Cataclysm and Armageddon – Referendum lessons from Scottish football

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By Chris Rumbles

There will have been many people rolling their eyes last week at the latest contribution (if one can call it that) to the referendum debate.  For Scottish football aficionados, however, Lord Robertson’s talk of ‘cataclysmic’ consequences would have been eerily reminiscent of the events of 2012.

It was in June 2012 that Rangers Football Club’s liquidation was confirmed after months spent in administration; the result of years of financial mismanagement and wrongdoing.

By Chris Rumbles

There will have been many people rolling their eyes last week at the latest contribution (if one can call it that) to the referendum debate.  For Scottish football aficionados, however, Lord Robertson’s talk of ‘cataclysmic’ consequences would have been eerily reminiscent of the events of 2012.

It was in June 2012 that Rangers Football Club’s liquidation was confirmed after months spent in administration; the result of years of financial mismanagement and wrongdoing.

A month later when representatives from Scotland’s top flight, then the SPL, met at Hampden to justifiably vote down proposals for a new Rangers to be swept into the league, the game’s main governing figures quickly took it upon themselves to address the issue.

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the SPL’s refusal to admit the new Rangers into the league, Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan said:

“Fans are probably not au fait with the implications of Rangers in Division Three: we have a duty to share the facts because without Rangers, there is social unrest, there is a big problem for Scottish society.  There has to be an understanding of how serious this is.”

So serious that the word “Armageddon” was used.

Clearly Regan had a penchant for the paternalistic in much the same way as Labour’s Lord Robertson. The former NATO secretary general Robertson delivered a speech earlier this week at a think-talk in Washington D.C., illustrating his concerns over Scottish independence.  Describing what followed as baffling would be an understatement to say the least.

Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen’s address to the Brookings Institution spoke of how Scottish independence would be “cataclysmic” to the world’s stability and that the people who would celebrate the most following a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18 would be “the forces of darkness”.  A triumvirate of apocalyptic phrases was formed later in Robertson’s speech, which would not have looked out of place in a Stephen King novel, with the mention of “old demons” being unleashed.

Stewart Regan’s comments on the same day Scottish football’s leading clubs followed the wishes of their supporters by saying ‘no to newco’ and preventing the new Rangers from entering the SPL, was met with scepticism and scorn by clubs and their supporters.

Regan, backed by then SPL and now SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, said the Scottish game would die a “slow, lingering death” if Rangers were admitted into anything lower than the First Division.  Losses of £15.7 million were projected with broadcasting deals apparently in tatters yet both Sky and ESPN renewed their deals to show live Scottish matches when Rangers were admitted into the Third Division. Things didn’t prove to be quite as bleak as those who ostensibly knew best predicted.

Fans, the true lifeblood of the Scottish game, showed their unwavering commitment in the face of the doom-laden forecasts of Regan, Doncaster et al.  Attendances at SPFL games in Scotland rose slightly last year to a total of 3,786,598, with the Scottish Premiership being, per head of population, still one of the best supported leagues in Europe. Supporters are returning to watch more competitive and entertaining football with cup success for St Mirren, Aberdeen, Raith Rovers and now one of Dundee United or St Johnstone evidence of this.

Admittedly the situation at Hearts is less rosy but the financial malaise engulfing the Tynecastle club is the outcome of the hedonistic spending of the Romanov era.  Irony is then abound when analysing affairs at Ibrox where last season’s assertions of being “debt-free” and “cash rich” are a far cry from the grim reality facing the club today.

Scottish football may have since moved on from the demise of Rangers but the vast majority of its supporters are unlikely to forget the role played by its governing heads over the summer of 2012.  Lord Robertson’s remarks should act as a warning to ‘No’ campaigners that, by employing the rhetoric of fear, they may well win the referendum but at the cost of their own future credibility. If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ come September 18 and political compromises begin to be hashed out, the sort of which were previously derided as being unthinkable, then the once doomsayers positions are likely to be on the most shoogly of pegs.

Those within the pro-Union camp, especially MSPs and MPs, should remember they have a duty to promote the interests of Scotland and its people.  One had to question Neil Doncaster’s logic as then SPL chief executive when he publicly said that, in terms of a broadcasting deal, the SPL was weaker without Rangers.

When your remit is supposedly meant to be to promote the Scottish game, why would you diminish your own brand before entering negotiations with commercial broadcasters who regard you as small-fry? The fact the SPFL Premiership still has no major sponsor arguably serves as a reminder of the reason why Neil Doncaster is treated with near universal contempt within the sphere of Scottish football.

Time will tell if Lord Robertson’s so-called “forces of darkness” are indeed lucky enough to witness the “cataclysmic” event of Scottish independence this year. Many would think that, having held a position such as NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson would be well placed to assess global security risks. However, one need only look towards the hierarchy of Scottish football to realise experience doesn’t necessarily mean expertise.