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McConnell: Cancer of sectarianism is back on our streets

Former First Minister Jack McConnell said the riot in Glasgow on Friday should be a 'wake-up call'.

Jack McConnell: Former first minister says fresh action needed. Shelby May

Former first minister Jack McConnell has warned sectarianism is “back on our streets” after violent disruption in Glasgow on Friday.

Lord McConnell, who led the Scottish Government from 2001 to 2007, said the disorder should serve as a “wake-up call” and claimed his successors had “taken the foot off the pedal” in tackling sectarianism.

Speaking to STV News, he pointed to national summits he had organised during his tenure as first minister to tackle the problem which were then dropped by Alex Salmond.

McConnell has offered to work with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the issue and told her: “It’s time to take action again.”

The First Minister has branded the disturbance, which flared into a full-scale riot in Govan on Friday night, “completely unacceptable”.

Sturgeon also said opposition MSPs who successfully repealed the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) last year “should be looking long and hard at themselves as to whether that sent the right message”.

The riot broke out in the Elder Park area of Govan after an Irish unity march – led by the James Connolly Republican Flute Band – was met by hundreds of counter-demonstrators.

Riot police, mounted officers, a force helicopter and dog units were used to quell “significant disorder”.

Two men were arrested during the incident but have since been released pending further inquiries.

Glasgow City Council has said it could “push the law” in a bid to keep future parades under better control – with three processions scheduled in the city this week.

But council leader Susan Aitken has stressed she cannot ban marches as human rights legislation protects the right to march.

McConnell branded sectarianism is a “cancer” on society which he said his successor governments had failed to stamp out.

He told STV: “The big problem with sectarianism is that it’s back.

“It’s back on our streets and it’s back in our football grounds.

“The problem with a cancer like sectarianism is if you don’t kill it off it never really goes away.

“I really hope the events of the last weekend – which were unfortunate, disgusting – has given a wake-up call to government and others that it’s time to take action again.”

McConnell called on Sturgeon to provide “national leadership” on the issue, saying: “The office of First Minister can bring people round the table, it can force people to make commitments and then ask them what they’ve done.

“If the First Minister is willing to do that, I’m certainly willing to help.”

He continued: “The best way to deal with this is to challenge the culture of sectarianism and to make sure the marching organisations are on board for the change in culture that’s needed.

“We need less violence on these marches, less alcohol, less aggression, better routes and we need better dates.

“The best way to achieve that is to get the marching organisations round the table and agree with them a better way of conducting themselves.”

The former FM, who was narrowly defeated by Salmond in the 2007 Holyrood election, called for a similar approach to the summits he pursued when he was in office.

“It was a mistake to take the foot of the pedal in 2007,” said McConnell.

“I really believe what we need is the local authorities, the Scottish Government, the football clubs, the employers, the religious organisations, the schools, pulling together as one under strong national leadership to make sure we can put sectarianism in the dustbin of history.”

The current First Minister said she is “determined” to never see another incident like Friday’s again.

Sturgeon said: “It’s completely unacceptable. Glasgow City Council has said it will be reviewing its procedures around marches and the Scottish Government will work closely with them if any legislative change is needed.

“But it’s important we do reflect on what happened and I’m absolutely determined to never see that kind of thing happen again.”

On the repeal of the OBFA, she added: “Those opposition MSPs who defeated that Act should be looking long and hard at themselves as to whether that sent the right message about our collective determination to tackle sectarianism and see an end to what is a scourge on Scottish society.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken said: “We constantly examine and test our procedures, within the limitations of the current legislation, to try and support our communities.

“There is no question that will continue; but it is equally important that (justice secretary Humza Yousaf) has indicated that, following the events of Friday night, he is also now open to discussions about further action.

“Any new approach to parades requires partnership between all levels of government, police and our communities – so that commitment is very welcome.”

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