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The Scottish Executive’s ‘Sectarian’ Smokescreen

This article is from the Republican Communist bulletin produced for this year's Edinburgh James Connolly march

Political attacks on Republicans

It is 12 years since the old Lothian Region Labour group banned Edinburgh’s James Connolly March. Following the 1993 show of defiance in Broughton Street, we won the right to march. However, our annual commemoration is now receiving the public attention of the Labour/Lib-Dem controlled Scottish Executive. They are looking once more into Republican marches. To appear even-handed, Orange marches are being examined too. The ‘troubles’ surrounding Celtic and Rangers matches have also been added to the enquiry.

Put all these together and apparently you have a sectarian problem with its roots in the religious divide between Catholic and Protestant in Scotland. This concern has been highlighted by Jack McConnell’s St. Valentines Day Summit to combat religious sectarianism and BBC’s Panorama programme Scotland’s Secret Shame showing the violence associated with Old Firm games.

But can all these conflicts be laid at the door of continued religious sectarianism? Scotland certainly has a sectarian history. However, religious sectarianism has been on the decline in Scotland for some time. Discrimination in jobs has largely disappeared. It is even said that Rangers field more Catholic players than Celtic! So what is the Scottish Executive’s real concern?

The ‘New Unionist’ project

Missing from the debate is the issue of ‘Northern Ireland’ and the future of the UK state. The armed republican struggle against the reactionary, British-backed, ‘Northern Ireland’ statelet was a fundamental threat to the continued existence of the UK. This is why the ban was imposed upon the James Connolly March in 1993. The massive anti-poll tax struggle also threatened to snap the chains binding Scotland to the Union. Therefore, leading sections of the British ruling class began to realise that their increasingly ‘dis-United Kingdom’ could fall apart unless they devised a new strategy. They came up with the idea of ‘devolution-all-round’ - for ‘Northern Ireland’, Scotland and Wales.

The areas making up the UK could no longer be ruled in the old way - Protestant supremacy in the ‘Six Counties’, or administrative devolution in Scotland. New Labour governments have had to come up with new methods of divide-and-rule to use in each area of the UK. The idea is to preserve the unionist essentials of the oldorder but by new means. This helps to create the stable political conditions needed for the global corporations to maximise their profits. The US, EU and Irish governments have all backed this ‘New Unionist’ project.

One unintended effect of ‘new unionism’ in ‘the Six Counties’ has been to strengthen Paisley’s reactionary DUP. Meanwhile, Scotland, despite having its own devolved parliament, has been dragged into the deeply unpopular imperialist war in Iraq. ‘New Unionism’ has not brought about real political democracy, economic prosperity or permanent peace. Its Labour and Lib-Dem advocates want to deny this.

Demonising the opposition

That is why they are trying to lump together all opposition, whether progressive or reactionary. Republicans and loyalists are portrayed as two warring tribes, who promote sectarian hatred between Catholics and Protestants; just as all opponents of the war in Iraq are said to be terrorist supporters, whether they advocate secular democracy or religious supremacism.

This ‘new unionist’ attack, in both ‘Northern Ireland’ and Scotland, is an attempt to marginalise and depoliticise the republican opposition to the continued existence of the UK state and British imperialism.

Republicans, who promote real progress and wish to unite people of all religions and none in secular, democratic Irish or Scottish republics, are falsely equated with loyalists, who want to drag everybody back to the old days of state-backed religious sectarianism.

The very first principle of the Orange Order is to maintain intact the Protestant Constitution of the UK. Such died-in-the-wool sectarians say you can only be British if you are Protestant. But this only highlights the sectarian nature of the outdated UK state, with its established church and monarchy; and the deeply reactionary nature of a British identity created to promote imperialist interests both past and present. ‘New Unionism’ tries to disguise this reality; democratic republicanism exposes the truth.

Defending secular democratic republicanism

Defending the annual James Connolly commemoration, Cairde na hEireann stated that, Our marches have been addressed by representatives of Sinn Fein, the Labour Party, the SNP, anti-racist campaigners and many other campaigns... These events are not sectarian. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, people of other religions and none, are all welcome on James Connolly marches.

All democratic republicans will oppose the ‘New Unionist’ attempts to equate our commemorations and protests with those of the real sectarians. Just as successive UK governments had longstanding links with Saddam’s Iraqi regime, before he suddenly became an evil tyrant, these same governments have long been closely linked to reactionary unionist parties in Northern Ireland and colluded with the sectarian loyalist paramilitaries.

Such ‘New Unionist’ attempts to create political smokescreens will continue until we have won genuine self-determination and democratic secular republics for the four nations of these islands.