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University of Stirling


Stirling research into sectarianism and public processions

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The most comprehensive studies yet into sectarianism have been published, with University of Stirling research prominently featured.

Three Scottish Government-funded reports were presented to the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism at a conference in Glasgow on Friday.

The Group had recommended the work, which covers attitudes and experiences of sectarianism, and the community impact of marches and parades in Scotland.

Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs Paul Wheelhouse welcomed the new reports, saying they would “undoubtedly play a huge part in influencing collective thinking and shaping how we tackle sectarianism going forward”.

Dr Kay Goodall, of Stirling Law School, led the ‘Community Experiences of Sectarianism’ project across five Scottish case study areas, working with colleagues from the Universities of Newcastle, Glasgow, Loughborough and Queen’s Belfast.

Findings included the belief that sectarianism occurred at specific places and times, such as public drinking, football matches and Loyalist and Irish Republican marches and a perception that men were more likely to be the instigators. The role of families and older generations in conveying beliefs, plus the sectarian significance in some areas of songs, clothing, school and names were also noted.

Education and tackling poverty were among solutions suggested by study participants, as well as local, rather than Scotland-wide, approaches. The report refers to the need for more open discussion in everyday life about what sectarianism is and where it remains, beyond the context of football, marches and parades.

Dr Niall Hamilton-Smith and Dr Margaret Malloch of the School of Applied Social Science, and members of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, investigated the ‘Community Impact of Public Processions’.

While participants in Loyalist and Irish Republican marches held them to have significant meaning, the report found that the wider public often associated them with community and social problems and sectarianism.

Other findings included behaviour of procession supporters or bystanders, rather than participants, being residents and visitors’ chief concern. However, an analysis of police data did not reveal any notable increases or ‘spikes’ in antisocial/criminal behaviour after such processions. ‘Static’ demonstrations held by the Scottish Defence League and emerging Loyalist organisations were held to be problematic and disruptive for councils, Police Scotland and communities. 

Drs Hamilton-Smith and Malloch said: "Scotland has a robust record of supporting freedom of expression and a rich and varied culture of parades, galas and political demonstrations.

“Significant progress has been made in recent years in planning, policing and stewarding processions effectively to minimise any disruption to communities. There are, however, still some significant challenges.

“This report highlights some of the existing good practice and makes a number of recommendations aimed at reducing the impact on local communities."

A third report by the ScotCen Social Research institute focussed on ‘Public Attitudes to Sectarianism’.

The independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland is due to report later this year. While religiously aggravated offending is at its lowest level in a decade, the Group will incorporate findings from these new publications to advise the Scottish Government on future measures on tackling sectarianism.


Esther Hutcheson

Communications Officer 

01786 46 6640