Kick Up The Tabloids


I am aware that every time I have written this column in 2011, three stories have tended to dominate, coming up month after month. The same three stories which are routinely described in the tabloids as“Scotland’s Shame”.

These are, in no particular order, The Lockerbie Bomber, The Edinburgh Trams and Sectarian Violence. Each have grabbed the headlines on a near monthly basis from January through to September.

The saga of the Trams and the plight of al-Megrahi appear to reaching their respective conclusions, with al-Megrahi reportedly on his deathbed and the Trams allegedly now destined for St Andrew’s Square. However, I don’t think anyone in their right mind will bet on which event will happen first.

Meanwhile, unlike the trams, the whole issue of Sectarianism just rumbles on and on, with an ever-increasing head of steam. In the opinion of Paul McBride QC, sectarianism would be much worse were Scotland to become independent. This is one of the most ridiculous comments on the subject I have heard in years, if only for the reason that it is well-nigh impossible for sectarianism in Scotland to get any worse.

Were this to be in any doubt, it was confirmed by the jaw-droppingly perverse verdict reached in the case against Hearts fan John Wilson, who was accused of assaulting Neil Lennon. To recap, this is a man who was filmed live on television assaulting the Celtic manager, footage which has been repeated ad-nauseum on TV between April and now. This is a man who was heard by a steward of the club he supports shouting at Lennon and calling him a “fenian bastard”. This is a man who pleaded guilty to assault. Yet a jury still found the case Not Proven. How could that become any worse under independence?

One can only assume that the authorities took Wilson’s right to “Trial by a Jury of his Peers”a little too literally, and that the bench was made up of Hearts casuals, travelling Rangers fans and members of the Loyal Orange Order.

It is absolutely intolerable that Neil Lennon should be subjected to such personal attacks while doing his job, merely because he is a Roman Catholic. We are constantly being told that football is now part of the entertainment industry. In no other branch of the entertainment business would it be seen as acceptable for someone to be violently attacked because of their faith. It would be utterly wrong if Daniel O’Donnell were to be assaulted onstage because he is a Roman Catholic. Daniel O’Donnell should be assaulted onstage because of what he does onstage, and for no other reason.

This all comes in the wake of the letter-bombing campaign waged against both Lennon and McBride, as well as against ex-MSP Trish Godman. When parcel bombs are sent to the manager of an SPL club, a prominent QC and a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, one must question the intelligence of the person sending such devices through the post. Indeed, what is the point in sending parcel bombs to people who do not open their own mail?

The Scottish Government has, in the meantime, shelved its new set of laws which were intended to tackle the issue of provoking sectarian violence. These measures were well-intentioned in principle, but were fuzzy on detail. The original proposal was for a maximum five-year jail sentence for inciting religious violence. One cannot argue with the wisdom of that. However, when Roseanna Cunningham was questioned by Parliament on what constituted such a crime, she appeared slightly indecisive. “Under certain circumstances” she said, apparently off the top of her head “a Celtic fan making the sign of the cross could be seen to be provocative.” Who is provoked by someone else making the sign of the cross? Two distinct groups, Protestant Bigots and Vampires.

It is just as well this legislation was not in place a year ago. Last September, the Pope was driving down Princes Street, and through Bellahouston Park, making the sign of the cross to an audience of thousands. He could have potentially been looking at a five-year stretch in Saughton or Barlinnie. And, given the behaviour of some of his colleagues, probably in the ‘Beast Wing’.

“Under certain circumstances,” Ms Cunningham continued to improvise, “a Celtic fan singing You’ll Never Walk Alone” could be provocative. This was where the Government’s strategy was seen to be in tatters. You’ll Never Walk Alone was originally a song from the West-End musical“Carousel”. If we are to start handing out custodial sentences for singing songs from the shows, where is that going to lead us all? Scotland’s jails are over-crowded enough as it is, without the addition of thousands of members of amateur dramatic societies.

Anyone who has seen an amateur operatic production will know that these people should not be incarcerated in Shotts, Polmont or Peterhead. They belong in Carstairs.