Why Neil Mackay’s nightmares can be left in historical Northern Ireland

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From Neil Mackay in the Herald today (Who are these unnamed dark forces above?)

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From Lord Robertson in 2014

From Professor Tom Devine in 2018

Neil Mackay may be ‘Scotland’s Columnist of the Year but he’s feck all use as an investigative reporter. Does ‘columnist just mean ‘blether?’ This is pathetic clickbait to make us anxious and cling to the Union but based on only a tiny number of street thugs, his own memories of life in Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement and the notion planted in his head by Lord George Robertson, of ‘Dark Forces.’

Robertson’s warnings were soon dismissed as guff aimed at panicking the electorate in the run-up to the Referendum. Though former Secretary General at NATO, Robertson had no evidence to offer. Mackay has only this melodramatic literary guff:

Now, though, something is stirring in the darkest recesses of Scotland’s soul and it’s ugly. At the weekend, we had yet another display of sectarian hatred imported from my country and played out on the streets of Glasgow. There were arrests and a police officer was injured after a Republican march and a Loyalist counter-demonstration clashed.


Read that opening sentence again. Can you believe it? It’s not just guff in terms of being utter fantasy its also terrible writing. Even Dan Brown might reject it as being ‘too much.’ If Mackay wanted to tell us something true, he might have had a look at evidence from official statistics and/or from a respected academic researcher like, say, Professor Sir Thomas Martin Devine OBE FRSE FBA. Here’s Devine in the Mackay’s host, the Herald, in 2018:

‘SECTARIANISM is in decline and claims of widespread anti-Catholicism in Scotland are “unhelpfully alarmist”, according to the country’s leading intellectual, Professor Sir Tom Devine. The University of Edinburgh historian claims there is little chance of coming up against religious prejudice in 2018, apart from at Old Firm matches, and accused politicians and church leaders of “brazenly spreading fear” and reinforcing “victimhood” among Catholics.’

Might Devine have based his words on empirical evidence? Well, yes. Who’d have thought it? Is that how you get to be a prof? Here is some official evidence from 2015 (latest):

‘In contrast to the strong perceptions of sectarianism in Scotland, there is evidence to show that personal experiences of it are relatively uncommon in terms of harassment, discrimination and criminal victimisation. Over recent years the SCJS has reported relatively low levels of sectarian crime. In 2008/09 1% of crimes were thought to be motivated by sectarianism, falling to 0.5% in 2009/10. In 2010/11 it was 1% while in 2012/13 (the most recently available figure) it was again 1%. Religious hate-crime accounted for around 10% of all hate crime charges in Scotland in 2013-14 (racial hate-crime accounted for 69%) and is at its lowest level since 2009-10.’


My father-in-law was a Catholic from Donegal who met me for the first-time only months after Bloody Sunday. Once he knew I would treat him with respect, he did the same for me. My father was a committed Presbyterian, hostile to the Vatican but friends with several Catholics. At 68, I have no memory of ever directly witnessing even sectarian verbal insults far less violence though an Orange Walk did wake me up once.

Published by johnrobertson834

Retired Professor of Media Politics Not-for-profit independent political analysis

7 thoughts on “Why Neil Mackay’s nightmares can be left in historical Northern Ireland

  1. Interestingly The Times (of London) report that Stephen Kerr, a recently defeated tory MP (defeated in Stirling Constituency), is identifying the daftness of his tory party’s tossing aside (within minutes) of the Scottish Govt proposals regarding a post-brexit ‘Scottish Visas’ (designed with the active participation of multiple business organisations and the Universities etc).

    The Times newspaper reported that the former Stirling MP said the plans were “really something worth looking at”.

    Now – I’m not suggesting for one moment that Kerr is about to declare for YES – It is worth considering, however, that if those of even Kerr’s extremist ilk are becoming exasperated at Johnson’s willingness to financially wound Scotland’s economy (and the business elites in passing) then, perhaps, the less politically obtuse 2014 No Voters are beginning to ask themselves some rather searching questions?

    PS – am glad to see the Scottish Govt manage to engineer a vote in the Scottish Parlt. regarding keeping the EU flag flying at Holyrood. It is easy to be cynical about flags and ‘gestures’ – but I suspect it would be a significant ‘gesture’ for many European New Scots living, working, making their lives and raising their families in Scotland if the MSPs vote to keep the EU stars flying proud at Scotland’s Parliament.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’m skeptical about Kerr’s motivations, and suspect it’s more to to with making a pointless comment in the hopes of getting his job back in the future – if he was self-aware, he would realise that sometimes Scottish constituents would like to see positive support for Scotland from their representatives, but I doubt that either. He won’t suffer any toryesque backlash from making the comment probably. But I hope your theory is the correct one Ludo! And I wonder if it may have the unintended consequence of causing some self-reflection, and it IS unusual to see anything but contempt shown publicly by the opposition parties, so…

      I think the SNP will be milking the EU flag symbolism for all its worth, and well they should. I think the vigils (?) to be held by YES groups might be all the more important, hopefully that will be reported widely – and the BBC has to report too when European media show up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Discovered on beeb Scotland website that recently defeated labour MP (I think Midlothian?) Danielle Rowley is managing Emily Thornberry’s labour Ukanian branch leader effort. Danielle’s input probably helps explain the lack-lustre nature of Thornberry’s campaign – but – almost certainly ‘fingers’ who put Thornberry up to publicly declaring her ‘hate’ of those who voted YES and those voting SNP. (Thornberry and Rowley presumably didn’t realise the cameras were rolling at the time – or worse – perhaps they did realise and planned it accordingly?). Bitter Together as they say.

    Liked by 1 person

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