Podium: James MacMillan - the Bigotry That Shames Scotland from a Lecture on Scottish Catholicism Given by Scotland's Leading Modern Composer to the Edinburgh Festival

Article excerpt

On my trips abroad or to England, I am often asked curious, probing questions about my country, and specifically about the extreme nature of our anti-Catholic past and rumours of a still- prevalent sour anti-Catholicism. These questions embarrass me, and I try to say it's not like that anymore - we have moved on, ie are putting sectarianism behind us in the dustbin of history. Things have changed for the better.

But deep down I know that this is a response charged with ambiguity. Yes, it's true that for many Scots, religious bigotry does not impinge on their lives - but for a significant minority, Catholics continue to be a source of puzzlement, if not anxiety and its concomitant bigotry.

Because of this, most Scottish Catholics learn at an early age that the best mechanism is to keep one's head down. Try not to attract attention to the fact that you are a Catholic - it will only annoy them. In fact I know that most Catholics of an older generation would be appalled at me raising this subject at all at a public forum. My grandfather, God rest him, used to become very nervous when he saw the words "James MacMillan" and "Catholic" in the same sentence. "No good will come of it," he cautioned. "There's bound to be a backlash - you'll suffer the consequences in the end." On dining out with my parents recently in Ayr, conversation eventually drifted to the topic of the Chrism Mass which they had attended at the cathedral. I noticed that every time the waiter came close to our table they hushed their voices. They did not want to give themselves away as Catholics. I have found myself doing exactly the same thing even in the company of younger co-religionists.

There is still, even today, a palpable sense of threat and hostility to all things Catholic in this country. Some of these anxieties are a result of a lack of self-confidence among Catholics; some are because of vague and not so vague hints that Catholics are not really full citizens - possibly because some of them support a team associated with Irish rather than Scottish roots.

If Scotland is ever to establish a genuinely pluralistic democracy where differences are not just recognised and respected but celebrated, nurtured and absorbed for the greater good, we will first have to clear a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. In many walks of life - in the workplace, in the professions, in academia, in the media, in politics and in sport - anti- Catholicism, even when it is not particularly malign, is as endemic as it is second nature. …