galloway and others are inciting sectarian hatreds in the middle of a campaign that has nothing to do with sectarian hatreds. This isn’t tantamount to incitement, this isn’t like incitement, it is incitement.
And we have to stop it.
To be frank, I don’t particularly want to link to any of George Galloway’s articles against independence, if only because he has spent his entire political career getting under people’s skin. He works hard at it, using every tool at his disposal – browbeating, ad hominem, strawmen, non sequiteurs, outright lies – in order to rouse indignant rage in his opponent, dragging them down to his level, where he shall surely defeat them with experience. As such, all that could be gained is a headache and a bad mood – which is exactly what Galloway wants. Besides, he isn’t even that original: he’s only saying what dozens of champagne socialists like John McTernan, Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander have said for months now, but decides not to bother with even the thin veneer of tact and class of his fellows. Do a Google search for “George Galloway Scottish Independence” and you’ll come across the same article said over and over again. It doesn’t deserve scrutiny – though I’m no less cheered when someone does it anyway.
However, I will post one thing: a link to a video from Lanarkshire Lassies for Independence’s Facebook.
The full video is available on Youtube: skip to 1 hour 10 minutes 40 seconds if you can’t access Facebook.
It’s pretty grim viewing: Galloway stirring up sectarian hatred and raising the spectre of scapegoats in the apparently inevitable event that an independent Scotland should fail, and Elaine Smith MSP actually shouting down those who respond to Galloway. I post it because it is a perfect, in-situ example of why Galloway’s incitement of sectarian hatreds are so powerfully dangerous – did you hear the roars of applause as he leapt upon the “go back to England” strawman*? Did you hear the murmurs of discontent start to rise in volume to shouts of dispute?
I cannot help but respond as Paul Kavanaugh responded to Tom Browne’s Daily Record piece: without moderation, without care about offending someone who clearly doesn’t share that sympathy, without any compromise. This is one of those things which I cannot be moderate about. And just to make it clear, I’m going to type it in bold.
George Galloway, if a single Yes or No supporter is injured as a result of perceived anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant sentiment, from the Referendum to the months following the vote whichever way it goes, you are responsible for it.
You have painted a grim picture of a post-Yes vote which is unaccountably a failure despite every sign – even those on the No campaign acknowledge that Scotland could be a prosperous independent nation – and perpetuate the idea not only that Scotland will fail, but will turn upon the most unfortunate in society in an effort to find someone to blame. It extends the myth that Scots suffer from a grievance complex against England, and without the English to “blame,” they’d have to find someone else. You, George Galloway, are not warning against sectarian violence, you are actively encouraging it for your political ends – as that video shows, you revel in the roar of the crowd as you lie to their faces about the people turning against each other. You smile – you smile – at the racket from the people, half refuting your demagoguery, the other half shouting them down.
Will you smile when another Yes supporter has their bones broken?
Will you smile when another Yes supporter calls the police when the safety of their family is threatened?
Will you smile when someone loses their life, all because of the fear and hate and mistrust you helped cultivate?
I work with a local anti-sectarian organisation – one which has experienced its own issues with political sectarianism thanks to small-minded politicians – which has the aim of respecting and acknowledging differences of religion. No calls to ban faith schools, no bullish attempts to stamp out traditions, simply a desire to achieve mutual understanding and trust – because sectarianism happens when people don’t know anything about the people they’ve been conditioned to hate and distrust. The cross-party Scottish Government initiatives have seen great dividends: massive decreases in sectarian violence, greater investment in inclusive organisations and education, and better legislation has seen the lowest levels of sectarian crimes in a decade. Even the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which has been constantly attacked in the press and by its vocal critics, has seen a strong prosecution/conviction ratio and is supported by the general public.**
I grew up in the early 1980s and late 1990s. I was born in the year of the Brighton Bombing. I was just going to High School when Mark Scott was murdered. As the son of a Catholic and a Protestant, I’ve experienced sectarianism on multiple levels. My paternal grandparents were staunch protestants – my grandfather was a member of the Orange Lodge, even. My maternal grandparents were regular churchgoers, and my mother has run the local Children’s Liturgy since I was a boy. It goes back further: one family member was warned that if she continued to see a young protestant boy, she would not be welcome at the family house: if she married him, the family would draw the curtains in mourning as if she had died.
