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No Country For Sane Men


In the most recent edition of the Scottish Review of Books, Rosemary Goring (literary editor of The Herald newspaper) wrote an interesting article on the writer Peter Davidson's book Distance and Memory which is about his experiences of 'The North' and living in Scotland's northerly climes.

The book itself sounds interesting however it was Goring's description of a feeling for home and the sense of returning that caught my attention. In the penultimate paragraph she wrote 'On the return journey, the sight of Inverness or Aberdeen on the King's Cross departures board brings a pang of pleasure'. I for one would never argue with Goring's sentiment as I, too, have often - after a long and tiring journey - been glad to see names that I know and feel that sense of being 'home' when I enter my flat and rest amongst my own books, music and can close the shutters and relax in a world of my own making without any interference from 'the outside world'.

Recently, however, the return journey 'North' has not provided me with any sense of 'coming home'. It has, until I have entered my own flat and closed the door, gave me a sense of returning to a strange land-a sense of returning to a foreign country, a country were reason and open, honest debate are no longer the fundamental values that I believed them to be.

It was unfortunate that on the long journey home, once within aerial distance, the radio picked up BBC Scotland just in time for Sportsound.

Acutely aware of the furore surrounding Jim Spence and Rangers - and with a degree of trepidation - I was not surprised to hear that the discussion for that evening would be the Ian Black betting incident. I will not enter into the why, what of wherefores regarding Black as plenty of Rangers supporters and sports commentators have covered that ground and frankly now that sanctions have been administered to Black I see no reason to attempt to dissect it any further other than to refer to it as an act of sheer stupidity on Black's part.

What did catch my attention was a remark made by Tom English (the erstwhile sports journalist for The Scotsman).

When a tweet was read out to him which queried the timing of Black's misdemeanor(s) and which suggested that Black was only brought to the attention of the SFA as a Rangers player, English's comment in reply was to state that a query such as the one sent to Sportsound smacked of nothing more than "paranoia".

Now Tom English is perfectly within his rights to allude to "paranoia" if he so wishes, yet I wondered aloud if he gave - or has indeed given - a moment’s thought to why a large section of the best supported sporting institution in the country (and certainly one of the best supported in Europe) now casts suspicious eyes and ears regarding the written and spoken output from the members of the Fourth Estate in this country.

As all Rangers supporters, football fans up and down the British Isles and across the world - along with a few 'obsessives' on the internet and the bizarre world of Twitter - are aware, the state, and indeed status, of Rangers Football Club has become not so much a debate within the Fourth Estate and on social media but more a bizarre exercise in point scoring, innuendo, (our old friend) 'whatabouttery' and a fair dollop of vilification thrown into the mix.

After Jim Spence's latest outburst regarding the status of Rangers Football Club, it was hardly a surprise that the legitimate complaint regarding his outburst would become submerged under allegations that his right to freedom of speech was being infringed. No one should suggest that Spence cannot have the freedom to say what he likes or pass his 'opinion'. The point is fans reported his opinion to Rangers (and of course the BBC via the correct channels) and it is the Club that is taking the legitimate complaint forward to the BBC Trust regarding breaches of the ruling which it passed to BBC Scotland (who acknowledged the Trust findings but now appear to wish to ignore) regarding how Rangers - as a football club - should be referred to and described.

If Jim Spence has received outrageous abuse via social media and in the street, that is clearly wrong, however, one should ask oneself; would he use pejorative language or phrases which may cause offence to any other section of society?

More worrying still - especially for anyone with a genuine interest in freedom of speech - was the subsequent actions of Spence and indeed, what appears to be his crusading comrade in arms, the ever predictable Graham Speirs, when the row spiraled swiftly downwards.

It appeared almost childish when Jim Spence took to Twitter in a bizarre search for sympathy regarding his employment with the BBC and even more absurd with the frankly ridiculous reference to Pastor Niemoller's (though I would suggest that Spence brushes up on his German history re: Niemoller) 'First they came for' statement, thus inferring that he was being subjected to all kinds of threats and by extension that Rangers supporters are Nazis. Of course our intrepid Graham Speirs (who also appears to have a less than firm grip of German post-war history) could not be left out of the outrage and took it upon himself to refer to the Rangers support as the 'Stasi'.

It came as even less of a surprise as the furore increased, that the cast of the 'Usual Suspects' should raise their laptops and smart phones in rage and suddenly take to the 'blogisphere' (or if you’re not very good The Drum or Twitter) as defenders of freedom of speech and of 'Oor Jum' and his brave fight for truth and justice. Then, as the NUJ threw their flab into the ring, the outrage ramped up to 11. When the publisher Bob Smith Walker - no I'd never heard of him nor his publishing company before either - threw his two bob in, with the utterly ludicrous blog 'Facism returns to the streets of Glasgow', the vilification appeared complete (although said publisher views Mac Giolla Bhain's blogs as satire as opposed to 'being tarred with the sectarian brush' as described by the Scottish Sun).

It would be laughable if it were not for the fact that these people are extremely serious and that this 'Truth' they proclaim is not actually the truth at all, it is merely the opinion of a group of individuals. This 'Truth' is in fact nothing more than an affirmation of their hate disguised under righteousness alongside their own hubris.

Now, with bloggers such as Mac Giolla Bhain and Walker, who like to shroud their intolerance by displaying pseudo left-wing socialist credentials, or indeed with journalists such as Spence, Spiers, McNally and the rest, I can simply chose to ignore their articles, not purchase the newspapers they write for, read their blogs or take any interest in their publishing. However, this ignores the fundamental question and the most worrying aspect of the reporting on all things related to Rangers: is it no longer reasonable to expect an editor at a newspaper, or a commercial media outlet or indeed an editor at a tax payer funded media outlet to ensure at least a degree of impartiality and accuracy from the journalists and broadcasters who work for their organisations?

Is it no longer reasonable to expect that a tax payer funded media organisation will not 'edit' interview footage with a football manager in order to paint said manager in a poor light regarding attitudes to sectarianism?

Is it no longer reasonable to expect that the personal opinions of a journalist(s) are reined in if it is thought they may cause offence or when they are not even applicable?

Is it no longer reasonable to expect editors or management of any organisation to inform their staff that inferring that a group of people are Nazis or openly referring to said group of people as the Stasi - whether on Twitter or not - is not acceptable?

Or is it now considered reasonable and acceptable that, when referring to a group of football supporters (not individually but as an actual collective group), one can do so in the most pejorative and derogatory terms?

If the above questions are no longer considered reasonable then the 'Truth', as people of reasonable mind believe it to be, was flung out of the window along with the infamous 'Mad Men' montage and this is clearly now, No Country for Sane Men.

Andy McCowatt is a life-long Rangers supporter with an interest in political, social and sports journalism.