Our Biggest Game

12scotsoccer1-master675On Thursday the whole of this country will be going to the polls to make the biggest decision any of us has faced in our lives.

The world is watching us, some of it enviously and some of it with concern, but this decision is not theirs, and nor is the responsibility for living with the decision or living in this country when it is done.

Scotland makes this decision alone. My fervent hope is that we’ll enjoy that experience enough to vote Yes, and make all of our decisions for ourselves. That’s what this referendum is about, when you strip it right down to the skeleton. It’s about putting our future direction, and all of our future choices, in our own hands, now and forever.

Scottish football fans are as divided on this issue as any other social grouping, but I am glad that the attempts to influence our votes through the game have been low-key. This is too big a decision to be made on the basis of football allegiances or the self-interest of clubs.

That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be an impact on football, because like everything else there absolutely will be. I don’t believe the impact will be negative, though. I think that after the referendum we should be lobbying all the parties to make some kind of commitment to investing in the grass roots side of the game.

There are also opportunities for creating legislation which makes the sport stronger, and improves the way supporters interact with their clubs. There is also an argument for creating a Department of Sport, and giving the elected authorities a supervisory role in the game. I am sick and tired of our governing bodies dithering around. Some form of administrative oversight, and legally enforceable rules on what constitutes a fit and proper person, would cut out some of the nonsense.

If we leave this in the hands of Westminster, there will be no solution to these problems, and the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have the resources or the time to take them seriously. That’s one area we, as supporters, can come together post-referendum, providing the vote has gone our way, and start pushing on the parties before the first elections for a new assembly even take place.

Government cannot do everything here. But it can do more. It cannot make teams better, but it can give the bodies which run the game a kick in the backside when they need it, and as we all know they definitely do need it at the moment.

I came to the Yes side late, but football played a part in bringing me here and I would be lying if I did not admit that. Whilst I do not think decisions should be made based on the impact they have on individual clubs, or because of perceived slights against them, my own decision has been informed by what we have seen in our sport over the past three years and the way in which supporters came together to oppose efforts to circumvent the rules in the case of Rangers.

Without that campaign, without having seen it succeed, I am not 100% convinced that I would be here right now, as confident as I am tonight, working away on the side of a Yes. Oh it’s possible I would have arrived at this destination simply by examining the issues – in fact, I’m sure of it – but the confidence comes from somewhere else. It comes from the successful endeavour many of us were involved in some years back.

See, the way I see it, some of us fought this referendum campaign early, a little microcosm of it anyway, right here, on our own doorsteps, just a couple of years ago. At stake was the future of Scottish football, a small thing in comparison to what we’re fighting for now, but you would not have known that to listen to those on the other side of it.

This campaign, launched by governing bodies who seemed every bit as distant to ordinary football fans as the members of the Westminster bubble seem to ordinary voters, talked down to us of Armageddon, of civil unrest, of a meltdown which would devastate all around us.

They had the support of the broad sweep of our national press, which took great pleasure in telling us how stupid we, the fans, were to want the rules applied as written. We were told we just didn’t understand the big picture, that we didn’t have rational motives and that the whole campaign was about jealousy and hate.

We were warned that big commercial companies would walk away from the game. That we would become a laughing stock, with the whole national sport going backwards if we let one of the great pillars of it fall down. Forget that it had happened because of their own recklessness, forget that they had pissed on our national sport and all the teams in it for years – forget it in the way we’re asked to forget the greed, the lack of accountability, the total disconnect with the voters which our leaders in London show – no, the game needed Rangers too much to treat them as we would have treated any other side.

We didn’t know it then, but we were getting a preview of Project Fear and the tactics it would later deploy against the Yes campaign.

I think many of us went into this referendum not only on the back of that victory over the fear and smear machine, and an innate understanding of how it worked, but with the memory of all those predictions of doom fresh in our minds, and the knowledge that they’ve been proven to be the lies we all assumed they were at the time.

Look at the media, for a start.

We know they wilfully participate in promoting worst case scenarios on behalf of those in authority. We know the papers and the radio stations and the pundits on TV operate under the arrogant and unjustified assumption that their audiences are less smart than they are. This would be forgivable if they merely assumed that we were less capable of seeing the big picture, but actually what it boils down to is they think we are stupid enough to accept, without question, whatever they tell us, no matter how baseless it is.

