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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK


Composer 'banging the wrong drum'

Composer James MacMillan's attack on "anti-Catholicism" is not borne out by the facts, according to Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at Aberdeen University

Scots composer James MacMillan believes that Scotland is a sectarian country: 'Northern Ireland without the guns'.

His claims hardly fit the following facts.

Belfast got its first Catholic Lord Mayor in 1995; Glasgow got its first Catholic Lord Provost in 1938.

In Northern Ireland, electoral boundaries were manipulated to deny Catholics political power in local government; in Scotland Catholics have been so successful in the Labour party that during the period of the Glasgow District Council, every Lord Provost was a Catholic.

[ image: Glasgow
Glasgow "disproves the argument"
In Northern Ireland, Catholics are relatively poorer and more likely to be unemployed than their Protestant counterparts; in Scotland all the social surveys of the last two decades show no discernible difference in the socio-economic status of Catholics and non-Catholics.

A 1992 survey showed that Catholics were more likely than Church of Scotland identifiers to have university degrees.

In Northern Ireland the two populations are segregated to the extent that 90% of each lives in areas that are religiously homogenous; in Scotland there are now very few areas that can be described as Catholic or Protestant.

When new housing estates were built around Belfast they immediately became either Catholic or Protestant.

During the post-war reconstruction that saw Glasgow decant its population into the surrounding new towns, no attempt was made to recreate sectarian housing patterns.

Mixed marriage

In Northern Ireland mixed marriage is rare: only some 5% of Catholics marry non-Catholics.

In Scotland half of the Catholic population marries non-Catholics.

In Northern Ireland mixed religion couples are frequently the targets for murderous attacks; in Scotland they are barely remarked upon.

The bulk of Scottish Catholics are descended from the Irish who settled here in the nineteenth century.

Then they were easily distinguished from the natives by their poverty, low literacy levels, and lack of technical skills.

They were widely despised by the natives (and that included the old Scots Catholics!) and responded by forming an introverted ghetto community. That community has now dissolved.

Declining rapidly

Catholic church attendance rates are declining rapidly towards the Scottish norm.

Inter-marriage is both a sign of the change and the basis for further assimilation.

Were it not for Catholic schools, little or nothing would now distinguish the descendants of the Irish from native Scots.

One might want to describe that assimilation as a bad thing but it can hardly stand as evidence of a sectarian society.

Steve Bruce has recently written on Northern Ireland and Scotland in his Oxford University Press book 'Conservative Protestant Politics'.

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