Ian Livingston & The Politicising Of Celtic

bg_video_CEOSometimes in this life there are choices, and causes, which are open and shut.

At other times, you need to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself if something is right, or justified.

That’s not easy to do when your emotional self is screaming at you to lean one way or the other.

In the aftermath of the Tax Credits vote this week – a vote which affects me, as it affects 3 million other people in this country – there was predictable, and justified, outrage levelled at some of those on the Tory benches in the Lords who voted to push through these thoroughly awful changes.

My political views on that don’t have to be guessed at; I find the Tory welfare agenda to be a thing of almost incomprehensible cruelty, even evil.

That is one of those open and shut cases, as far as I’m concerned.

And that, my friends, is part of the point.

As far as I am concerned.

Because what I just did was express a personal opinion, a deeply held one to be sure, and one that is supported by much evidence.

Yet when it’s said and done, this is little more than a political point of view.

But there are other points of view.

I’ve spent the last couple of years banging the drum on one particular aspect of my politics – unrestricted, unconstrained, free speech – and I am not about to ostracise anyone for holding a different opinion than mine.

We all know that Iai Livingston cast a vote in the Lords for a policy that will increase hardship for a hell of a lot of people.

He’s a member of a party I loathe in ways that transcend anything I’ve ever felt about a certain Scottish football club that’s no longer with us.

On my Facebook page, the main picture at the top of my profile is of a protester holding a banner that reads “Decent People Don’t Belong In The Tory Party”.

I’ve never agreed with Tony Blair on much, but when he witheringly told Michael Howard, after one of the failed attempts to rebrand the Tories as the “Compassionate Conservatives” that it wasn’t the first word people had trouble with, it was the second I applauded.

Yet at university, one of my closest mates was the single Young Conservative on campus; his politics and mine could not have been further apart, but he and I mourned the death of real debate and the rise of the centrists of all political shades, who you couldn’t tell apart one from the other.

We both longed for days like now, when his party was run by right-wing ideologues and what was then my party, Labour, were in the hands of the Real Left.

The next few years will be marvellous for the political geeks like us.

Broken down, and looked at properly, things are always much more complicated than sticking labels on people and their views.

It’s the reason I can detest the SNP’s criminal justice policies yet still voted for them at the Scottish and then General elections.

There’s always a bigger picture, and independence for Scotland is a cause I’m wedded to now and they’re the only political party that can secure the second referendum we need to get it.

Does that mean I’m voting for them come what may?

Hell no, because independence itself isn’t the destination, it’s merely a staging post on a much longer journey.

The Scotland that emerges from it will be no better than what we’re leaving down in Westminster if it’s not committed to social justice, fairness, equality and all the freedoms that go with those things.

I’ll balance the SNP’s policies with that particular goal next year and make up my mind which way to go.

I take politics seriously, as many of you do, and I found it amusing in some ways that after posting my article on the Green Brigade’s recent banner, over on the CelticBlog, that I was called a hypocrite by some who supported that banner and much worse than that by some of those who were opposed to it. That’s par for the course.

It’s the price I gladly pay for living in a country that, for the moment, still lets everyone have a say on stuff like this, and on the poppies and a million other subjects.

When I saw that Celtic fans had started a petition to have Ian Livingston removed from the board because of his vote on this issue my automatic reaction was to sign it, and publicise it on every single thing I write for the next month.

And then I stopped myself, and I took a deep breath.

Because all of a sudden, here we are in a somewhat more complicated situation than it looks, because we have a fundamentally political campaign here, suggesting that our football club dispenses with someone’s services for holding their own political view.

And part of me is troubled by that.

I’ve spent months arguing that football fans – and not just Celtic fans; see, this is the part that always gets past certain people – should be allowed to sing whatever the Hell they want, and that no law should prevent that.

I’ve suggested that anyone who supports such a law go off and think about that for a minute, and the dangers it poses to free speech of all kinds when we start making it illegal for someone to express certain views.

