Sunday, 17 June 2012

Religion, Football and Politics (In that order)

I have had a terrible hangover all day. As those daft enough to follow me on twitter will already know, I was invited to a barbecue in Edinburgh yesterday. It was hardly barbecue weather and the event transformed itself into a football-fest while copious quantities of drink were consumed. How untypically Scottish you might observe, although only if you had never set foot in Scotland.

Anyway, after brunch, I decided it was a time for a "wee lie doon" only to find that the bandstand outside my house had been appropriated by one of the numerous happy-clappy churches that seem to flourish in Kilsyth. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I am not necessarily hostile, in normal circumstance, to organised religion. That view was formed however in different circumstance from lying in my bed at three o'clock in the afternoon while being assailed through a p.a. system as to the evils of wild living, interspersed with folk/rock renditions of various potentially redemptory courses my life might take as an alternative. At that point, I found myself thinking of Richard Dawkins as a man who held ridiculously conciliatory views.

So what has any of this got to do with the usual subject of this blog, I hear you think?

Well, simply that as reassurances that I might find a friend in Jesus prevented me from drifting off, I found myself thinking about what I might write about tonight.

And it was about what people were discussing at the barbecue. And that was mainly about Rangers. Now, there has been much, good humoured, mockery of the extent to which the agendas of our two main news analysis programmes, Newsnight and Scotland Tonight, have been dominated by discussion of Rangers since the crisis broke with the club slipping into administration on St Valentine's day.  "This is not news" has been the complaint, "it is just sport". Well, setting aside the question of whether, in Scotland, football is ever "just sport", the reason that the editors of these respective programmes have devoted so much time and resources to this issue is because it is one in which people are interested.

And, more importantly, because in a climate where the public are engaged, to a greater or lesser degree, in whether Scotland might viably "go it alone", the patent failure of Scotland in the one significant area where, after the Union, Scotland has chosen to go it alone can't but have an unhappy resonance for those determined to pursue that course more widely.

The reason Rangers went bust is because their ambitions were too big for Scotland. In a world where television revenue became increasingly more important than average home gates (by which latter measure Rangers remain the 19th best supported club in Europe and 6th in the UK), both of the Old Firm teams were at an increasing competitive disadvantage. And as relatively modest domestic television revenues increasingly impacted on their abiltiy to compete in Europe, Rangers found themselves trapped into a vicious downward spiral; a spiral of reduced European revenues as well, which, if you follow the small print, Celtic also recognise. For all the outrage across Glasgow, corners were cut at Rangers not to compete against Celtic but to try, hopelessly, to compete with Arsenal or Manchester United. And, before the ultimate meltdown, it had led to Jelavic being sold to a modest mid-table Premiership side. If Celtic were honest,  any of their top players would have been vulnerable to a similar bid.

And the irony of this is that it is caused by the one bit of particularism which all Scottish political opinion, unionist or nationalist, would defend in the last ditch; that Scotland and England, on the football pitch at least, should remain separate "Countries". But buried in that is a wider, and overtly political, lesson.

All of Rangers and Celtic's financial disadvantage would be solved tomorrow if they could join the (English) Premier League, which they would both very much like to do. And, if that could be done without imperilling the Scottish National Side, most of the rest of Scottish Football would happily wave them on their way. But it can't. We cannot have our cake and eat it. Because, Scotland having resolved to remain separate (a word chosen advisedly)  from their jurisdiction, the English Premier League, at the request of their members, were perfectly entitled then to act in the best interests of no-one but themselves. And these interests did not include indulging two potential major competitors.

And that's the political lesson in all this. If Scotland wants it's own Football Association we are welcome to it, but having made that choice, we are no more entitled to the assistance of the English FA than we would be entitled to the assistance of the Football Associations of Germany or Italy.

Yet, in its current incarnation, that is precisely what the SNP propose as Scottish Independence. We can, apparently, seek competitive corporate tax advantage but yet rely on the Bank of England as lender of last resort. We can create employment through subsidising alternative energy production and then rely on a unified "British" energy market to sell it. We can reject the disagreeable elements of British defence policy yet still enjoy a right to serve in the British Army. We can complain without justification of an abusive relationship but still hope for an amicable divorce.

This is all nonsense. And the SNP know it. And if ever attempted it would end no more happily than the way in which Rangers ended.

More importantly still for how the politics of this will play out, that knowledge is shared by the fast majority of the people of Scotland and will not be overcome by mere semantics. Which is why, if Eck can possibly achieve it, there will not be a Referendum.

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