Even now, Scottish society agonises over the degree to which Protestant v Catholic sectarianism is a problem. Generally, it is agreed that these days it's not really an issue although the Old Firm games (now suspended for a few seasons, heh) have tended to make the issue appear worse than it actually is. One thing people have tended to accept is that sectarianism in Scottish society goes right back to the 19th century, after the Famine here in Ireland when Irish immigrants started arriving in Scotland in huge numbers.
Not so, says Tom Devine, a Scottish academic who claims that it originates far more recently than that, in the 1920s and 1930s, the inter-war period. He cites evidences of very little violence against Irish immigrants in Scotland in the mid-late 19th century, far less than in Liverpool or Manchester. He also points to there being very little antagonism between Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic in the 1890s and 1900s and far less identification of the former with Protestants and the latter with Catholics. He also points out that sectarian gangs such as the Billy Boys ("up to their knees in Fenian blood") only emerged in urban Scotland in the inter-war years.
In placing the origins of Scottish sectarianism a mere 90 years ago, he dwells at length on a bizarre booklet published by the Church of Scotland (and only repudiated, with apologies in the last decade or so) called The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality.
In its 16 brief pages, it made clear that it was not specifically anti-Catholic. The pamphlet had no problem with "our native Scottish Catholics" who still survived as a tiny minority in the northern highlands. Nor did the pamphlet express any difficulties with Protestant people from Ireland, the so-called "Orange population" of Ulster Protestants who were described as "our co-religionaries". No, the issue was with native Irish Catholics and it was presented in mainly racial as opposed to religious terms.
The book frets that "the scale of Irish immigration is such that it is likely to undermine the purity of the Scottish race" The Irish are accused of "debauchery, improvidence, criminality, intemperance" and many other vices and the general theme of the book is that immigration from Ireland constituted pollution of the Scottish race by what was perceived to be an inferior and barbarous people. It called for the mass deportation of first generation Irish Catholic arrivals and the sending to Ireland of Scottish people of Irish Catholic origin if they were in prison, "in the poorhouse", on welfare or in hospitals - even those whose ancestors had lived in Scotland for generations, for over 100 years.
In reality, the figures on which the book was based were seriously flawed. Irish immigration into Scotland was in sharp decline by the 1920s - indeed it had declined to "the veriest trickle".
So why the hysteria? Devine puts forward a few reasons.
The 1918 Education Act regularised Catholic schools in Scotland. RC schools became part of the educational system with access to state funding while the Catholic influence and ethos were preserved leading, in the long term, to Catholics having access to a better standard of education without the expense that this formerly imposed on Catholic communities. Having been an underclass for decades, Catholics were starting to climb the social ladder.
The Labour Party which in Scotland tends to be identified more with Catholics was also on the march returning more and more hard-leftists to Westminster. The old establishment was feeling increasingly under threat.
Also, Scotland was undergoing a period of severe economic decline in the 1920s. There was mass emigration (higher even than Ireland and the highest of 16 European regions studied) and between 1921 and 1941, Scotland lost roughly one tenth of its population in this way. This was after The Great War when - and this is something that is not often discussed - Scotland had already experienced massive losses of men on the battlefield. Per capita, only Serbia and Turkey lost more men during World War I.
So, there was the sense abroad that The Pure Scot was declining in numbers to be replaced by these alien Irish Catholics who fulfilled the role of the obligatory scapegoat.
Sectarian sentiment subsequently increased. In the early 1930s, parties such as Protestant Action and the Scottish Protestant League were founded and they went on to win roughly one third of the popular vote in some areas. The Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers rivalry increasingly took on a vicious sectarian tone. Rangers' no-Catholics policy originated in the 1930s and lasted right through to the 1980s.
The Church of Scotland was in contact with the International Protestant League in Berlin and there was agreement that Germany's Judenfrage was similar in nature to Scotland's Irischenfrage. The Church of Scotland for some years avoided criticizing Adolf Hitler.
There was the hysterical sense that unless drastic action was taken, Scotland was on the way to becoming an Irish Catholic state. One writer, a George Malcolm Thompson penned a novel in 1936 called "Caledonia, or The Eclipse of the Scots". Based in 2017, it's about a New Zealander arriving in Edinburgh city where he's struck by the smell of incense - a sure sign that there are Taigs in the neighbourhood. At one end of Princes Street stands a huge Catholic Cathedral from which emerges a Catholic Cardinal followed by hundreds of altar boys.
The choice of a procession as a symbol of Catholic triumph might seem a tad bizarre now but when you bear in mind that prior to 1926, there were severe restrictions on Catholic processions in England, Wales and Scotland especially where the Host was exhibited and where members of the Catholic clergy were dressed in canonicals. After the passing of the Catholic Relief Act 1926, these restrictions were removed but their removal provoked huge resentment amongst non-Catholics in the UK.
The past - even the relatively recent past - can be a very different country indeed.
1. Boston College Front Row - The Menace of the Irish Race to Our Scottish Nationality: Scotland’s Campaign Against Irish Emigration in the 20th Century
2. Race and racism: Essays in social geography by Peter Jackson, pages 104-106
3. Anti-Catholicism old and new in 2012 - SCO News
4. IDLE SPECULATIONS: The Cardinal, the Prime Minister and the Catholic Relief Act 1926
5. Wherever Green is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora by Tim Pat Coogan, pages 244-245