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To forgive is human, To err is Devine

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The world of Rangers is never dull and there feels like there has been an even higher-than-usual amount of bullshit to contend with in recent months. Parts of which demand recording and cannot be allowed to drift past without comment. In my opinion, probably the worst out of all of them, was an interview between James Cook of the BBC and Tom Devine on the 31st of August, 2021 on the Nine programme.

First, a bit of context. Possibly the most important aspect of this particular pantomime was that Rangers beat Celtic 1-0 at Ibrox on the 29th of August. This being the last game before an international break and considering the score-line it now seems something of a tradition that our media spend the next fortnight crying themselves to sleep. Their trigger this time was a group of Rangers fans walking to the match and chanting offensive songs. Of course, allowing for all of the aforementioned factors this was duly made out to be one of the biggest atrocities ever committed on Scottish soil.

It was ran across all media and platforms. Our former Justice Secretary (now something to do with Health) was quick off the mark with a tweet (the criminally high national rates of Covid would have to wait, much like justice did under his watch). A considerable number of his fellow party members had plenty to say too. Police Scotland joined the party and issued a tweet or two and a statement. Not for the first time there seems to be an uncanny co-ordination between the thoughts of the SNP and the response of Police Scotland's twitter account. Needless to say, our friends at the BBC, STV and Sky Sports went to town on it.

A common turn of phrase could be observed throughout each point of comment. Offensive chanting? Nope--too generic. Sectarianism? Nope--too last decade and could be applied to either side of the sectarian divide; can't have that. As we know the latest push is anti-Irish racism, with the occasional anti-Catholic or anti-Irish Catholic sprinkled in for good measure. Why the progression in definition? Because it now applies almost exclusively to those aiming offence at Celtic fans and not whatever they happen to reciprocate. This is the rulebook being manipulated to target a certain demographic. The racism suffix is pushed heavily to give it more gravity, more punch. Don’t get me wrong, anti-Irish racism and sentiment has and does still exist. Just like anti-British racism and sentiment is alive and kicking. However, this is more the about the misuse of the Irish and Catholic identities by individuals for their own or political ends - in a disingenuous manner and in a way which will surely harm society more in the long run, not heal it?

The rules on what can be sung around football matches these days are fairly well-known, even if appearing unfair or unbalanced. And more importantly, if caught then the police can and will intervene, as they have here. In certain situations, certain behaviour cannot be defended and you only let yourself and the club down. That’s not up for debate here, but the exaggerated and disproportionate reaction is.

There is no doubt political games are being played and the likes of Yousaf and Dornan’s regularity and prominence around the issue confirm this. We only need to look at Dornan’s ham-fisted crowbarring of anti-Irish racism into obviously faked videos of our players celebrating or even onto the scheduling of buses in Edinburgh (sic) to conclude that there is an agenda at play and there is a necessity on his part to maximise exposure. Regardless of their incompetence they are both dangerous and influential.

Another splash of ink duly added to the water was the mention of 'black-shirts' (Dornan again, I believe?) when describing the group of fans. This is a carefully chosen, suggestive imagery to exalt a more negative or extreme reaction. All of this preceded the Tom Devine piece on BBC Scotland.

Devine starts by drawing equivalence with the racism suffered by black people with offensive chanting before the Old Firm match. It’s an effective if somewhat hackneyed trick - for example, imagine BBC Scotland attacked the black community the way they attack and discriminate against Rangers and its fans? Terrible stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. He then states that data for the past few decades shows that sectarianism is no longer a significant problem in Scottish society, and that opportunities are equal, despite James Cook imploring that Catholics are hard done by and are right to feel hard done by.

Devine ups the ante and is at pains to stress that any pockets of sectarianism are “highly specific, exceptional and only related to Rangers Football Club”. This is an incredible claim for anyone remotely familiar with Scottish and Irish history, or simply life in the West of Scotland. This is yet another grotesque deceit that we see more and more from our detractors: not only are we all racist, but fans of other clubs are all squeaky clean. This is beyond an absurd and bigoted rhetoric, this is verging on dangerous.

Devine proceeds to frame the issue under the “George Square Riot” and “the horrible march with the Black shirts”. There are those loaded phrases again - repeat ad infinitum until considered true.

Devine then rants that “the root of the problem--talking about sectarianism and anti-Catholicism is meaningless--the roots of this lie in a certain part of Glasgow and with a certain football team that seems to attract these people.”

Cook then pitches him, “What is the number one thing that we could be doing to stop this?”

Devine suggests, “Asking the police and council to deal with Rangers. Asking for a national inquiry specifically into Rangers fans behaviour. No other fans behave this way. This is parochially, specific to the club itself.”

He then dribbles on about how COP26 might be affected by this. This last line makes absolutely no sense in any reality and only serves to suggest that there is a rush to set-up a national inquiry into Rangers fans as soon as possible.

To me, the whole interview feels unnatural and somewhat staged, with the narrative and conclusions decided before-hand and the gaps filled in later – (a) Anti-Irish racism, (b) Rangers FC is the problem, (c) demand National Inquiry. We know from experience that both BBC Scotland and James Cook would be more than willingly in such a scheme-- As would many others.

It is an absurd suggestion that Rangers fans are the only fans to behave in this way. For someone like Devine to suggest so and ignore documented behaviour elsewhere, over a century of fierce rivalry, and many centuries of tribal/cultural sparring, is frankly obscene. His only possible out is that the remit surrounding offensive chanting in football has been so narrow and targeted that it can only include Rangers fans - which would in itself be an expression of bigotry and discrimination.