We know they lie, frequently, and think distorting the truth and bending facts to suit their own agendas, or to support the narrative of whoever they are spinning for at any particular time is perfectly valid and legitimate, instead of a betrayal of their professional responsibilities.

Here, in the referendum, many of our “friends” in the press are writing about the consequences of a Yes for our political class, but it baffles me that they can’t see, or just don’t want to acknowledge, how big a rejection of them that result would be too.

The Scottish footballing press is under no such illusions any longer. They know they are distrusted, if not outright despised, save for a small number of guys who’ve at least tried to play with a straight bat; Speirs, English, Cowan, Cosgrove, Spence and a few others.

They have their political equivalents in guys like Bell, MacWhirter, McKenna and Bateman.

Oh I don’t always agree with them, and I think the first two, in particular, are prone to looking into the crystal ball and seeing miracle cures for Sevco’s problems, and Kevin McKenna has an overly romantic view when it comes to supporting England’s national football team (haha) and is more impressed by Johann Lamont and other Labour front-benchers than most of us can fathom, but I think that on balance these guys are the real deal.

Others in that profession, like Keith Jackson, try to spin their defeat and the circumstances the game finds itself in, as some kind of proof that they were the Cassandra’s of some downfall we’re actually in the middle of right now.

The idea is nonsensical, of course, because these aren’t serious journalists but mind-numbing hacks who view the fans with contempt. They are kidding nobody but themselves. Others, like Jim Traynor, spat the dummy, quit the business and had a kick at the bloggers and even their own profession on the way out the door, having been the architects of their own ignominious exits and their own disgracing.

Our trust in football’s governing bodies is virtually zero too.

For years the game in this land has been allowed to rot from the inside. Henry McLeish wrote a much heralded report on what the game in Scotland needs to do to grow, and those in charge of the sport nodded their heads, praised him and stuck it in a drawer.

None of those changes was on the cards before the Rangers crisis exploded in 2012, until the point where it became clear that the clubs were willing to vote against the NewCo being put into the top flight, in spite of absolutely relentless fear mongering.

All of a sudden proposals were hastily cobbled together and offered to the clubs as a bribe. They were minor league, nothing at all on the scale McLeish wanted or had put forward, and the clubs knew it.

Does it sound familiar? Of course it does. The same trick has been tried by Better Together, and almost certainly with the same result.

Change did finally come, because the clubs demanded the governing bodies keep their promise to deliver it, but at the end of that season, with Sevco in the bottom tier they were offered new proposals that were even more watered down, and even more inadequate, than what had been offered to them just a few months before.

Real change, the kind that will make a real difference, eludes us even now. We wouldn’t have got it anyway, though, and that’s the point. The McLeish Report was never on the table any more than Devo Max was or is here.

In the referendum that reform is even less credible. We’re getting promises of “jam tomorrow” from people like Gordon Brown, those not in a position to deliver them, as everyone is well aware, even as those who might have the power to, like William Hague and Ed Balls, are telling us that, actually, they’re not going to come as quickly, or be as thorough, as we’re hearing elsewhere.

Lies piled on lies. Our political leaders treating us like children who can be bribed to behave, with promises of Santa Claus. The echoes from two years ago are ringing in the ears of those of us who resisted that dishonest campaign.

The other great lie is the promise of the utopia.

This is the most dangerous of all the lies, because there is such a need to believe in it.

The whole concept of Better Together is built on this idea, that somehow the system that has failed us, consistently, for a generation now, can suddenly be righted and made to serve every corner of these islands better.

Those of us who’ve spent our lives either studying the present political system or working in it, either as party members or full time professionals, know the limitations of it better than that, which is one of the reasons I’m so disheartened and angry at Labour in Scotland trying to sell us on an idea that not one of them believes can be realised in our lifetimes, and probably not ever.

Westminster can’t be reformed. That system has been warped so much now that it no longer serves any interests but its own and you cannot save something once the decay becomes so pervasive. To change it now all the people in it would have to go for a start, and the party system with it. It would take the political equivalent of a meteor strike to accomplish a goal that size, and that’s not going to happen.