I have my stories. Once, when I was at the local swimming baths, I was alone, getting changed. Another boy came in. We were both around 8 or 9. We said nothing. After about a minute of silence, the boy accused: “are you a Proddy?” The tone was so shocking, it took me a moment to reply. I said no, for I wasn’t – I was raised Catholic, attended a Catholic school, and I’m still Catholic. But what if I was? I think back to that day, wondering what would have happened if I followed my father’s, rather than my mother’s, faith. Another story: in class, I was asked if I was sad about my father and grandparents not going to Heaven. I asked why? Apparently, according to this class bully, Protestants don’t believe in God. I knew that wasn’t the case – my mother believed it was important I knew about all religions beyond Catholicism – but I wondered how many others believed that. How many other children who didn’t know what Protestants believed worried about their family members.
But, as I said, I grew up in the 80s and 90s. And despite the history that went on, my Protestant and Catholic sides overcame the blood and the hate and the misery which assailed the West of Scotland for centuries. Perhaps we were just tired of fighting. My grandmother went from being distrustful of her own grandchildren, to implicit and unconditional love. Before my paternal grandfather’s death, he and my other grandfather went to a mutual friend’s house to play poker, after decades not even speaking to each other. When my own sister married a protestant, there wasn’t even a controversy: we skipped the years of fear and mistrust, and got straight to the business of being a family. We’re still Catholic, they’re still Protestant – and together a family. No “but we’re a family” – we just are.
George Galloway is aiming to destroy all that. Decades of work to overcome the scourge of modern Scotland, to ensure that no children experience the confusion I felt; to ensure no child fears losing their family over their partner; to ensure no more children are caught between worlds rather than living fully in both. Galloway is seeking to exacerbate that old nightmare, as surely and as cruelly as if he found an old wound on my arm and worried at it with a pen knife – and it feels no less painful as if he was doing just that to me, right now. I feel it in my guts, in my heart, in my very being. Galloway is driving a knife right through a scar which has been healing. Why would he do such a thing?
Whether it’s George Galloway, Mark Piggott, or Ian Smart that brings up the spectre of a “Caledonian Kristallnacht,” the effect is the same: they seek to find an old hurt which is healing, and want to rip it open – either because they don’t believe it’s healed, or that it never will. And anyone who does that is acting as the enemy.
What should be done? Simple: we must prove them wrong. We cannot, must not, respond to them with anger or derision, they’re used to that. It’s what they’re expecting. It proves their point. Like the proverbial pigeon, you can play an ingenious game of chess, but they will simply knock over the pieces, defecate on the board, and strut about triumphantly as if they had won. No, the only way to prove Galloway and his ilk are wrong is to prove it. We must show that the referendum has nothing to do with sectarianism, Catholic-Protestant or otherwise. We must respond not with angry reprisal or seething contempt, but with the serenity of assurance – the assurance that we are right.
And we will prove them wrong. Galloway presents a scenario which won’t happen. It happens in England, certainly, where the press and government work magnificently in concert to have the common people voting in droves for a right-wing pro-austerity club of millionaires because they’ve convinced the people that the real enemies are ethnic minorities, immigrants, and “benefits scroungers.” But Scotland will be different – it must be different – because our government will not make the same choices. Sectarianism happens not only because of fear, but because it suits the needs of the elite. When the people fear and hate each other, it takes the focus off the billionaire bankers siphoning off billions of public money into their own pockets, dragging them into illegal wars, and eroding their rights in the name of security. And over time, this insane neo-liberal dogma has become so normalised that people think there could not possibly be any other way – no other way for a country to function. And as a result, they may think not only that sectarian hatred could arise, but that it would be inevitable.
We must become independent to prove that there is another way. We must prove George Galloway wrong.
*”Go back to England” in this case quite clearly meaning “go back to your Bradford constituency, which is where you work, and where your constituents need you, right?” Galloway tried to pull this one in his debate with Jim Sillars, choosing to interpret Sillars’ remark that Galloway was “an English MP” as if he was referring to his ethnic background being wiped as soon as he crossed the border, as opposed to, you know, his job description.
**I’m not going to get into the OBFA thing, suffice to say that this isn’t aimed at Celtic and Rangers fans as a whole any more than anti-domestic violence laws are aimed at men as a whole, or anti-racism laws are aimed at the dominant ethnic group as a whole. If you’re a perfectly normal individual who doesn’t engage in bigotry, congratulations, you’re not a bigot, and the law doesn’t apply to you. If you’re worried you’ll be wrongfully arrested, well, I’m worried I’ll be wrongfully arrested for stealing someone’s car, but that doesn’t mean I think theft should be decriminalised.