Reading the Sunday papers before setting off round the doorsteps again was really encouraging with another dynamite poll for the SNP that puts the SNP 13% ahead of Labour and even MacWhirter’s always-measured blog can’t quite stifle a tone of wonderment. But today I was struck by a discrepancy. Whereas you can almost bet that most media issues (pensions; housing; even immigration) will crop up on whatever set of doorsteps you’re on, sectarianism does not and football itself only gets mentioned if you’re interrupting a match.
It’s not that sectarianism doesn’t exist in East Lothian but it is a shadow of its importance in West Central Scotland—a fact highlighted yet again by recent failed attempts to send parcel bombs to Celtic supporters. Anywhere else in the country, such events would meet incredulity but there, however unacceptable, it’s seen as a regrettable part of the culture and reason for another 1,000 police to deploy at the next Old Firm match with collective fingers crossed.
Pride in your culture is a force for good—but not at the expense of any other culture. Glasgow formed as our cultural melting pot and that rich diversity gifted us all an outpouring of art and humour, as well as industry and sport. When the Clyde rang to a billion rivets, Old Firm matches were already intense but the chants, the flags, the violence mostly date from a decline in work and of pride in other things. In post-industrial Glasgow, pride has grown rarer. Many found it in football but, in as lively and gregarious city as Glasgow, the intensity seems to have got out of hand.
It is all very well for clubs and police to promise tough action against sectarianism and for authorities to purge any remnant of discrimination but people will always want to belong to something larger than themselves, something in which to take pride, however vicariously, especially when life has dealt them a poor hand.
Until we in Scotland accept that all of us must create new purpose for Glasgow, where it rediscovers its rightful place as the engine of Scotland, a cultural and economic dynamo that drives the country, we will find our future fragile if its economy stumbles. Then its feisty people will put their energies into such causes as are available to them. Football’s a great game but Glasgow could again be famous for much more than just the Old Firm.