Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why do we tolerate this bile?

September 3, 2008

Why do we tolerate this bile?

Jack McConnell is right and Alex Salmond is wrong. Scotland will never be rid of its bigotry unless Holyrood adopts a strong anti-sectarianism line. Otherwise, decades of this desecration of Scottish life and culture, particularly around the Old Firm, will continue.

In some ways the shocking attack on Neil Lennon was fairly predictable. It has happened before and it will happen again. Just as, on Sunday afternoon at Celtic Park, sports reporters, myself included, sat through the usual litany of bile spouted by visiting Rangers fans, with hardly a mention in next day's reports.

The issue has become wearying. How many times can you bang on about “Scotland's shame” before you start losing the will to live?

In London the coaches of Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur are not attacked in the street. Neil Lennon is no angel, and can certainly dole out the verbals, but these repeated attacks on him are no random fluke.

Instead, we can be quite specific about it. He is a Catholic from Northern Ireland who, just like Martin O'Neill when he was the manager of Celtic, provokes some deep well of prejudice among some of our less enlightened citizens. And it is to the embarrassment of Rangers that quite a few of these unfortunates attach themselves to the club.

Football rivalry is supposed to be keenly felt, yet the peculiar context of the West of Scotland means that, in the case of the Old Firm, it allows for open and voluble prejudice. If this was anti-semitic or anti-Asian vitriol, would we tolerate it?

While Celtic can hardly crow, given some of their supporters' chants, there is a more significant problem at Rangers. The club is unable to gouge out the choral poison emanating from a section of its followers.

Whatever else Jack McConnell got wrong, he had the guts to stand up and condemn bigotry for what it is, and try to root it out. Alex Salmond would do everyone a favour if he came out and did - not just said - likewise.

Copyright The Times 2008

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