Scotland politics

Scotland's denominational schools 'do not cause sectarianism'

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Image caption The report said closing denominational schools would not end sectarianism

A report commissioned by the Scottish government has said that denominational schools are not the cause of sectarianism.

It found that debates about schooling often become "sterile conversations".

The working group, set up by minister Roseanna Cunningham, called on schools to create "imaginative anti-sectarian partnerships".

Their report also calls for new penalties for football clubs where sectarianism persists.

Dr Duncan Morrow, who chaired the group, said Scotland is "weary of the lingering impact of sectarianism".

In his introduction, he writes: "It is, perhaps, not surprising that the deep-rootedness of sectarianism in Scotland has led to a culture which fluctuates between silence and sensationalism, while other equality issues have been driven forward in a more holistic and coordinated way.

"But what has been obvious to us is that sectarianism has had its day in Scotland, and there is an increasingly large groundswell of people who are tired of its worn-out rhetoric and the way in which it manifests itself in exclusionary and confrontational behaviour."

Anti-Irish racism

The report found that many of those involved in sectarianism are "not necessarily active members of a faith community".

It adds: "What remains is largely the belief or perception that the 'them' and 'us' opposition is still alive and well and the negative consequences of that world view."

"Three assumptions need to be challenged: that sectarianism can simply be equated with overtly aggressive bigotry; that it is entirely the same as anti-Catholicism; and that it is entirely the same as anti-Irish racism.

"The adoption of any of these could lead to a simplistic understanding of sectarianism in Scotland which serves to enhance the unhealthy and unhelpful 'them' and 'us' opposition."

In its findings, the working group said "many senior and influential people across Scottish society" had failed to show the leadership required to tackle the problem.

It recommended a challenge to "the environment of friendly indulgence or passive acceptance of sectarian 'banter'" similar to the firmer approaches adopted to racism, gender inequality and homophobia.

It went on call on local authorities to address problems of sectarianism with "conviction and confidence".

On marches and parades, the working group said it recognised the right to political and cultural expression.

But it stressed: "No rights are absolute in themselves and they should always be enjoyed with regard to the impact they have on others."

On sectarianism associated with football clubs, the report said Scottish football's governing bodies should introduce a system of penalties along the lines of the Uefa anti-racism guidelines.

Catholic schools

On the issue of denominational schools, the report found: "We do not believe that sectarianism stems from, or is the responsibility of, denominational schooling, or, specifically, Catholic schools, nor that sectarianism would be eradicated by closing such institutions."

It added: "All schools should be encouraged to create imaginative anti-sectarian partnerships and develop opportunities for pupils to share classes and facilities."

Ms Cunningham, the Scottish minister for community safety, said: "It is a challenging report for all of us all across Scottish society - government, local authorities, community organisations, clubs and fans alike - and we have a duty to consider its recommendations carefully."

She added: ""We welcome the fact that the report recognises there is a great deal of hope for the future and that Scottish society is more than capable of tackling this issue.

"I look forward to studying the report in detail before responding formally in the new year."

The findings of the report have been welcomed by the campaign group Nil by Mouth.

The campaign's director Dave Scott said: "We know from the hundreds of workshops and events we've been involved in over the last 13 years that this problem runs much deeper than football.

"Education is key to eradicating sectarianism and pioneering work is being done in schools in areas such as Armadale, Rutherglen and East Kilbride.

"It is, however, disappointing that the Old Firm clubs didn't engage with the group."

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