Saturday, April 09, 2005

Scotland's Secret Shame

It's been an interesting week in Scotland, with some very interesting insights into the nature of the nation delivered not by the actions of the protagonists, but rather their inaction.

To set the scene, it is necessary to note that over the years a tradition has evolved in Scottish, and indeed international, football of observing a one minute silence before kick-off to show respect for the death of significant public figures, or to acknowledge other major events. Recent examples include such tragedies as 9/11, the Asian tsunami, the Madrid train bombings, etc.

The criteria for individuals is rather flexible, and certainly allows for a degree of interpretation. The death of an ex-club captain may justify a minutes silence at the next home game for his club only. Whereas the death of a significant figure, such as a much capped internationalist, would be cause for a minute silence at all games across Scotland.

The death of non-footballing figures tends to only be marked when they are of national, or international, significance. In the UK this tends to include members of the Royal Family, such as Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen Mother, and perhaps the occasional politician.

It was the fluidity in these arrangements and protocols which led to Celtic fans observing three separate minute silences to mark the premature death of the immensely talented ex-Rangers player Davie Cooper.

So, with the death of The Pope, it seems a no brainer that a nation which is 25% Roman Catholic, and probably 90% Christian, would have no problems with paying their respects with a minute silence.

After all, if over 4 million people, including 200 world leaders, ranging from the current and two former US Presidents, through all branches of the Christian faith, to the President of such a staunchly Muslim country as Iran, can attend the funeral in person; and nations around the world can hold their own ceremonies, encompassing all faiths, then a Christian nation, which the Pope visited in his prime, should surely embrace the opportunity for a short public display or respect?

The first opportunity came within hours of the death of The Pope. The game: Motherwell versus Rangers. A minute silence? No. Instead the nation was treated to the Rangers fans singing one of their 'football' songs, No Pope Of Rome.

"No no pope of Rome
No chapels to sadden my eyes
No nuns and no priests and no rosary beads
And every day is the twelth of July"

Classy, huh? Since Scotland is in the midst of a long overdue crackdown on bigotry and sectarianism, you'd have expected action. Arrests at the game? Outrage in the newspapers for the next few days at least? Questions in Parliament? Rangers punished by the football authorities?

Not. A. Thing. Nothing. Almost no mention at all. Quite simply, people expected it from Rangers fans, and tolerated it.

Still, hope for Scottish football to display some decency was not yet lost. The SFA still had the chance to order a minute silence at the next round of games. Surely they wouldn't miss the opportunity to redeem the national sport?

Not so. You see, the Scottish Football Association(SFA), claim to be a 'secular organisation', and consequently refused to order any minute silence. This despite the fact UEFA, the governing body of European football, had ordered that a silence be observed at the games falling directly within their jurisdiction. So the SFA feel able to order a tribute to less significant international figures such as The Queen Mother, yet unable to intervene in relation to The Pope.

In adopting this stance the SFA unconsciously laid out, in full public view, the character of their organisation. They are resolutely of the Scottish establishment. Unionist, Protestant, conformist, outdated.

At this point, the power of the internet came into play. This weekend brings one of the biggest footballing events, the Scottish Cup semi-finals. In which Celtic will participate.

As Celtic are recognised as a team which draws a higher than average percentage of their support from the Catholic community, it is understandable their supporters would expect the opportunity to show their respect at the next public event. So, The Celtic Supporters Association took it upon themselves to organise an unofficial silence, by issuing the following statement:

"Following the death of the Holy Father, the CSA are calling on all Celtic Supporters attending the Scottish Cup Semi-Final on Sunday 10th April to observe a minute of silence in tribute and celebration of the life of a great spiritual and world leader. As spiritual leader of one billion Catholics, he is admired as a man of justice and peace throughout the World. World and Spiritual Leaders of all faiths and none have paid tributes to his life.

We are disappointed at the lack of official action from Scottish Football Authorities and therefore call upon all decent supporters present to take the lead and show how it should be done. FIFA and UEFA authorities have already consented to such tributes, as witnessed at this week's Champions League and UEFA cup-ties, with numerous other tributes taking place throughout the sporting world.

We would request that those present on Sunday wear an article of appropriate clothing perhaps a black ribbon or armband. The signal to commence the minute's silence will be the Celtic players coming together at the Huddle. At this time the Celtic support will stand in silence, regardless of any distraction or discord from anywhere within Hampden Park.

Do not react to any provocation, millions worldwide through television coverage will witness our action. Remember 'One Scotland, Many Cultures'.

We intend to further this debate with the authorities at a more appropriate time. Scotland's Shame cannot, and will not, go unchallenged."

This statement was rapidly circulated by email, online forums and newsgroups.

Suddenly the SFA were in an untenable situation. Open to worldwide ridicule for refusing to sanction a tribute which would thus be enacted purely by 'people power'. Circumventing their authority over the organisation of the game.

So, they relented. Without acknowledging the actions of others, they issued a short statement:

"The Scottish FA Board, at its meeting this morning, has decided that there will be a minute's silence before the Scottish Cup semi-finals, as an appropriate mark of respect to His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who died last Saturday. "

Note the wording. No acknowledgement of the actions of The Celtic Supporters Association.

