Kevin McKenna — The Guardian Oct 19, 2018
I am often moved to reproach myself for deploying a disrespectful attitude to Police Scotland. The men and women who patrol our streets and monitor the internet day and night to keep us safe have a difficult job and I feel that they are underappreciated.
Thus I was encouraged to learn recently that our national police service is continuing to go yon extra mile in keeping our communities safe. Our officers of the law are now pledged to root out the aggressive and irresponsible waving of some national flags in Scotland. This is a wretched offence that somehow seems to have crept under the radar of almost every man, woman and child in the country. This doesn’t mean, though, that it isn’t about to explode into unpleasantness and beastliness on Scotland’s streets.
Successive Holyrood governments have been enthusiastic in proclaiming the message of “One Scotland, Many cultures”. I’ve always felt, though, that this was a disturbingly optimistic outlook to have in troubled times. So I’m glad that Police Scotland seems to have refined this unduly sunny approach. Its new motto is a much more realistic: “One Scotland, Many Cultures (but some of them should watch their step)”.
According to a report in the Herald on Sunday, Police Scotland provided a list of potentially troublesome flags to officers working at Arlene Foster’s visit to Fife in June. The DUP leader, doubtless seeking to deepen Northern Ireland’s cultural ties with modern Scotland, was attending a major Orange Order event in Cowdenbeath. You can’t accuse Police Scotland of being insular and deploying a Little Scotland approach to this exercise. Some of the vexatious bunting includes the flags of Israel and Palestine; Basque and Catalan ones too.
Police Scotland also included the flags of the Vatican and the Republic of Ireland on its list of potentially rogue ensigns. Around 16% of the Scottish population is Catholic, the overwhelming majority of whom are of Irish stock. As Chief Superintendent John McKenzie, from Police Scotland Safer Communities, wisely said: “Often flags themselves are not the issue but the criminal conduct that accompanies them is.” This is borne out by Scottish prison statistics that show a disproportionate number of people of Irish/Catholic descent reside at Her Majesty’s pleasure. This was a key finding of research conducted by the Scottish parliament a few years ago and undertaken by Dr Susan Wiltshire of Glasgow University. Obviously, messages of peace and goodwill to all aren’t getting through to this belligerent immigrant community.
Of course, some people, ever eager to see phantoms where they don’t exist, would say that the inclusion of Vatican and Irish flags on the Police Scotland list is somewhat sinister and chilling; I disagree, for we can never be too careful. After all, it’s only a few centuries since the hated yellow and white colours of the Vatican were clearly visible during the Spanish Inquisition. And in the sleepy south coast towns and villages of Olde Englande, they still talk in hushed tones about their ancestors seeing the Vatican flag flying menacingly on the ships of King Philip’s Spanish Armada in 1588.
I’d encourage Police Scotland not to be cowed by criticism for targeting these flags and to be vigilant for other instances of suspicious Irishism and Catholicism. The Orange Order has been vilified for its practice of marching past Catholic churches in an intimidating manner. But has anyone stopped to ask themselves about the nature of some of the hymns being sung in these so-called places of worship and often at ungodly hours when peaceful citizens are on their way to the pub? There you are, walking quietly along the street, minding your own business and in quiet contemplation when, all of a sudden, you are startled by a loud blast of Sweet Heart of Jesus, often accompanied by a very loud organ. Sometimes there’s just no need for it
I’ve also seen some cars with rosary beads hanging from the mirror. Now, you might think this is a benign display of humble piety where individuals are perhaps seeking the protection of the Blessed Virgin as they take to the road. However, the sight of these beads could cause distress to other drivers who still remember Catholic brutality in the 16th century and lead to traffic accidents.
There have also been reports of football fans making the sign of the cross in an aggressive manner. This was actually mentioned in debates about the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Here, I would suggest a more softly-softly approach. Perhaps Police Scotland could issue guidelines to all Catholic churches and schools about how to avoid causing fear and trepidation while they insist on saying their prayers. Even very religious people say silent prayers, so why can’t they also make a silent, virtual sign of the cross, where they just imagine this act of self-sanctification, rather than actually do it out loud? This would be a far better way of keeping the peace.
Similarly, the use of seemingly pious locutions such as “God bless”, “If we’re saved” and “Dear God in heaven” can often be divisive and lead to incivility and acrimony (even if unintended). Why do some people say a grandiose “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” when a simple “Fuck me” would suffice? And how often have you been irked on those occasions when you try to stifle a sneeze, only for some sanctimonious Catholic nearby to startle you with a loud “Bless you”? It’s completely uncalled for in modern, diverse and enlightened Scotland.
I’d propose a state-approved list of Catholic words and phrases and how to deploy them in safe spaces and, perhaps, where appropriate, issue a curfew at times of heightened tension and increased security concerns.