Furthermore, I’ve argued that football and politics are spiritual bedfellows; that stadia have always been forums for political expression and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

In a long piece last year I said I understand why UEFA and FIFA instigated rules banning political banners at their games … but that I found that impossible to square with a minute’s silence for Nelson Mandela and their anti-racism initiatives, which are, themselves, when stripped to their core, profoundly left wing causes and clear expressions of political preference.

We get around that inconvenient truth by calling these “mainstream issues.”

You want to know what else has “mainstream” acceptance these days?

Welfare reform itself. Austerity. The retention of nuclear weapons.

The war on terror.

And on top of that, the sacrifice of some of our freedoms on the altar of “social cohesion” and especially security, which Benjamin Franklin decried in his famous quote; “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

I find UEFA and FIFA to be wholly inconsistent in the way they view this stuff.

The banning of political banners was introduced as a measure to combat right-wing views being expressed in the stands, and don’t let anyone kid you about that. It was a politically motivated move, but someone twigged that this wouldn’t fly, and so all political expression was banned.

All except that which UEFA and FIFA sanction themselves, of course.

It’s a nonsense and we all know that it is, and it’s not even applied even-handedly.

Barcelona’s motto “Més que un club” is blatantly political, as are a lot of their banners and flags and the same could be said for the Basque clubs and even their regional signing policies … and that covers only Spain, without us getting into identity politics at clubs in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere, which could take all day and add 2000 words to this article.

Barcelona are an overtly political football club, and they aren’t the only one in Europe.

Celtic, on the other hand, is not and it never has been.

I revere Barcelona for what it is and what it represents; they are as close to a “second team” as I have … but our own culture and identity is not, and it never has been, representative of a political agenda.

Several years ago, before this blog was set up, I found myself in the incredible position of having to write an article for another site criticising the Scottish Trade Unions Congress – an organisation with whom I have a long and happy history of warm memories and battles fought and won – when they released a press statement on the eve of a match where we played an Israeli team.

The press statement urged Celtic fans to make our visitors feel unwelcome, to let them know what our support collectively thought of the oppression of the Palestinian people.

The club in question had no part in that oppression of course; indeed, they had a history of cross culture initiatives designed to lessen tensions between the two communities, and that was just one of the reasons I found the STUC statement ridiculous.

What infuriated me most was the way it sought to hijack Celtic to promote it’s own agenda, something that they had no right to even attempt.

My own views on the Israeli-Palestine conflict were, and still are, wholly compatible with theirs.

I am a supporter of boycotting companies with ties to the Israeli regime, I have been a long supporter of the Palestinian people and would have voted to give them full UN recognition if it was my power to do it … my support for those things didn’t matter.

Celtic is no-one’s political vehicle and it ought never to be.

A lot of people have accused the Green Brigade of trying to use the club for that end, but they need to take a wee lie down. Those lads have never presumed to speak for the support as a whole far less the club.

If they appear to have a political agenda it’s because our country’s government decided to bring politics into our stadiums by passing a law affecting only football fans.

Let’s not forget that fact.

It was the SNP who fully politicised football in Scotland … no-one else.

That aside, The Green Brigade has done no more than express its own political view … which in a democracy they ought to be fully entitled to do. As that view relates to what goes on in a football ground – where, as I said, the SNP brought it – I laugh at those who say that Parkhead isn’t the place for protesting about it.

Talk about a fallacy of logic.

And having spent a long time arguing those facts, how then can I support a campaign which seeks to punish a member of our board for his own political allegiances?

Isn’t that a slippery slope to start going down?

There are a lot of Celtic fans who refuse to support Nir Bitton, some because of his nationality and others more specifically because of a tweet he once sent. There are others who don’t want Leigh Griffiths in the team, with his having pled guilty to singing the Rudi Skacel song.

In Bitton’s case, his “crime” was to have retweeted support for the IDF at a time when their soldiers were going house to house looking for Hezbollah mortars.