Devine has been a prominent and celebrated historian for some time. However, this hate-addled rant torches much of his reputation. His life works involves establishing facts and painting the scene around them. That he fails so utterly with something in the present day, presumably due to his own prejudices and/or external influence, puts a major question mark on any work that touches with this subject. Prithee, Tom, that your sporadic bouts of sense or reason in the last few years weren’t just down to magnanimity back when Terry Munro was still on the go?

James Cook disingenuously asks "What can we do about it”? The answer is nothing, James. Not you, Devine, the BBC, the SNP - because you aren’t talking to Rangers fans about it; you are not engaging anyone. You are simply point-scoring and projecting your own prejudices onto another group. Every time the BBC ask a Stewart, Cosgrove, Spiers, Haggerty or Findlay to discuss sectarianism, what are they actually hoping to achieve? They aren’t dealing with the whole issue, they aren’t educating anyone, they aren’t fixing anything, they aren’t offering solutions, there is no diffusing or roadmap proposed. The only outcome we ever get is an attack on Rangers, and in this case a reference point from which to launch future attacks. This is all that they want. This is our so-called impartial national broadcaster.

The historical tweet disgrace at the Daily Record gave a vivid insight to what we face. An organisation happy to revel in certain behaviour, maybe even encourage and cultivate it, and then point the proverbial gun at someone else - which they duly did against members of the Heart and Hand podcast on the 2nd of Sept. This was clearly intended to keep the 'Rangers bad'/'Rangers bigots' momentum going throughout the international break. The fact it didn’t was purely down to stupidity and over-reach from the Daily Record themselves - The Times covered the story on the 7th of Sept. As an aside, the nature of the pre-mediated attack by bigoted rivals was scant difference from those we regularly absorb from other outlets. When it started to back-fire the paper claimed they were holding an internal investigation (heard that before). Nothing has since happened (heard that too). The same acts, and worse, that saw two H&H podders step back from their duties had no consequences for those at the Daily Record. Double standards; a recurring theme.

One aspect I found interesting was the wider reaction to the Daily Record disgrace. Many who put themselves out there as the social justice guardians of Scottish football had nothing to say on the matter. Not a peep. Worth remembering this when the next bout of faux-indignation is whipped up against Rangers.

Many of the loudest media and political voices on sectarianism, including Nil by Mouth, never bothered to mentioned it. I’ll take the subsequent silence as an admission of guilt after years of conspiring with the same partisan media. We know what this has been about for a long time; each passing incident only removes any doubt. Paul Sweeney MSP stated in the original sting, “It’s bewildering that such views are still held in the 21st century and we need to call them out”. But he didn’t call out his media friends. Double standards. Michael Stewart thought them foolish mistakes and deserving of a second chance. He also thought Jane Godley’s actual racism sailed close to the wind but deserved a second chance. Apparently, only uncouth Rangers’ supporters aren’t to be afforded this benefit of the doubt. Double standards.

The BBC complaints procedure will remind us that Michael is not a BBC employee (despite sharing most of his time between Pacific Quay and Celtic Park) and therefore isn’t bound to be impartial. Which isn’t quite in the spirit of their own guidelines. However, a certain Chris McLaughlin is bound to be impartial, but most definitely is not. A look at his twitter feed over this period shows he has plenty to say about Rangers or the behaviour of the Rangers support; he is very keen to bring up racism and cite police charges, but isn’t too keen to share thoughts on his media peers at the Daily Record, the behaviour of Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, the regular anti-British racism and sectarian chanting from Celtic fans, and when grudgingly forced to comment on Celtics CSA scandal and the victims class action lawsuit, he sees fit to state the bare minimum, offers no opinion and steadfastly refuses to pull on any of the many unanswered threads and contradictions surrounding the world's biggest sporting scandal. Which is probably close to the truth of why they, our illustrious footballing rivals, will go to such lengths to deflect and distract, and why somebody like Tom Devine would be willing to macerate his reputation in five minutes of madness?

There is a way to stop them, or at least slow them down? If you see or hear something clearly unreasonable or outrageous then write to complain. Take 5 or 10 minutes. Keep it simple and to the point. It may feel that the first stage of the BBC complaints is a waste of time, especially when you receive a mocking reply in response three weeks later. It doesn't have to be. Send another, take it to the next level. As a support we have the weight of numbers on our side – there are plenty of valid complaints, there will be plenty more, and if that’s not enough for them then it’s at least an inconvenience for them. At some stage someone will notice and say enough is enough. Take it to Ofcom. Share your actions on forums, raise awareness. Write to your MP or MSP if you don’t see parity from Holyrood, MSPs or broadcasters. This is the game now - influencing, berating, frustrating, educating, lobbying. We’ve been forced to play and have started 4-0 down, so we may as well try to get back into it.

It may be of interest to Tom Devine that one of the Daily Record journalist's historic tweets asked, “Where are the IRA when you need them?” in response to a member of the Royal family appearing on his television screen. Should we hold a national inquiry into the root of this problem? Songs of anti-British hate/racism and in support of the IRA have appeared at games of that club, from a certain part of Glasgow, many times already this season, including in Europe. To me this problem, this source of constant national shame, appears specifically, parochially, exceptionally attached to the fans of one club. Are we allowed to dislike, oppose, and verbally rebuke these offensive, sectarian, backwards views? One side are allowed their opinion, so does that standard apply to everyone? Ultimately, Devine is wrong about sectarianism being eradicated in society. It’s alive and kicking in the media, the SNP and other bubbles in the public sector.

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