20 years ago a young man was murdered in a sectarian attack. Mark Scott was killed because of the religious and cultural association another person made with the scarf he was wearing. This devastating act shone a light on the sectarian attitudes and behaviours that had existed in Scotland for some time. The first significant work to tackle this was led by Mark’s friend Cara Henderson who began a media campaign and to raise awareness amongst politicians. She went on to found anti-sectarian charity ‘Nil By Mouth’ who work across Scotland addressing sectarian attitudes.


The first Summit on Sectarianism was held in February 2005 where former First Minister, Jack McConnell, who had previously called sectarianism ‘Scotland’s Shame’, said that bigoted sectarian behaviour had been a scar on Scottish life for far too long. At the time resources like YouthLink Scotland’s ‘Beyond a Culture of Two Halves’ were produced and used widely to tackle sectarianism in communities but it has been in recent years that significant steps have been taken to tackle this deep seated issue.

Following threats to three public figures, including Neil Lennon, as well as a number of other incidents in connection to football matches, the Scottish Government responded with action in the form of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. As well as the new legislation, £9 million was committed to fund 44 projects across Scotland to work with communities on this issue. In addition to this funding, the Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland was created; they commissioned in depth research on the topic and set the criteria for the funded projects.

But what is the result of all this work?  The work of the 44 projects in communities is widespread and is challenging perceptions, they are inviting people to join in conversations and openly talk about a subject that for many has been taboo for too long.

The work ranges from projects with young people in youth work settings and schools, using drama and creativity to explore and understand the topic, to intergenerational work looking at how attitudes have changed and what generations can learn from each other. There has been work also incorporating sport, looking at women’s experiences and one-on-one work with first time offenders as a diversion from prosecution.

In their final report the Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism laid out six principles, one of which said that community leadership was vital in consigning sectarianism to the past. The community based approach has created environments for dialogue and has actively changed attitudes.

According to the 2014 Social Attitudes Survey 88% of people still believe that sectarianism is an issue in Scotland but this is an issue that can be overcome in especially with the strong work taking place in communities across Scotland. 

Sectarianism has not yet been stamped out in Scotland but as a society we have come a long way since the tragic death of Mark Scott.