2007 - 2022

Playing Ball

At the moment polls are still fluctuating between a small lead for independence and a small lead for staying in a rapidly failing state (I know, I know).

That obviously means just over or just under half of the Scottish population support independence, and although people who work in some industries may be more one way or the other depending on the sector, Scottish sportspeople, apart from one or two notable exceptions, seem to be remarkably silent on the matter.

Writers, musicians, poets, businessmen, people in trade unions and from many other sectors seem to have no problem declaring that they are supporters of independence, high-profile sportspeople don’t seem to say anything on the matter.

Why would this be? It doesn’t seem to bother them in other countries. What reasons could there be that stop people in this sector stating their opinions on the issue?

Let’s have a look at some of the possible reasons…

1. Being told not to – At a Yes event, the night before the first referendum, someone who was in a position to know and who I’ll just describe here as an influential person in the movement, told me that a captain of a certain football club, who is also an international player, was a strong supporter of independence but had been told by his employers to keep his mouth shut about it. Perhaps the threat of losing lucrative contracts is being used to keep people from coming out in support of independence.
2. Fear of losing funding from other bodies – Elite athletes go into a certain system in the UK. Elite athletes may fear the loss of funding. There is, of course, no reason an independent Scotland could not do the same thing, however there is some debate about if we would want to, as some have criticised the UK system of favouring elite athletes to the detriment of youth and local sports. The justification given for this elite model is usually that it helps to get more medals at the next Britnatfest, sorry, major sporting event.

3. Fear of abuse – When Andy Murray (and his brother) came out for Indy on the day of the vote it led to some of the more, errrm, fervent unionists sending him an incredible amount of bile and hatred

I won’t reproduce the sort of things they were saying about him as you’ve all seem them, but it was nasty. As an aside, when Murray said he supported indy it seemed like it was done in a calculated fashion, like a last-minute try to gain an extra couple of percent. If that is true (and I really don’t know), then it was a miscalculation. It would have been great if Murray had declared early and people got to find out about it earlier on, instead of a tweet hours before the polls closed.

4. Fear of being made a fool of – Most of us know that in the Scottish media in general and in many sections of the UK media, apart from the usual “ungrateful b*stard” type of narrative, any sportsperson who said something on what the media see as the wrong side of this debate would probably be ridiculed on the grand scale by any number of hacks whose jobs depend on them doing just that.

5. Unionist explanation – With more or less half the population of Scotland supporting full independence, only the Murray brothers out of all the sportspeople in Scotland want to leave the UK. (I think we can rule this one out).

These are the possible reasons I can think of, and what they have in common, except number 5, is fear and some form of intimidation, and that can’t be allowed to go unchallenged, by any of us. We can’t allow fear to be used as a tactic to keep certain influential people’s mouths shut. If we let that happen, we’ve already allowed them to stop one of our best lines of attack, and one that the unionist side used frequently the last time round.

In that spirit, I’d like to say this… If you are a sportsperson reading this and support indy (or you know one who does), you are welcome to come onto the Scottish Independence Podcast and have a chat about it and I’ll get the story out and you will not be harassed on the show. If you’d like to tell a story about what I’ve suggested above anonymously, then drop me a line and provided I can verify you are who you say you are then I’ll do that too, or I’ll give it to someone who can get it out even wider than I can.


Contact Michael Greenwell here.


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Comments (26)

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  1. Sandy Ritchie says:

    Scottish sports men and women want to compete at the highest level i.e. for GB ..not in the small pond that is Scotland.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I recall that, in the run up to the referendum, I was knocking many doors; a surprisingly large number of people told me that they had to vote no because of their employment. I’m in Helensburgh and it comes as no surprise that people working in the Clyde Submarine base had been told , in explicit terms, that if we voted yes they would lose their jobs and the area would become a ghost town.

    I went to one door and a poisonous women answered – she told me that she owned a small firm and that she would close it if we voted yes. It may have been porkies to wind me up but if there was any truth in it you can be sure that her employees heard it loud and clear.

    I went to a door in Clydebank and was told by the guy that answered that he worked in the Clydebank shopping centre; not in a shop but for the owning company; he had been told that the centre would close and he was afraid of losing his job; he likes independence but voted No.

    There may be a better position next time, particularly if we go over the Brexit cliff. Many employers do not want to leave the single market or the customs union and there may be some pressure for independence from them in a direct switch from last time.

    1. Sandy Ritchie says:

      In the same vein I recollect having a conversation with a guy who worked at Faslane ..carrying out ground maintenance work..who claimed that he was going to vote Tory cos they were the only party guaranteeing Faslane as a naval base (he was a life long Labour supporter until then).

