How I met menacing Christians north of the border

There was a little boy and a little boy was he.
He ran away to Scotland the people there to see.

I recited this rhyme quite happily and without reason. In the past few months, I have visited Scotland quite frequently - from the Isle of Lewis to Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh and now Stirling. The place has grown on me, so much so that I am thinking of shifting house to Edinburgh in the next year.

True, I can't see myself in a kilt, and I haven't warmed to haggis. Moreover, the climate is devastating at times and Inverness, right on the coast, in the middle of the winter, could be distinctly uncomfortable. But it is not just a general middle-aged itch that causes my attraction; it is also that I am familiar with the stage of history at which Scotland stands as it eases itself out of a colonial past, charting a way in unknown waters. And because the Macpherson report, in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has drawn a line under much of what I fought for here, new things beckon.

In the past few days, my journey took me to Stirling. There I was on a mission, for a Channel 4 series, to find the very old world. I moved between the Highland Hotel, which sits in the shadow of the castle, and a family that resides in modern suburbia. The family, comprising husband, wife and five children, are staunch Catholics. The rosary is at the centre of their lives. Prayer, systematically chanted, sterilises the home. The four girls have no greater ambition than marriage and the bearing of children. One of them, a 17-year-old, wants six to eight bairns. Virginity comes easily in their day-to-day lives.

The entire family is at the heart of the Christian movement against abortion and against the teaching of sex education in schools. The mother insists on a return to the old world. Secular society, she says, has brought misery, and we must now take the Ten Commandments to the centre of government. People like this are in alliance with Hindus, Muslims and the rest - a fundamentalist international.

I spent two days with the family and travelled with them to Edinburgh where, along with others, they picketed the Brook Advisory Clinic with verve and intemperate language. I told them that my ex-wife is on a counselling body within the Brook organisation. They tried to convince me she was a murderer and part of a group that, by advising on abortion, was repeating the Holocaust. They appeared a very happy, well-organised family; yet a distinct hint of menace was ever present.

I was unable to gauge the extent of their support, but they have undoubtedly managed to breach a huge sectarian gap. Their allies include a Protestant holy roller who preaches hell and damnation at his tiny mission hall in Stirling. This is certainly not the Christianity of my Anglican father, the late Reverend Cipriani Howe.

Then I went to see the Lynch family, including Hugh Lynch, who featured prominently in the fight over Section 28, wanting to retain the resistance to teaching about homosexuality in schools. Again, a happy family unit. Hugh is a former footballer for Celtic, and he warmed the cockles of my heart when he named Russell Latapy, the Trinidadian who played for Hibernian, as the best in Europe. He, too, wanted the Ten Commandments at the heart of government.

Before we flew out of Edinburgh, I went with the film crew to the J D Wetherspoon pub at the airport. I gathered some stools in a corner, perched on high and lit a fag. The waitress strolled over and ordered me away. "Move from here, this is a no-smoking zone!" she said rudely. I shifted my black backside. I was as sober as a judge at the beginning of Michaelmas term, but she refused to serve me more than a single whisky. Why? I was drunk, she said. Perhaps the word "drunk" is easily exchanged for "black" in that part of the world. But, in the course of the argument, a Scotsman bought me a large scotch, shook my hand and disappeared. Yes, I like Scotland.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.