Is there any point in adding my own ruminations on the parcel bomb incidents this week? In fulminating against something so heinous and incredulous, it is almost beyond comprehension? Especially when others have and will condemn more articulately than I could ever manage.
But the point is this. By staying silent, we condone. By pretending we see, hear – and heaven forfend – speak no evil, by turning the other cheek while muttering not in our name, not in our ken, not in our neck of the woods, we allow sectarianism and bigotry, and its erstwhile partners, alcohol abuse and violence, to continue unchecked and untrammelled. Not relevant to us and how we choose to live our lives, see? Oh, but it is. For this is how ithers see us and it’s time we all saw Scotland in the entirety of its inglorious multi-coloured hues.
The very idea that someone could be moved to try to maim and kill others because they hate with every ounce of their being someone else’s religious and footballing affiliation – in 21st Century Scotland no less – requires all of us to make and take a stand.
As a football fan, I have experienced the deprivations of both sides of the Old Firm fan divide. I’ve watched them urinate in people’s gardens, throw locals out of their pre-match pub in order to indulge in their vile, evil chanting, seen them drink in public and then smash the bottles in front of police horses, witnessed them vomiting over children in a fast food restaurant, been intimidated by sexual threat and innuendo while in the company of my own small child, watched a grown man lead songs of hate while carrying a toddler in his arms, and removed my terrified child from his season ticket seat when the torrents of abuse from interlopers became too much for him to bear.
And on each and every occasion, I have complained to the authorities. To management, to stewards, to police. And each and every time, my complaint was met with a shrug of the shoulders. Not my problem, what can we do. They think they are untouchable because they are.
Indeed, for years, a policy of containment and appeasement has applied. Why has it taken UEFA to act when the SFA had powers aplenty to step in and tackle the clubs’ unwillingness and inability to address sectarian acts and activities by its fans? Why has the SFA bowed to media and legal pressure to rescind punishments on players and club officials who have indulged in inappropriate conduct? Why has it taken the police years to speak up and speak out about the horror show of violence played out in communities and homes on the occasion of every Old Firm fixture? Why have licensing boards continued to allow premises that condone and encourage sectarian violence and hate crime to trade? Why have internet forums, whose stock in trade is bile, been allowed to flourish? And why oh why, have politicians – on all sides – waited until an election to say something, anything about any of it?
Because money- dirty money – talks.
We have allowed the fear and loathing that constitutes supporting the Old Firm to expand into the monster it has so clearly become, because lots of people have made money out of it. The clubs themselves, of course, rely on “impassioned fans” buying season tickets and all the tops and tat, following cup runs from beginning to end, and rampaging through Europe, at least until Christmas. Pubs and clubs – at home and away – rub their hands with glee at the prospect of an Old Firm derby or of the visit of one half to their sleepy hollow. The SFA when faced with top dollar legal representation whose fees enable them to drive a coach and horses through arcane procedure, have crumbled and fumbled every time.
Do you think those 1000 police officers on duty this Easter Sunday – however much they wish they were anywhere else – are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts? Did newspaper proprietors groan or grin at the prospect of seven Old Firm fixtures in a season?
In fact, the only ones who haven’t heard the kerching of Old Firm hatred and violence are the politicians. But what we have had in the last four years is a Parliament of fearties. Feart to rock the boat, feart to upset one side or the other, feart to do the job we pay them handsomely to do.
There is absolutely no doubt that Alex Salmond has been at his most statesmanlike in the last week. The tone, the content, the pledges have all been completely on the button. He has vowed to free our country of bigotry and yes, it will take more than “one match, one season and one year”.
But the time for talking and summits is past, and now we must act. We must all stop standing by and allowing a culture of sectarianism to flourish. We must challenge the questioner when asked what school we went to. We must shut down the forums of hate and prosecute the perpetrators and the facilitators. We must start applying the aggravated offence of sectarian hate crime to every act of violence committed before, during and after an Old Firm match. We must close down the hostelries that have built a trade on bigotry. We must protect those families whose lives are blighted and bruised – literally – by every losing score. We must end the public cash flow to footballing authorities and clubs which refuse to meet their obligations. We must educate our children on tolerance and inclusion and inculcate a sense of pride in shared communities and faiths.
We must launder this dirty money right out of our economy and we must remove this stain from our society for good.