Academic journal article European Studies

Scottish Anti-Catholicism in a British and European Context: The 'North Pole Mission' and Victorian Scotland

Academic journal article European Studies

Scottish Anti-Catholicism in a British and European Context: The 'North Pole Mission' and Victorian Scotland

Article excerpt

Abstract

Anti-Catholicism, as a part of a more general discourse on sectarianism, intolerance and national identity, has been a regularly debated topic in Scotland for centuries. Recent Scottish historiography, partly driven by contemporary debates over sectarianism, has focused on the ethnic elements of anti-Catholicism, especially in terms of reactions against large-scale Irish immigration during the nineteenth century. This case-study, locating Scotland at the centre of a transnational 'Northern' mission, will supplement and refine this historiography by situating Scottish anti-Catholicism in British, European and Imperial contexts, and relating the phenomenon to Scotland's sense of identity as a 'stateless nation'. A hypothesis of this article is that Scotland's anti-Catholicism can be understood in terms of similar currents of thought across northern Europe, and not just as a reaction to a perceived local cultural threat from immigrants.1

When asked in 2007 whether 'institutionalised anti-Catholicism' existed in modern Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien's answer was 'a definite yes' (The Herald, January 13, 2007). An alternative interpretation, however, is that 'the sectarianism of Scotland is a myth: popular in some places but a myth nonetheless (Bruce 2011). Anti-Catholicism, as a part of a more general discourse on sectarianism, intolerance and national identity, has been a regularly debated topic in Scotland for centuries. Since the reconstitution of the Scottish parliament in 1999, the place of Catholics in Scottish society has remained a contested issue, among academics and in broader society. The great success of comparative and transnational Irish-Scottish studies since the 1970s has arguably contributed to an overemphasis on what might be called the ethnic elements of a tension between two communities, a tension which is subsequently mapped on to confessional differences. Many of the articles in the influential Scotland's Shame (2000) were shaped by, and helped to shape, the idea that Scotland at the beginning of the twenty-first century was scarred by sectarianism (Devine 2000; Edwards 2000). With memories of the Northern Ireland conflict still fresh, the presence of a strong Orange Order, and persistent football-related tension between two well-supported Glasgow clubs ostensibly on both sides of the denominational divide, the Irish context has remained vital for the examination of Scottish anti-Catholicism (Murray 2000). There is no easy way to separate 'religious' and 'racial' or 'ethnic' elements of the debate, but the modern historiography has concentrated especially (though not exclusively) on clashes of working class Irish and Scots in urban contexts and has therefore tended to mask other notable elements of anti-Catholicism that were present in nineteenth-century Scotland (Gallagher 1987). This article will take the example of a short-lived Roman Catholic mission to the far north of Scotland - an area with little experience of Irish immigration - as a means of examining broader European / British strands of Scottish anti-Catholicism in the mid-Victorian era.

In the mid-1500s, Scotland had remained a Catholic enemy to Reformed England (Heal 2003). Yet, when the Reformation came to Scotland, it came rapidly and thoroughly. Protestantism became a part of Scotland's European identity, although within Britain it was the Calvinist Presbyterian nature of this Protestantism which was the most important element of Scotland's autostereotype (Stevenson 1997, 60). This longstanding self-image was presented as hard-won and ferociously maintained. In the face of regnal union with England in 1603, civil war in the 1640s, full incorporating political union in 1707, and centuries of anglicising cultural influences, Scotland had retained vital elements of nationhood. The 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, may have confirmed the common Protestant culture of England and Scotland, but it also reinforced Scottish religious distinctiveness (Kidd 2003, 50-1; Lenman 1997, 65). …

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