    2. Valerie says:

      It would make you weep, reading the depth of bile, nastiness and threats made to ordinary people in 2014. I don’t know how they dare to interfere in an individual’s legal right to democracy.

      People have a right to the freedom not to be bullied, or influenced by their employer, and the freedom to be left to make their own decisions.

      It makes me sick.

  3. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    Michael makes some good points but I’ve often wondered why other small countries seem to play with more heart and soul e.g. Welsh and Irish rugby players or Norwegian and Danish footballers all seem to play with fire in their bellies whereas there are times especially Scottish soccer play like a bunch of numpties with no conviction as soon as they pull-on the ‘Blue’ of Scotland.

    1. MBC says:

      Norway and Denmark are countries to be proud of. They have a strong and unashamed sense of national identity and thriving economies. Not for them, the Scottish cringe. Norway is also very sporty. They have sports academies and a far larger percentage of the population are active in sports or the outdoor life. Denmark too is very rural and sports inclined. The outdoor life is part of their culture.

      1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

        Living just 140 miles across the water from Norway I’m very well aware of their fabulous sporting facilities. I’ve often seen toddlers there with their kindergarten or primary teachers outside on skis enjoying themselves, here there was no fear of HSA blaming teachers if wee Magnus or Ingrid fell and broke a leg that a proper Risk Assessment had not been carried out, as would be the case in this country.

        I also recall my own schooldays in the 5o’s & 60’s playing many robust playground football with a tennis ball and going home with skinned knees, sprained wrists and bruising all over but wee did produce some great footballers from these beginnings, Johnstone, Baxter and Law to name but three. Note I’m not amongst them but the rough and tumble did stand me in good stead playing rugby in upper school.

        1. Sandy Ritchie says:

          Charles…you’ll be pleased to hear that kids still suffer scrapes and bruises, and even break limbs on occasion at all the sports you mention such as skiing at Hillend here in Edinburgh …and at when playing 4, 7 and 11 a side at Footie. However, sensible precautions minimise the risk and frequency of many of these injuries without the need for formal risk assessments.

          1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

            All very well Sandy but sadly many use HSA as an excuse to BAN everything including many of the pleasures we enjoyed e.g. sledging, snow-ball fights etc. Our bairns by being over protected are now unable to learn by their mistakes.

          2. Sandy Ritchie says:

            I worked with the HSE for 30 years. Much of the “elf and safety” concerning school kids was schools and councils fear of being sued by parents…so it was more to do with cya than actual H&S.

          3. Charles L. Gallagher says:

            Yes Sandy I agree with you but very often it fear of litigation over imagined HSA regulations. Nevertheless I’ve yet to see the HSA debunking any of these imagined regulations. Don’t get me wrong I believe there is place for safety regulations but I think even you might agree some of it is OTT.

  4. Anton says:

    Hmm. The problem here is that the argument cuts both ways. The “possible reasons” listed could just as well apply to unionists as to supporters of independence.

    Sure, Andy Murray was subjected to nasty comments. But then so was JK Rowling, who took an opposing view.

    I can quite understand why so many prominent Scots chose to remain silent.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “The problem here is that the argument cuts both ways.”

      Not quite. The real problem, Anton, is that Scotland’s many institutions and remaining industries are predominantly controlled and led by a ‘unionist’ elite, who tend to be rather unforgiving in their oh so quiet willingness to punish what they see as dissent. Its not very ethical, is it? But that seems to be the extreme and unforgiving nature of the elite British Nationalist/Colonialist mindset. This should not be so surprising given the rather oppressive history of Britain’s privileged elite. After all, they do actually despise those seeking Scotland’s independence.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        I think Alf Baird has got to the nub of the matter. I believe that most of those appointed- and they are ‘appointed’ – to the powerful positions in the various public bodies are appointed because they are deemed to be ‘sound’ or ‘one of us’ as Mrs Thatcher used to say.

        There are, of course, some who hold other views, but, they are usually swiftly reprimanded if they make any statement which indicates a view that things might be other, whereas the ‘sound’ can sound off to the acclaim of the media … because they are only saying what is true, aren’t they?!?!!

        1. Willie says:

          Alfa talks correctly about institutions opposed to independence – and one need think no further than the BBC to see that.

          But it’s much more widespread than that

          1. Alf Baird says:

            Thanks Willie/Alasdair.
            “But it’s much more widespread”
            Certainly agree with that Willie, and would add that:
            – all top jobs in Scotland are still advertised in the London press and given the far bigger population of rest-UK this can obviously result in a 90% chance any appointee is not going to be a Scot, and therefore most appointees (from rest-UK) are unlikely to be excited about the prospect of Scottish independence;
            – Whitehall continue to appoint senior civil servants to Scottish Government Departments, as part of the (one nation!) ‘UK Home’ civil service, and many coming ‘north’ will again hardly be excited about the prospect of Scottish independence, and, as we know from 2014, civil servants may even use their position to oppose it;
            – Scotland’s private schools and elite universities well established practices work to ensure ‘the right type of person’ gets the remaining top jobs in Scotland.