The dependencies built into that system, of subsidies, of cross connections, special interests and all the underlying threads weaving them together, would need to be cut. The power of the intelligence services would need to be challenged. The defence industry would need to be scaled back. The pollination – some would say pollution – which sees so much of our political elite share seats around the boardrooms of big business, and vice versa, would need to end, and end forever.

The political geography of the country would need to change. The concentration of wealth in the south – where the votes are – would need to be turned upside down.

This would be the greatest task of all, Herculean in scale, and even imagining it is a challenge beyond the skills of our political class.

The utopia is never going to happen within that system.

Here in Scottish football we have people promising us the utopia too, or their version of it. Yet this utopia is not one of a reformed game in Scotland – something that, to me, is a realisable ambition and worth striving for.

No, this utopia lies in some of our teams running off to another league, and this, to me, is just as dangerous and offensive and an insult to the intelligence as the fantasy being spoon fed to us by Labour, the one that runs contrary to our past experience and to all common sense.

This version of the utopia is that Celtic, and maybe even Sevco Rangers, will someday find themselves playing in the EPL. You might have read a version of this particular package of bollocks being sold to us as a reason for voting No this weekend, in one of the tabloids.

A Yes vote, they’re telling us, will close that door forever … and we are tantalised by the will of some south of the border to re-evaluate the situation if we, as a country, say No.

I laughed reading that, as I laughed during this week when a prominent Celtic site appeared to suggest we factor this into our thinking when we cast the vote on Thursday. I laughed because otherwise I would have screamed at the gross insult to our sense of proportion and basic intelligence this idea represents; that we should give up our dreams for our country to focus, instead, on some possible benefit our football club might get.

Even thinking about it makes me want to take a shower.

This is an issue I’ve resisted posting on for a while now, but if there was ever a time for putting my thoughts down for posterity this is it.

I am totally opposed to the idea of Celtic relocating its league membership to play in England. Even if there were a way to do it equitably, without us disenfranchising another team, I would not be interested in the idea.

We are a Scottish team with our roots in Ireland and it is here that we belong, limitations and all.

English football, indeed football in any number of countries across the world, is ruled now by money, and by TV money at that. The amount of money down there is an obscenity, and as no-one can give me a single footballing reason why we should want to be there I can only surmise that money is what’s behind this desire.

The people promoting this – those who, like Gordon Brown, are in no position to ever deliver it – will dress it up as “helping us realise our potential.”

The same nonsense is being spoon fed to all of us who want independence; that being part of the United Kingdom keeps us on the big stage. That the union helps us do more. That only by being part of something bigger can we punch above our weight.

So what does being part of the union really do in terms of “realising our potential” and “keeping us on the big stage”? It locks us into madness, into a collective insanity, of pursuing national prestige at the expense of national prosperity. It keeps us a nuclear state, with armed forces bigger than those which we need, permanently on the lookout for wars to join so we can justify a defence industry which we spend too much on.

The UK is a small country, with limited resources. We ought to marshal them better, so we have the things we need. Things that are more important than prestige. We might kid ourselves that we can walk on the stage with Russia, with China and with the US, but kidding ourselves is all we are doing. We’re a second rate power at best.

Celtic’s moving down to England, provided we could somehow overcome the mountains of obstacles in our way, would not make us stronger or more competitive, and anyone who says otherwise is having a laugh. People who think we would win the league down there can’t be taken seriously, because there are a handful of clubs in that league whose financial position, and ownership structures, put them out of sight of everyone else, regardless of how much television money the other clubs receive.

Brand Celtic would eventually be worth a lot of money, but for God’s sake, how many pieces of our soul would we have to give away to get there? Look at Liverpool. A football club with its roots in working class communities and who tolerated the excesses of a violent, foul mouthed multi-millionaire because he had a knack for scoring valuable goals, all the better to maintain the value of the brand and compete for a title.

Has Liverpool lost its soul? It depends on what you value. Theirs is a club without a league championship in 20 years, so maybe they saw it as a price worth paying.