It’s easy to criticise that from 3500 miles away.

But if I had family living within range of those rockets I’d be singing a different song, and I know it and most people if they’re being honest know it too. The conflict over there has eluded some of the smartest and best intentioned people in the world; at its heart, though, are individuals on the ground with their own motivations and fears.

It is enormously complex, and there are angels and demons on both sides.

A lot of people miss that, or choose to ignore it.

Knee-jerk reactions are exactly why the place is in such turmoil.

In Leigh’s case, he was just being a daft boy in a boozer and the vast majority of you can understand that as well as I do. Hell, I would crawl under the bed and I would not come out if the full details of everything I’d done in the heat of the moment with a drink in me ever came to light.

Where do we stop with this?

There is a line; if our club contemplated hiring someone, for example, like Ched Evans, this site and all the others would be in meltdown.

But quizzing people on their politics or judging them on their nationality … then you aren’t far from asking them what school they went to, with a nudge and a wink.

We had Labourites on the board once; Brian Wilson and John Reid voted in favour of some pretty drastic stuff, and The Green Brigade’s position on that was clearly expressed when they turned their banner upside down and kept it like that until he was gone.

For those who don’t think these boys understand half of what they do, I say guess again.

They have a clear, and wholly consistent, political ideology encompassing everything from social justice and independence here at home to the rights of displaced peoples abroad.

I wish all our supporters thought as clearly, and deeply, about the things they “believe in” as these lads do, and I wouldn’t care what individual conclusions they reached about the world as long as there was a fraction of rationale behind them.

Doubtless, those who’ve stuck with this article up until now have already surmised that I’ve not signed the petition and have no intention of signing it.

I just did, though, literally between the last sentence and this one.

I am slightly uncomfortable having done this, and I’ll tell you that right now because I have the crawling suspicion I’ll be branded a hypocrite. That’s a charge that may well be levelled, and it might even stick.

I haven’t changed my mind about a single thing I’ve written above; Celtic has no business getting into political discourse except that which affects the club itself and I wouldn’t support us being used as anyone’s political chew-toy.

Yet I’ve made my decision and I’ll tell you how I arrived at it.

I started by asking myself certain questions and one of them was this;

How would I feel if we employed someone who’d supported the BNP?

And the answer is simple. I wouldn’t be particularly concerned.

I don’t expect that to be a popular view, but let me explain it.

You can’t legislate for someone being thick. If we got rid of that person we’d be in contravention of the law for basing employment practises on a person’s political allegiances, and he or she would be entitled to sue.

Let’s ask another question though;

How would I feel if we employed someone who turned out to be a BNP activist?

Well, now you’re on different ground entirely.

My first instinct would be to sack that person, instantly, but on more sober reflection I’d want to know more first.

I’d want to know the nature of that activism.

I’d want to know what it involved.

Are we talking simply pushing leaflets through doors? What do the leaflets say?

Are we talking “street politics”, and if that’s the case are we talking “daft boy singing daft songs in the pub” like Leigh Griffiths, who I in no way shape or form believe is a bigot? Or are we talking Combat 18 stuff?

The answers to those questions would determine the next move.

See, there are shades of grey here … and there’s black and then there’s white.

Iain Livingston does not simply hold certain political beliefs; he’s acted on them, and those actions have had consequences for other people.

Millions of other people, because of the unique position he currently holds within the political establishment.

And, although we, as a club, have no overt political agenda we were founded to feed the poor and Livingston’s political activities bring great harm to large sections of this country.

Yet even that’s not enough, and had it been simply about that I couldn’t have signed the petition no matter how much it makes my skin crawl to think of this guy representing us in any way, shape or form.

What’s more important, and relevant, is that Celtic has a Social Charter, as outlined on our website, the key planks of which are;

1. Improve Health
2. Promote Equality
3. Encourage Learning
4. Tackle Poverty

Livingston’s voting record places him in conflict with at least two, and it could be argued all four, of these core principles and this one in particular leaves him no hiding place.

