Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Politics, religion, football and Government

Tonight, I tried multi-multi-tasking.

First, and undoubtedly most aesthetically pleasing, I set off to watch Barcelona. Played at its very best, nothing, nothing is more beautiful than football. Faced with the imminent end of the World and with but a few hours to go, who would swap listening to La Traviata, reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles or watching The Godfather for the chance to see, one last time, the 1970 World Cup Final. Or France against Portugal in '84 or indeed this Barcelona team at any time. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Secondly however, I tried to follow events in Dingwall where Saints were playing Ross County in the Cup. I suspect the football did not quite match up in quality to that produced by the Catalans and it's a hell of a long way to Dingwall at any time, let alone midweek in February, but 169 dedicated Buds did so nonetheless. I am now  ashamed not to be in the company of that band of brothers (some women among them). I salute their courage, their fortitude, their indefatigability. Safe journey home.

It is impossible to explain why this is, even when it's ugly, the beautiful game, but it is. And yet there is little more ugly than the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic.

It would be great if Scottish Football was like all-Ireland Hurling or English Cricket; organised on a County basis, with your loyalty predetermined by the place of your birth, or at least the place of your residence. And, indeed, for many of us, from Paisley, or Motherwell, or Dunfermline or even Dingwall, Scottish Football is.

But, for good or ill, well actually overwhelmingly for ill, Scottish football also has a tribal element.

Now, entire books have been written on how that has come about. I do not propose to attempt to precis them here.

And that tribalism pervades almost every aspect of Scottish life, not least politics. Historically, my Party has been associated with Celtic, despite notable exceptions like Andy Kerr or Brian Donohoe. And the Parties of the Right, despite equally notable exceptions like Roseanna Cunningham or.......(I'm struggling here), have been associated with Rangers.

Now, when one or other of these institutions gets into difficulty about which politicians might have a legitimate view, that causes difficulty.

When Rab C Nesbitt famously described Jim Sillars as "the Hun in the Sun", everybody understood the joke. But when Nicola Sturgeon issues a mealy mouthed regret about the potential demise of a major employer in her constituency everybody also understands her difficulty.

Particularly if that demise is as a result of failure to meet the tax obligations incumbent, personally and sportingly, on the rest of us.

BUT. Senior Scottish Football is kept (just) alive by television money. Much as we all would wish that there was a worldwide television audience for St Mirren v Motherwell, there simply is not. There is not even much of an audience for St Mirren v Rangers or indeed Motherwell v Celtic. The interest, and the money, is in Rangers v Celtic.

And that money ends up in all of our pockets; St Mirren and Motherwell not least. And Celtic above all.

So, tonight, Margaret Curran can appeal to HMRC to have an eye to the wider picture. But the First Minister is on the horns of a dilemma. And silent.

Express support for Rangers and he not only places himself on the side of tax dodging wide boys but he also risks the loss of the long solicited "Celtic" vote. But wash his hands of Rangers and he concedes that never mind Scotland being able to run an Independent economy, we can't even run a viable Football League.

To govern is to choose. Time for Eck to make that choice. And for the press not to allow him to avoid the difficult answer with a chuckle.


  1. LOL @ the sneaky Roseanna Cunningham "parties of the right". Just you keep telling yourself that, Ian.

  2. I don't really understand your point. If there was a serious and imminent danger of Rangers actually going out of existence it would be fair to ask why action wasn't being taken. But despite the hysteria we aren't at that stage yet. I heard Shona Robison on the radio this morning saying that she is speaking to the administrators today so the SG is not being inactive.

  3. Why should the Scottish government have any responsibility for a private sporting company? It was mismanaged and either owes the 'Revenue' as a major creditor or it doesn't. But of course Mr Smart has to try to make an anti SNP point. Why was Nicola Sturgeon's statement mealy mouthed?
    The sad people who support either of the 'Old Firm' teams and then equate that support with the Tory Party or Labour (and I'm sure that's not all supporters) ought to wake up and support a government that cares about Scotland.

  4. "And that money ends up in all of our pockets;"

    Bollocks it does. It ends up in the pockets of Rangers and Celtic, who spend it all on foreign players bought from foreign clubs, sending the money directly out of our game. Scottish football is strongest when Rangers and/or Celtic are weakest.


  5. (And of course, in Rangers' case, it comes directly OUT of our pockets, in the shape of what looks like £60m of written-off tax due to the Treasury. How many schools and hospitals and libraries could that have kept open? And you're suggesting we should be grateful?)