Hugh MacDonald: Could the Scottish football team strengthen their support for independence?
IT is difficult to stifle a laugh when the innocent protests that politics and sport should not be mixed. It is as if there is a belief that sport exists outside of the filthy world of politics and should be protected from its malicious influence.
The truth, of course, is that everything is political. Even, sometimes particularly, 22 players chasing an inflated sphere.
Consider this: When do we hear a condemnation of the excesses of capitalism? Rarely on hedge fund managers, regularly on footballers. The Covid epidemic produced a rant against footballer salaries instead of politicians’ incompetence. Confusing but strangely predictable.
Also consider this: When do we hear concerted protests against the lack of human rights, for example in Saudi Arabia? Rarely, when the said country distributes huge sums to the economy of that country through arms deals, real estate speculation and the purchase of land. Very rarely when Saudi Arabian investment funds invest money in Disney or Starbucks. Horn alert when a Saudi fund buys a football club.
Likewise, the attribution of the World Cup to Qatar arouses an outcry. This otherwise spotless bidding event has given us World Cups in Putin’s Russia, under an Argentine junta, and in a Brazil ruled by a military cabal.
The idea that football, or any other sport, is unaffected by influence, interests and politics around the world is absurd.
But there is another element. Can sport influence politics? There is anecdotal evidence that this is the case.
Vladimir Putin, for example, used the World Cup to assert his nobility as a modern tsar, a statesman who could put his country at the helm of world affairs. The 2018 World Cup was as smooth and dark as an oil spill.
No difficulty. No protest. Just footballers going about their business in wonderful stadiums. The world has watched and Russia has not been severely judged by the casual viewer. Russia continues on a path that does not include the sanctity of borders, the veneration of human rights or a rigid adherence to transparent business practices.
In domestic politics, there are a series of accepted truths about sports and politics. Harold Wilson won the 1966 general election because he capitalized on England’s World Cup victory. He must have made the doors so early, in football jargon. The landslide victory for Labor came in March and England did not win the World Cup until July 30.
Likewise, the failure to constitute a Scottish Assembly in the 1979 referendum was put at the feet of the country’s footballers who, in unpopular memory, conspired to make the 1978 World Cup in Argentina a rather national scandal. than an international tournament.
The theory works this way: National self-esteem was destroyed by a squad that included a member sent home for taking a banned substance and a cabal of other people who were found in possession of disgraceful standing.
The truth, of course, is that the team played three games: losing one, drawing it and beating eventual finalists in the tournament. And Scotland voted for an assembly: 51.6% supported the proposal. The 64% turnout, however, represented 32.9% of the population, below the 40% required to make the meeting a reality.
It was sophisticated footwork in the House of Commons rather than mediocre footwork in Argentina that made the difference in whether Scotland had a national parliament.
Likewise, Andy Murray’s intervention in the 2014 referendum had little influence. His “Let’s do this” was widely seen as a call to vote Yes. Scotland, as you may recall from all the papers, voted no.
Sport then seems to be in the background when it comes to influencing voters’ intentions. But there is a twist. If the Scottish grimace is accepted as a reason some vote against Westminster independence, then can a sense of well-being and confidence induced by sporting prowess increase self-esteem and self-confidence in the nation as a whole? For example, can a successful Scottish national football team help drive the momentum towards Home Rule?
The answer is rightly given in Kenny Dalglish’s lexicon. His famous “mibbes aye, mibbes naw” sums up the imponderable.
The well-being factor induced by success causes some to be more confident, more willing to believe in a nation. Others may not be impressed.
In the week the national team won two games, there was a quintessentially Scottish response. Euphoria after a win, moan after the second.
The idea that sporting success can galvanize a nation is perhaps as far-fetched as Scotland winning a World Cup (spoiler alert: we don’t qualify for 2022 after losing in the play-offs)
The truth is, the Scottish electorate is cut off. Most Yes voters would vote for independence if the Scotland team lost 20-0 to Andorra and it was compulsory to watch daily reruns on TV.
Most No voters would hold onto their positions despite Scotland winning back-to-back World Cups, a series of tests against Australia and the Eurovision Song Contest.
The identification with success in sport can inspire our young people (mostly Yes supporters anyway) and warm up the old ones (mainly No supporters) but it will have little impact on voting intentions.
Politics is linked to sport, but only to reinforce prejudices. The gammons will go after rich black players who use their influence with the best of intentions. The worthy will wring their hands when awarding sports franchises while ignoring the obvious wrongs of business and government as a whole.
Politics and sport will lead this dance until the end of time or until the next Scottish referendum, whichever comes first. (Spoiler alert: the end of time is preferred to come first).
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