For there is not one independent agency, from the Institute of Fiscal Studies to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which disputes the central claim of those opposed to this policy that over 3 million people, and probably many more, will encounter deeper poverty as a result of these cuts.

Far from “tackling” that great social scourge, a member of our board of directors is personally responsible for helping to inflict it on the most vulnerable people in this country; this is a fact.

He’s not a “supporter” of those policies … he’s an architect of them.

So even when you remove political considerations from this – as we ought to; as we have to – his position is wholly incompatible, and thereby untenable – in light of our stated institutional values.

The Celtic Family encompasses all social groups, and every shade of political opinion, from those considered mainstream to the far fringes of sanity, and the idea that we should ever exclude anyone on the basis of that is loathsome to me.

Our club states quite clearly on its website that we have no “political identity” per se, in spite of our roots.

I have no argument with that as it stands, but we do have certain fundamental principles, and these are embodied in the Social Charter in which our board places such great store.

Supporters have been banned from our ground for violating that.

Everyone inside the club is subject to it, and internal disciplinary action has been taken against players who have overstepped the mark, as we know from the Leigh Griffiths case.

Leigh has had to give guarantees about his future conduct, and I’m certain he’s given those and means exactly what he says, because at heart he was simply stupid and the Rudi Skacel song was a sign of nothing more than youthful exuberance and daftness.

Ian Livingston’s situation is very different.

It would not be right for our club to ask him to change his political allegiances any more than we should screen potential employees for theirs.

But his political actions flatly contradict what we stand for, and one suspects we won’t be asking him to refrain from those in the future even if he was likely to respond favourably to that.

In short, he’ll do what he thinks is right.

I cannot condemn him for that, and none of us should try to.

Nor should Celtic attempt to interfere.

But what we can do – what our own Charter compels us to do – is examine those actions in light of what we represent as a club and as a major Scottish institution, and in those circumstances he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

You cannot square that circle, I’m afraid.

Politics has nothing to do with this.

When I said earlier that there are certain things which are pretty clear cut … well this is one of them.

You can sign the petition by clicking on this link.

I’d urge every Celtic fan to do so.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link.)


James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

30 thoughts on “Ian Livingston & The Politicising Of Celtic

  • 29 October, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    Great article again James, my personal choice has been not to sign the petition even though I find LL’s descision loathsome. A club open to All we like to claim, well sometimes we have to face the fact that people involved in the club may hold views that are the polar opposite of my/our own. To rid ourselves of LL it has to be through the AGM not through petitions. Something else I’m quite uncomfortable with is we don’t know players politics, during the recent GE it was noticeable a few EPL players supported the Tories, Jon Walters being one and I’m sure there are more than a few of our clubs fans cheering him on during the Euros. I would urge all shareholders who want LL removed to contact the Celtic Trust and give them their proxy, it’s the correct way to rid the club of this horrible man.

  • 29 October, 2015 at 7:09 pm


    I\’ve never posted before, very rarely do but I\’ll digress from my normal path of inactitude.

    I started readin you blog and after a few paragraphs started to think \’I hope he\’s not going where I think he\’s going\’, with the comment that everyone is free to have their own view. With a bitter taste in my mouth I started to scroll past the rest of the blog.

    And now I must apologise, because you summarised exactly what I think and feel.

    A person, in such a position as Lord Livingston, should be called up upon his actions when he votes on particular issues and as such, as a board member, should be held up to the same standards that we as a club promote. Shame on him.

    James, I thank you again for your blog, always used to enjoy the CQN posts.



  • 29 October, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    James, he didn’t need to leave the Tory party or the Celtic board, but he could have voted against the Bill, some Tories did just that. He said he did it on constitutional grounds, Rubbish there is no written constitution just convention.

    I would rather have an elected senate.

    As you say the fact he actively voted for this Bill is where he crossed the line.