Still we can rely on the media to grasp hold of this story of the triumph of people power over institutional inertia and bigotry - after all, 'One Scotland, Many Cultures' - and give it the prominence it deserves. Except, we can't. The story was barely covered. More media cover up.

Why is this so? Well, the simple fact is that Scotland has a problem with religious bigotry. Not on the level of Northern Ireland, or Palestine, but a problem nonetheless. This can be manifested through occasional bouts of low level violence - no religious crusades for sure - and often through a more insidious discrimination, the 'what school did they go to?' culture, which makes some trades and organisations less than open to those from the wrong background.

Whilst this problem is recognised, its true nature is rarely examined. Most press and politicians find it comfortable to label it as a football problem, tied entirely to Celtic and Rangers; rather than a societal problem which is often expressed at football games. Even then, they insist on viewing it as purely relating to Celtic and Rangers, despite the evidence of anti-Catholic sentiments expressed at other Scottish grounds.

They prefer to package it purely in terms of 'The Old Firm' - a title coined to link Celtic and Rangers inextricably together.

Sectarianism and bigotry can only be admitted on an equitable blame level. If a Celtic fan assaults a Rangers fan, it's an 'Old Firm' problem. If a group of Rangers fans attack a Celtic supporters bar, it's an 'Old Firm' problem. They find it exceptionally difficult to tolerate any reporting which assigns a greater degree of blame to either side.

This presents the media and politicians with a grave problem when events occur at which either side is not represented.

After the death of The Pope, Rangers fans singing "Fuck The Pope and The Vatican" when Celtic are not even playing on the same day, yet alone in the same stadium, is a severe inconvenience.

The solution? Ignore it. Pretend it didn't happen. After all, bigotry is an 'Old Firm' problem, is it not?

To criticise the behaviour of one side only is politically and commercially dangerous. Especially when an election campaign is underway. Easier to pretend it doesn't exist, and save their outrage and rancour for the next 'Old Firm' game.

By refusing to confront the problem, they implicitly sanction its existence. By insisting on the equitable blame approach, they earn distrust from those more sinned against than sinner. Their moral authority is nil.

That is how it is, and that is how it will continue to be, until the blinkers are removed, and the truth admitted. I am not holding my breath.

Why publish this post then? What good will it do? Well, in a week where Japan has been accused of trying to rewrite history by excising large elements from their recent past, I've been struck by just how little awareness of the Scottish situation exists, and is being recorded for posterity.

Yesterday a Rangers supporting workmate commented to me on how odd it was that the SFA had taken so long to organise a silence for the cup semi-final. An intelligent, rational adult, living in the epicentre of the happenings, he had no knowledge of the events which had unfolded. Proof in itself of the paucity of press coverage.

So, consider this my small contribution to the documentation of the history of 21st century Scotland. This is where I live, and this is how it is.


prying1 said...

DIV - Thanks for the post. As I was reading this i was reminded of the scriptural injunctions against allowing a 'root of bitterness' to grow in ones heart.

When the taproot goes deep it is a long and tedious process to remove it so that it does not grow back again.

First the earth around it must be watered to soften it. then the soil around it must be dug into to loosen it. Then it must be gently pulled out so the the entire root is removed and no end is left in the ground to start the growth again.

First step, watering, is best done through prayer. Without the light you have placed on this problem it would have gone unnoticed. Thanks -

Div said...

Hi prying1. Thanks for the comment. The silence went pretty much as I'd expected, as can be seen here:

I do pass my congratulations to the Chief Executive of Hearts who is obviously a decent man and was quick to apologise.

The irony is that Hearts has recently been bought by a Lithuanian businessman. I wonder how many Hearts fans realise he hails from a country which is 80% Catholic!

My own feeling on this is that decent behaviour does not necessarily require a religious approach. There are many decent, respectful athiests, just as there are many who use religion as a justification for indecent behaviour. Live and let live is my preferred approach.

Anonymous said...

You know how to whinge. It's people like you that are the reason that free speech and freedom of expression have become a crime in the UK.

Political correctness is only one step away from communism - think as we do or be punished; sound familiar?

Even if what people say is distasteful they should have a right to say it!

Well, I suppose your kind of thinking can only be expected from a "sports fan" You're an idiot. Maybe you should try to form your own opinions instead of reading them in the press / back of a corn flakes box.

Div said...

Hi anonymous. Thanks for dropping by.

How ironic that someone who champions 'free speech' does not have the courage of their convictions, and chooses to hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

I'm also somewhat surprised that you feel we are living in a state close to communism. If you consider the most right-wing Labour government in history to be approaching communism, where does that put your views on the political spectrum?

Do you define the following as 'freedom of speech'?

Can you also explain why people are entitled to their own views - whatever they may be - yet sports fans are automatically assumed to be 'idiots'?

With such muddled thinking, I'm confident my graduate and post-graduate qualifications and ten years as a software consultant would easily measure up to whatever you have to offer.

In poker terms, I'd be happy to go heads up with you!