I concluded yesterday in part 1 by asking how Labour had successfully held onto the Irish Republican Celtic support in the West of Scotland for so long,when Labour are very much Identifiably British Unionist?
It doesn’t seem to make sense, or does it?
We need to delve into history to find out where the links between Irish Catholics and Labour take place.
The Impact of the Great Irish famine had a huge effect in Irish immigration into the West of Scotland. Between 1841 and 1851 the Irish population of Scotland increased by 90%.
Because of their poverty and poor state of health, Irish immigrants tended to settle in or around their point of disembarkation, which meant the west coast of Scotland.
it was the industrial areas of the west of Scotland which saw the largest concentrations of Irish immigrants, with almost 29% of all Irish migrants settled in Glasgow, but the smaller industrial towns of the west also had substantial Irish communities. The population of Coatbridge in 1851 was 35.8% Irish.
On the whole, the Catholic Irish settled wherever muscle and strength was in demand, and as such they found their way into coal mining, dock work and labouring of all kinds. It was estimated that in Great Britain in 1851, somewhere between a half to three-quarters of all dock-labourers and two-thirds of miners were Irish.
If you consider that Labour in Scotland and the trade union movement sprung from Miners and Dock Workers initially, the connection between the Irish Catholic vote and the Labour vote is made!
Of course in these days Labour was not a Unionist party, It was a Socialist workers party. Indeed Keir Hardie was a proponent of Scottish Home Rule!
Their lowly occupational status and their willingness to work for less than the going rate did not endear Irish Catholics to the Scottish working class. Indeed, their religion was a factor which gave rise to discrimination from all sections of Scottish society. Since the Reformation, Scotland had been a Protestant country and Catholicism was largely anathema. The Catholicism of the Irish was, therefore, detested by the Presbyterian’s of Scotland. Attacks on the Irish became commonplace in newspapers, pulpits and on the streets.
As late as 1923, the Church of Scotland could still publish a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were seen as drunken, idle, uncivilised and undermining the moral fibre of Scottish society.
A very clear example of Religious sectarianism indeed by Scots Presbyterian’s!
The same charge could not be levelled at the Protestant Irish. As Catholic Irish immigrants declined in number in the late 1870s and 1880s, the Protestant Irish took up the slack. Most of these new immigrants came from the most Orange counties of the north, such as Armagh. There had been historic links of an economic and religious kind between the west of Scotland and Ulster. Even the Church of Scotland recognised that in their 1923 attack on the Catholic Irish ‘[no complaint can be made about] the presence of an Orange population in Scotland. They are of the same race as ourselves and of the same Faith, and are readily assimilated to the Scottish race’. Thus, the Protestant Irish faced nothing like the level of discrimination endured by the Catholic Irish.
Most Irish males did not qualify for the vote as they failed to put down roots long enough in any one constituency to satisfy residential qualifications. Disqualified in large numbers from voting until reform of the franchise in 1918, the Irish, with the encouragement of the Catholic hierarchy, directed their political energies towards Home Rule for Ireland. Those that could vote gave it to the Liberal Party as the only party which might deliver on the subject of Home Rule.
With the partition of Ireland in 1921, the Irish became more embroiled in the politics of their adopted country. They overwhelmingly supported the Labour Party and this allowed them access to mainstream political life in Scotland. As part of this concord, the state provided for segregated religious schooling out of income from the rates, which led to numerous protests from Protestant churches about putting ‘Rome on the rates’.
Note that the vast majority of this sectarianism and disagreement was centred almost exclusively In the areas of Glasgow and the West of Scotland where the vast majority of Irish, both Catholic and Protestant had made their communities. Although there were smaller communities of Irish Immigrants In both Dundee and Edinburgh.
This division and animosity between the two groups, one accepted readily into Scottish Presbyterian Life, the other outcasts from it!
This expression was to be focussed on the male dominated preserve of footballing fixation and the forming of various clubs, Rangers,Celtic, Hearts,Hibs, Dundee and Dundee Utd.
Although all these clubs were all formed with love of the sport,and the best community intentions in mind. The very nature of tribalism associated with competitive rivalry meant that elements of that support were able to express their nursed hatreds and grievances through their warlike chants, with the teams their champions on their field of battle.
After the Second World war, society and the fact that so many had fought alongside each other on the same side, the sectarianism was considerably diminished. This and the fact that Scotland as a country has become mostly secular, and it never had the ghettos of Belfast or Liverpool has had a massive effect on relations, and in general the spirit of ecumenism which developed between Catholic and Protestant churches from the late 60’s has fostered much greater understanding and acceptance between the denominations and communities. So while there is no denying that religion was the ground of the sectarian war, there is no excuse for it to be seen so now apart from very marginalised minority groupings who have passed on from generation to generation their toxic historical hatred to their children and grand children.
We really need to look behind religion to other forces who have both historically and to this day benefited from keeping it going and encouraging it in order to create division and maintain disunity!
In order to do that we need to dig deeper back in time,to see those forces at work, and see how the ordinary populace has been herded and controlled by their will, and to see the politics which has continue to ferment it!
Part3 may eventually come to the myxomatosis, but it is taking longer than I initially imagined. It never is easy to trace the roots of a virulent virus!
Still to come: More History from an earlier age, this time centring on Ireland,Scotland, England and America before finally drawing it all together In the present day.