But a lot of people saw New Labour as a price worth paying to end Tory rule too. Few people in the Movement can now deny that allowing careerists and “modernisers” to take over in order to gain power has inflicted catastrophic damage on the party, and may have killed it entirely here in Scotland, based on the way its adherents have fought this campaign.

To compete in the EPL at all, would force Celtic to embrace what we all know is obscene insanity We would, soon enough, find ourselves paying £100,000 a week to players who otherwise would never be earning close to that, and running up debts like a gambling addict in Vegas. Once a part of the collective lunacy in that league there would be no escaping that fate.

So, after having to circumvent legal minefields inside and outside football in order to get there, then what?

We’d have two choices; the first is to become bit-part players, as the only sane club, in a bloated, over-hyped league where insanity runs amok or to jump in feet first and embrace the horror.

In all likelihood, either way, we would find ourselves facing decades without a league title, and perhaps even a trophy. In those circumstances we’d be no better off, comparatively, in football terms, than one of the clubs we face here at home.

So what potential would we be realising? We’d have delivered ourselves into the mouth of madness, with nothing to show for it but an inflated wage bill, and in doing it we’d have given away the soul of our club to pursue a higher profile and a better share price.

You know what else? There’s something more than Celtic’s ability to win trophies, and to keep its roots, that lies behind my desire to keep the club playing in Scotland.

People will call me a dreamer for this, a crazy optimist, someone who puts hope ahead of logic, and that’s all well and good. Hell, I now support an independent Scotland and I was a socialist in the Labour Party long after that idea ceased being sensible far less fashionable, so I’ve undoubtedly been called worse.

I think we have a moral responsibility to Scottish football, as the biggest club in the country, to stay here, reform it and make it better. The game here is not beyond saving. Clear out the small-minded men at the top, those who came up under a corrupt, two club system, and it can still be made into something that works, something that achieves greatness again.

Some will argue that Scottish football never gave us a fair deal, so why should we care? If I have to explain it I’ll never be able to make those people understand it, save to say that this is our house. We can either let it rot and fall down around us or we can try to fix what’s wrong.

Furthermore, as a huge club in a small country I think we’re in a unique position to argue for a pan-European settlement that benefits other small nations, rather than abandoning ours and all the other clubs in it to its fate. The game itself is being broken by the money coursing through certain leagues and certain clubs, and that’s something that needs to be tackled at the top.

How the Hell do we argue for that kind of moral solution, a solution that benefits all the other disenfranchised clubs out there, if we’ve already headed south in pursuit of the cash? Would we even want to? Why do I get the feeling that far from challenging a system that rewards the few rather than the many that we’d end up defending it instead?

I don’t have to tell you that an independent Scotland can be the partner in Europe that the UK never was. That we can be a voice of moderation in the world. That we can hold up this referendum as the moment when a country’s people broke away from an island race mentality that glorifies war, that revels in being on the outside looking in and which has contributed to an international climate of distrust, fear and hate.

The ultimate, beautiful, irony of Scotland’s independence is that it will massively strengthen our internationalist credentials, and offer a new and progressive voice for a more united Europe and a better world.

I’m an optimist, and that’s what this referendum has re-woken in me. It has re-fired the passion. It has re-affirmed all my beliefs. It has made me whole again, after a long period where I felt there was something missing in my life.

I’ve returned to politics and political action, and it has made me think more clearly about the things that are really important to me.

On Thursday I am going to vote for a future where Scotland’s destiny is in the hands of its own citizens. Football considerations will not influence that vote, but they have played their own role in shaping my personal and political journey.

It was Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon discussions about current affairs, in the Tolbooth Bar, before, during and after Celtic games, that clarified my politics in the beginning, and gave form to my inchoate leanings. It’s where I became an internationalist – and I will still be one of those on Friday no matter what some of those on the No side have said – and in learning of the history of my club I came face to face with the real good that is done at the coal face, out in the streets, where it counts.

I also understand that an institution that was founded to feed the poor of Glasgow should abhor the society where food banks have sprung up, and yet I cannot be unaware that on its board are at least two members of Better Together, one of them a Tory minister at that, and that our former chairman, John Reid, was on television last night endorsing a No, and spouting lies which shame the Movement he comes from.

I can grasp, without needing to be steered towards them, the reasons why some people are pushing agendas, in an effort to swing some of our fans. It will not work. We’re smarter than that. We see more clearly than those people think.