            The obvious outcome of this is an extensive institutional Scotland that is controlled by what is effectively a colonial elite of vested interests who are totally opposed to Scottish self-determination, and which is not in any way reflective of Scottish society at large.

    2. Jo says:

      I agree Anton. It works both ways. Bile gets dished out from the other side towards prominent folk who declare either way on this issue. They’re entitled to hold a view and keep it private.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “Report looking at the social background of people that hold positions of power and influence in Scotland. ” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/elitist-scotland

        Try reading it Jo, Anton. The vast majority of “prominent folk” appointed to senior positions throughout Scotland tend to be anti-independence. Twas ever thus and Scotland remains a well stitched up colony. It is no wonder many sports people, and other public funded groups, do not speak out for independence, as they would risk their grants and other benefits which are aye controlled by the ‘unionist’/colonial elites. The opposite is the case when promoting the ‘union’ charade, e.g. “rugby legends” within the Scottish Tory sporting shrine at Murrayfield publicly supporting Better Together and campaigning for a No vote in 2014: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/independence-referendum-scottish-rugby-legends-4250033

        1. Dougie Blackwood says:

          This comment confirms something we have all seen in our daily lives. Things have improved but as a young Scots speaker I and all my peers were discouraged from using our natural speech and taught to use RP or, as now, estuarial language. Those who continued with our native tongue tended to be left out and side-lined when it came to more remunerative employment.

          We were taught to ape our “betters” or suffer the consequences. Who has not seen the “Heid Bummer” with a mouthful of marbles and a mind full of rubbish? There is no argument when it comes to the ruling elite; you play their way or lose out. We mostly became bi-lingual if we wanted to do well.

  5. Juteman says:

    A career in sport is pretty short. Unless you are one of the top earners, you will need to find other employment when you stop.
    The BBC seems to be full of ex sporting Indy voters. Not.

  6. Erik Sandberg says:

    I think I touched on this with my Scotland-Catalonia piece, it’s not so much just sportsman that Scotland lack, it’s ‘media elites’ in general – like J K Rowling et al … If writers like Andrew O’Hagan can be convinced then so can can Rowling, in theory at least.

    Re. Andy Murray’s position – you won’t hear another peep out of him until he’s well & truly retired.

    And Catalonia, despite the obvious parallels in timing around indyref and their consultation in 2014, still have and hold a much more compelling case for their own independence with the “region” contributing c20% to Spain’s annual GDP. I think their population makes up c7% of Spain.

    1. Sandy Ritchie says:

      In which case I think its perfectly under Standable that Spain would be concerned to lose such an assett to the detriment of the many. The nationalist northern league in Italy are the same, in that they want to split from the south…very similar to the nationalists in Scotland when the oil price was high..

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        You are certainly going fortissimo on the ‘nationalist’ word, Mr Ritchie.

        Clearly you view ‘Spain’, ‘Italy’ and, probably, ‘UK’ as givens, which are in existence because of some natural law and therefore, irreducible. These three, and there are others, have been ‘unified’ by various means over the centuries, but usually, with one dominant part, such as Castile or England, being acquisitive. The dominant party then creates the ‘national myth’ of this nation, often ordained by God. This, of course, is not the grubby nationalism of the peoples of these peripheral parts, seeking self determination and their rights to their own resources, such as, yes, Scotland’s oil.

        You seem to be arguing that ‘might is right’; Spain should keep the Catalans in place because it wants the fruits of the Catalans’ labour, creativity and endeavour. The Catalans, like the Basques and the Asturians know what it was like facing the muderous armies of church, landowners and military caste under Franco. The Scots, the Irish and radicals in various parts of England have over the centuries been exposed to the murderousness of perfidious Albion. And, these massacres and suppressions took place because the ruling elite, aided by parcels o’ rogues, in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, wanted to ensure they continued to thrive the land and resources.

  7. DAVID Robinson says:


    1. DC says:

      As a point if order, the Geordies had a referendum to choose or refuse a regional assembly – and chose to refuse.

  8. Pogliaghi says:

    The “revolving door” post-prime plan for top sports people and athletes in the UK is to go into the BBC “star system” and get paid obscene amounts of cash out the telly poll tax. Like, for example Gary Lineker. None of them want to pass that up. Incidentally Gary Lineker is what passes for a left wing intellectual in the British mass media. He can even say decent things about Corbyn and be critical mass racism. Avant garde. We can see therefore that independence is still outside the Britmedia Overton Window. Which should tell us we’re doing something very right.

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