  • 29 October, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Jamie, I felt the same, I’ve read tons of James Forrests stuff and love it. My heart sunk in the first half of his post.

    All is well, balance has been restored!

  • 29 October, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Your article is one of the most thought provoking pieces I have ever read and you must be commended for that. You have managed to publicise both sides of the argument without ostracising anyone and this will help lead people to make their own decision on whether or not to sign the petition for the right reasons and not wholly on a lack of understanding alone. Incidentally I have signed the petition and had done so before reading your article.

  • 29 October, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    Clever blog and throws up personnel issues I\’ve had for a long time .Voted snp yet wrote angrily about orange walks every 2nd weekend in Kilwinning yet feel green brigade are hard done by for freedom to say their views .Worked since 82 never claimed a benefit or tax credit normal job so why should my tax pay for other people\’s kids ? Except I\’ve no kids and when I was a wean black Sannies for gym were 50p and not £70+ i.e. Weans cost and without weans no future pensions .in an ideal world there is no need for tax credits as everybody is payed fairly .i would have voted for credit cuts as above but Tory polices won\’t get fair pay and labour were just as bad so we\’re stuck with snp whether we like it or not .grey all they way .just hope we don\’t meet in a pub ,we would be there a long time

  • 29 October, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    James, a well balanced article and I will probably sign the Petition!

    I would also like to ask the readers of this site on what are the views of ex players, including one from our club,purporting to be pundits and taking money from Ladbrokes via its deal with Level 5 an the fact that they all have a vested interest! It’s immoral and disgraceful! All Celtic fans should be boycotting their shops ASAP!

  • 29 October, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Stopped reading when you started discussing nir bitton. I have for over 35 years been supporting the plight of the Palestinian people and a mad celtic fan.I in no way blame the bhoy but we as a socialist support must continue to demand that Israel complies with the multitude of un resolutions that they permanently flaunt with the covert backing of the USA.I understand your ache for proper democracy but unfortunately it\’s only in txt books.My god just read the \”pledge\” issued during the independence vote.I spoke recently with a wise old labour man who stated that revolution is on the cards if the punishment continues

  • 29 October, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Interesting take and conclusion . Like you I have no truck with The Tories and this piece of legislation was being fast tracked under the table without proper debate as a statutory instrument and while I cannot give my backing to The House of Lords in it’s present form they did act honourably in this case by denying it passage .
    To get on to Mr. Livingstone and Celtic I can see the point you make re the Clubs Social Charter but if the club take action based on this I can see a scenario where it opens up a can of worms not only with The Board but with each and every employee of Celtic Football Club . The word witch hunts comes to mind . There is a danger here and sometimes Pandoras Box is easier to open than close. It seems that as a support we are beginning to behave like a Politocal cleanser . E.G Do we have any SNP supporting Directors or Employees how does this sit with the Green Brigade campaign against the Legislation introduced by this party. Is it ok because they were not Architects of the Bill only supporters of The Party? We also had the Labour members of The Board ,John Reid in particular not much sympathy for him either. But I hope you can see that we do not live in a perfect world where everyone’s views match exactly to our own but Celtic as Club still need s a board of management and that will become more difficult to find if we start petitioning for Perfect Board Members. Who makes that kind of judgement?
    In my opinion I understand the anti Livingstone feeling and my sympathy lies with it but I won’t sign up because I do not necessarily agree with every radical rant by every Celtic Supporter and the route that petitions will take us down. Who is next Peter Lawell? because I believe there is a noisy minority of fans who might just see an opportunity there. Where will it stop ?