I am a former Labour Party member, a socialist and a Celtic fan, who loves his country, who cares about its people and is passionate abour our national sport. I am an internationalist who wants Scotland’s independence. None of those things is mutually exclusive. It’s who I am, and all those things have brought me here, to this place.

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart,” says an anthem I know well, and one that’s part of my soul, but it’s not the only song I’ve been singing.

I believe in a better world. I believe Scotland can rise. I believe we can reform our national sport as we rebuild this country. I am an optimist.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

I’ve seen what happens when people walk through the storm and hold their heads up high and are not afraid of the dark.

Our proving ground was Scottish football, on fields of green, in the summer of 2012.

Now a similar campaign puts us on the verge of winning freedom for a whole country.

This is a wonderful time to be alive, and looking forward to the future.

(We are proud to announce the publication of our new football magazine, All In The Game, which is vailable to buy from Magzter, by clicking on the symbol below. Alternatively, if you want a copy and you want to help the site along, you can make a donation at the top or bottom of the page, depending on your device, and we’ll give you a subscription equal to that. A full year, 12 issues, is £20. We want to make this publication into a campaigning platform, and we can only do that with your help. Thanks in advance, and love and respect from the team here at OFOG.)

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36 comments on “Our Biggest Game
  1. It has been a pleasure to travel the road to YES with you James – none of us will ever ‘walk alone’ again. Saor Alba and HH xx

  2. Good man yourself James.

    A fine, well written, cogently argued piece, and the comparison between the SMSM’s role in the Oldco farce and the deliberate deceptions obfuscation and fearmongering of the current parcel of rogues in the media: BBC, Murdoch press et al, and scoundrels like Reid and Galloway ( surely now an embarrasing parody of his former self ), is particularly apt.

    When I think about better together, all I can see is a bunch of failed politicians, Bullingdon types, war criminals and of course not forgetting the Orange Order.

    All of the aforementioned are shitting themselves at the prospect of The Scottish people taking back power for themselves and of course away from them, and that is what they truly fear.

    Let’s teach these hypocrites a lesson they will never forget nor recover from by voting YES.

    Onwards and upwards and Hail Hail.

  3. NO, from a life long Labour voter.

    Can you imagine Nicola Sturgeon or Joanne Lamont as your prime minister. Gies a break!

    Cameron and the ‘ posh boys ‘ are not my cup of tea but at least they have a bit of savvy.

    What happens when Shetland gets their independence?

  4. One of the most ludicrous comments in the history of this site, and that is saying something. Really, it is.

    A Labour voter who would rather have Cameron as PM … and who is pushing the old “Shetland” line. Honestly, this one is in the Top 5.

  5. I Ms Sturgeon can explain to me why free university tuition fees for the already prvileged and academically able are more important than 140000 college places for those less privileged and able then I might change my mind. Otherwise she remains another shrieking harridan like the one on London Road after Saturday’s game who berated a young boy telling him he could not be a Celtic supporter and vote No.

    I by the way have been a lifelong Socialist, Trade Unionist and Celtic supporter. I detest with all my being narrow minded Nationalism as preached by most of the Yes campaign.I wonder what place there is in his country for people who don’t buy in to the tartan fuelled hysteria laughingly descibed as grass roots democracy!

  6. Patrick:

    That kind of rhetoric is exactly the mirror image of what you claim to dislike on the Yes side.

    You think I’m a “narrow minded nationalist”? You really think a broad movement which now has 50% of the Scottish people behind it is NOT grass roots democracy?

    Believe me, NOTHING like this has ever happened in this country before, and it has nothing to do with narrow nationalism. You do an enormous dis-service to many, many, many of your fellow citizens talking that kind of nonsense.

  7. are you giving me history lessons now?

    I can remember the hysteria which surrounded the SNP resurgence in the sixties. The same glassy eyed fundamentalists as we see today attacked everything that the Labou Party stood for.

    Their successors pander to the privileged while preaching equality all the time cutting Social Work budgets which directly affects the poorest in our society.

    I challenge you again why are they so intent on protecting the interests of the privileged while ignoring the plight of the poor?

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