Anti-Irish hatred has no place in modern Scotland

Posted By: January 26, 2014

Scotland still doesn’t know quite what to make of the Irish in its midst
Kevin McKenna. The Observer. ( London). Sunday 26 January 2014
More than a century and a half after they first began to arrive here in numbers,
Scotland still doesn’t know quite what to make of the Irish in its midst. For many
decades, the narrative favored by the four main pillars of Scottish society – media,
church, legislature and judiciary – was one that portrayed them as ignorant, dirty,
feckless and not fit for meaningful work. They had to be watched at all times. For,
if hard-working, honest and upstanding Britons turned their backs for just one
second they would find themselves with a knife between the ribs and a revolution on
their hands.

The old peddled myths have largely dissipated in the intervening years but,
sporadically, vignettes appear that remind you that some parts of Scottish society
still have issues with the Irish.

Earlier this month in Glasgow, three young Irish people, including two from Donegal
over visiting relatives, claimed that they were forced to leave the taxi they had
booked following a night out. They said they had taken this course of action after
the driver had aggressively asked them to stop conversing in Irish Gaelic, the first
language of two of the passengers. The taxi firm then added insult to alleged injury
when its spokesman implied that they had all been drunk because, well… it was late
at night and they were all from Donegal.

A few days later, a 41-year-old Ayrshire man, David Limond, was convicted of making
sectarian and racist threats to a young female journalist in which he urged
listeners to his radio podcast to abuse her on Twitter. The journalist, Angela
Haggerty, is taking her first steps in her chosen career and works for the highly
respected business and media magazine, The Drum.

As well as writing for the magazine Haggerty blogs, tweets and Facebooks. She also,
palpably, takes no s–t and, as such, represents the vibrant future of Scottish
journalism. She says she is also proud of her Irish heritage “and that seems to irk
people like Mr Limond”.

One of the activities that led Haggerty to being called “Taig of the Day” by Mr
Limond was editing a book Minority Reporter: Modern Scotland’s Bad Attitude Towards
Her Own Irish by the controversial Scots/Irish author and journalist Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, in which he addresses the issue of anti-Irish racism in Scotland.

Mac Giolla Bhain is a troublemaker and a pain in the a–e, two attributes that ought
to be de rigueur for anyone seeking to make it in our trade. He is also a
razor-sharp investigative journalist and respected activist in the National Union of
Journalists who has been published all over the world. Several of his blogs broke
important exclusives about the impending downfall of Rangers FC and embarrassed many
Scottish football writers who simply chose to look the other way as the Ibrox
edifice began to quake.

He and I, though, have a little bit of previous. This stems from my view that
anti-Irishness in modern Scotland can be prone to exaggeration and can lead to an
unfortunate victim complex among those who claim to observe it lurking in the
shadows of Scottish society. Indeed, Mac Giolla Bhain, in an on-line piece for the
Guardian, once took me to task for espousing such views.

Nevertheless, Minority Reporter is a thoroughly well-researched and well-written
book that is of vital importance in understanding this fraught relationship between
Scotland and her Irish immigrant population. Indeed, it might also be said that the
failure of any Scottish newspaper to review the book thus far is a symptom of the
boil that the author seeks to lance. He cites The Famine Song with its infamous
chorus: “The famine’s over, why don’t you go home” as being racist in the extreme as
well as mocking the human catastrophe of the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór).

He also rails against Scotland’s political classes for being dilatory in their
response to this. Indeed, it was only after the matter was raised in the Irish
parliament and Irish media that The Famine Song was deemed to be worthy of criminal
prosecution. And yet I wonder how Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King would have
regarded ordeal by the singing of a dodgy song, they whose people had to endure
lynchings, violence and hatred every day of their lives.

Mac Giolla Bhain also cites the 10-year ordeal of Neil Lennon, Celtic’s Irish
manager, in Scotland that, following several assaults and death threats, culminated
in two men being jailed for trying to send a homemade bomb to him. And, in a very
poignant section, he laments the extent to which Scots of Irish lineage have been
discouraged from celebrating their ethnicity while those of Italian and Asian
descent, for instance, have not. I suppose I am one of the Scots/Irish who have
disappointed Mac Giolla Bhain. I am proud of my Irish heritage, but prouder still
that I was born a Scot. Being Scottish defines me more than the country that my
great-grandparents left at the start of the last century. When Scotland play Ireland
it’s Scotland every time (though it’s Ireland against everybody else). Through
education, hard work, a great deal of humor and no little charm,  the Irish in
Scotland have largely overcome the prejudices and practices that prevailed for most
of the 20th century.

It would be wise to take a step back from the outrage engendered by The Famine Song
and the baiting of Neil Lennon and an ignorant taxi-driver and an online troll and
observe them for what they are: the death rattle of a culture that most of Scotland has rejected.

An Gorta Mór only discriminated between rich and poor, not between Catholic and
Protestant. In a land of plenty, you died if you were poor. When Glasgow unveils its
long overdue memorial to the Great Famine it should be a rallying point for all –
Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Muslim – to unite against their real enemy:
unfettered capitalism and the greed and corruption that always follow in its wake.