  • 29 October, 2015 at 9:17 pm


  • 29 October, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    If it is about actions and not beliefs then why has there not been the same action against others who hold and have held positions at the club who’s actions surely contravene our charter. John Reid for one dermot Desmond for another. Also the current political debate on tax credit cuts is not singularly cut and dried and should b treated as such.. not all conservatives or those who vote for them are raging right wingers without a social conscience. His vote, however misguided many believe it to be could have been made with the best of intentions and he may believe that this legislation while having clear immediate negative impact on many may actually be the right thing in the long term in relation to growth and earning etc. I don’t have the answer to that as I’m no economist but there is train of thought out there to that point. Have we heard his views. Should we castigate him without first finding out his motivations

  • 29 October, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Do the Green Brigade have a “clear and consistent ideology on independence here at home”?

    I have joined their website and no-one asked me to fulfill any criteria on support for Scottish or Irish Independence, the Israeli/Arab conflict or which party to vote for.

    I never knew there was any uniform policy. Do I need to resign?

    P.S. On the Livingstone question- Tories do as they do. I knew he would vote for this and other unjustifiable measures so I don’t just judge him on this one. Dermot Desmond’s business practices are highly disagreeable too. I wish they were all not there but I fear the petition is merely gesture politics which will be quickly ignored. I intend no criticism of those who signed it but that is how I feel. We are a plc and that allows these unsavoury characters to use their financial advantages to influence. I wish it were not so.

  • 29 October, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Are we talking victimisation of an individual here, he is an Israeli for Gods sake. We are who we are. Hh

  • 29 October, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    For starters God Bless you and all others affected, it is a disgrace that the rich vote on matters for the poor which benefit them at the expense of us. It is equally scandalous that the poor elect these people. I mean why have the 1% got power in a democracy.

    Makes me sick. The sooner we rid ourselves of the parasites and their ham shagging puppets the better.

  • 29 October, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Israelis had worldwide sympathy for their ww2 experiences at the hands of the Germans but since the six day war most of that has evaporated due to their treatment of the Palestinians AND their own Arab Israeli citizens,but they have never flaunted any u.n.rules to my knowledge.flouted them ?undoubtedly. If you need to look at somebody who professes one thing and does another have a look at tony Abbott former oz pm.he professed to be sympathetic toward refugees but brought in legislation that demonises them.boat people are locked up in camps in png and Nauru with no hope.anybody working there for the oz government is liable for up to two years jail if they disclose any of the goings on there no matter how heinous. The baron of park head,an oxymoron if there ever was one is a choirboy by comparison.HH

  • 30 October, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Good article , some wrong conclusionsb in my opinion.
    Livingston politics do not effect his ability in his role for and on behalf of Celtic.
    People should not be singing anything they believe in at football grounds , it’s dangerous and wrong to vocally support terrrorist organizations.
    GB who are great at times should include Scottish rebels songs ( national anthem of Scotland) in their repotoir as well as that of Eire

  • 30 October, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Great article, James, and well thought out.
    I am pleased to say that I signed a few days ago. Years ago I recall seeing on a friend’s desk a quotation from Confucius. It was to he effect that no matter how much I disagree with what you say I will defend to the death your right to say it. (Must ask my friend for the wording!) We have that position here and I support fully LL’s right to his views no matter how abhorrent I find them. Everything we do has consequences. As you rightly point out he is diametrically opposed to the whole “being” of The Celtic Football Club. As such his position on the board is untenable.
    Interestingly “Dan The Man” has not signed because he is concerned that the ranters might take over, as well as being worried about witch hunts. A wise man indeed. These matters concern me too but I stop in a different place. Who said the words about evil surviving when good men remain silent.
    In saying that I should brush up on my philosophical quotes I am not being the least flippant. I am trying to remind us all that we each draw the line at a different point and in doing so we must respect each other’s views.

  • 30 October, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Circumlocution disguised as angst:

    he voted to impoverish millions of people

    some Celtic fans objected

    we signed a petition

    Corporate won\’t agree

  • 30 October, 2015 at 7:06 pm


  • 31 October, 2015 at 1:12 am

    I wonder how Livingston feels after seeing the tremendous work the Green Brigade and many others have done tae help the needy and the poor around Glasgow,does he even care,we do,and always will do.

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