Voters faced many questions
20 September ~ So the scare stories about Berwick Rangers queuing for hours at border posts to keep playing in the SPFL can stop. Fifty-five per cent of voters in Scotland have said they want to stay in the UK. But did football affect the result of the referendum? Did Scotland’s favourite pastime tip the balance away from independence? Westminster’s big hitters might have felt that the kilted Scotland fans proudly frolicking in Trafalgar Square’s fountain before the England friendly last August confirmed their casual assumptions about Scottish identity and Yes voters’ motivations.
Right up to polling day, the "heart" part of the Better Together campaign – from appeals to shared achievements over 60 years ago to asking people in England to fly the Saltire – seemed to indicate that they believed they were dealing with dewy-eyed romantics stuck in a misty past.
But Yes supporters were voting with the head more than the heart. In an Ipsos Mori poll on the day before the referendum, 70 per cent of Yes supporters said their vote was based on practical consequences rather than national identity. Scotland doesn’t need to be independent to demonstrate its identity. For better or worse, Scotland is known around the world by its national football team, its fans and, to a lesser extent, its clubs. Scotland’s established football independence acts as a safety valve for national identity.
There are also reasons why Rangers and Celtic fans may have been significantly less likely to vote Yes than other football fans. Although it shouldn’t be overstated, and it’s rooted more in Irish than Scottish politics, there’s a large element of British identity in the Rangers support. Many claim that they sing "God Save the Queen" and wave Union flags to wind up the other lot, and Rangers fans are as removed from George Osborne and David Cameron’s world as any other Scot is, but in a snap Panelbase survey in May, 45 per cent of Rangers fans said they planned to vote Yes. Down the road in Kilmarnock, the total was 59 per cent.
Meanwhile, it’s a frequent assumption that Celtic fans are opposed to all things British, but the total in favour of independence at Celtic Park wasn’t much higher than at Ibrox, at 48 per cent. A likely reason for this modest total is the SNP government’s Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act, which many Celtic fans believe has criminalised innocent songs and is a restriction on freedom.
The Scottish political spectrum is far more complex than a Mel Gibson shout for freedom. There are many factors that contributed to the decision to stay in the union and, although it might seem ironic, football may well have been one of them. Mark Poole