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Public attitudes to sectarianism in Scotland

Authors: Stephen Hinchliffe, Anna Marcinkiewicz, John Curtice, Rachel Ormston

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This report presents findings from the 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) on public attitudes to sectarianism. It is intended to fill a gap in the evidence base in detailed information about attitudes towards and beliefs about sectarianism across Scotland as a whole. Commissioned by the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism established by the Scottish Government in 2012, the report is part of a programme of research aiming to improve the evidence on sectarianism in Scotland.


Sectarianism exists in one form or another around the globe, but in the specific context of Scotland the term is usually used to denote the inter-faith tensions between Catholics and Protestants that are part of the historic legacy of Scotland. The religious roots of such tensions are, however, now complicated by associations with ethnicity, political nationalism and sporting allegiances. The complexity of this cultural phenomenon and the diversity of its impacts and consequences are captured in the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism‟s working definition of the term:

Sectarianism in Scotland is a complex of perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, actions and structures, at personal and communal levels, which originate in religious difference and can involve a negative mixing of religion with politics, sporting allegiance and national identifications. It arises from a distorted expression of identity and belonging. It is expressed in destructive patterns of relating which segregate, exclude, discriminate against or are violent towards a specified religious other with significant personal and social consequences (Scottish Government, 2013a, p.18).

The Scottish Government‟s Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism was established in 2012 with the specific aim of raising the level of discussion and debate about sectarianism and identifying effective ways of tackling it. A core component of the work of the Advisory Group has been to consider existing evidence about the nature and extent of sectarianism in Scotland and to make recommendations about expanding and underpinning the evidence base in this area. To that end, the Scottish Government conducted an evidence review (Scottish Government, 2013b), which highlighted a lack of detailed information about the patterning of beliefs and attitudes about sectarianism across Scotland as a whole. This report aims to address this gap, using data from the 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA).