Will Scottish football decide the referendum?

Is Scotland’s football team good enough for independence? Let’s look at the facts by comparing electoral support for independence, in so far as that can be measured as support for the SNP, with the performance of the Scottish football team.

A number of points are worthing noting here: Qualifying for the finals of tournaments in the 1950s didn’t coincide with any major electoral success on the part of the SNP as, coincidentally, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that there was any noticeable surge in support.

Through the 1970s progression to the latter stages of the World Cup as the lone representative from these islands coincides with peaks in the SNP’s share of the vote. This dropped significantly when Northern Ireland and England both made it through to the 1982 finals in Spain but recovered again when the same three teams made it to the Mexico tournament in 1986.

While Scotland progressed to tournaments again in the 1990s, the introduction of FIFA’s ranking system allows the pattern to be monitored more closely. As can be seen from the graph, the peaks and troughs in SNP electoral support closely match the rises and falls of Scotland’s FIFA ranking. There is a body of serious academic research into the issues of identity, politics and sport both globally, in Scotland and with a more local flavour* (CAIN also has a detailed  bibliography of relevant material).

In this regard (and depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person), Scotland’s lowly FIFA ranking suggests that the current position of the SNP (and support for independence) is somewhat counter-cyclical and could drop significantly by the time of the referendum. Or, there is about to be a dramatic recovery in the fortunes of the Scottish football team.

Now, which is more likely?

*I suspect this will not feature in any such publication.

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  • Football will play a part. Sport generally will play a bigger part.
    If the Referendum is held a week after England beats Scotland 5-0 in the 2014 World Cup Group Match…..then there will be a consequence to English triumphalism. And if Ingerland beats Scotland 1-0 with a Thierry Henry moment, then again theres a consequence.
    But I suspect that the first steps will be taken at the Olympic Games. And Scots might feel just a little aggrieved that they arent actually a “nation”.
    Of course the British Olympic Committee will be clever enough to have small Scottish (and Welsh) flags waved by athletes in parade before the Opening Ceremony and BBC commentors will be on best behaviour during the Games.
    The likelihood is that Scots athletes will win medas and run round the stadium waving the Saltire or even go on the podium with a saltire round their shoulders. Of course this in itself will not be a specific indication that the Scots medal winner is a “Braveheart” or a “North Briton” ie the gesture could be interpreted both ways.
    But a Peter O’Connor moment (1906) does not seem very likely.
    But certainly any Scottish athlete winning Gold……lets say Andy Murray……is likely to be scrutinised as to his demenour during the playing of The British anthem.Lusty singing, respectful silence or picking his nose will all be siezed upon.
    Is Andy Murray……the Scottish John Carlos?

  • ayeYerMa

    It is highly pathetic that the nationalism of some people will depend on something as mundane and superficial as football.

  • ayeYerMa

    It is also highly pathetic that so many Europeans want more political European integration because they fear that if they dont, a successor of Hitler from Germany will want to conquer and oppress them.

    What they have opted for is something similar to the Holy Roman Empire only instead of the Pope telling everybody what to do, it is the German Chancellor.

    The SNP meanwhile, wants to join the Euro after independence. So its not really more power they want. They just dont want to share a political bed with England.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Now Seymore to blame German chancellor for the problems in the UK, particularly the coalition’s inability to come near to the SNP with regards to unemployment, is dare I say it like Hitler blaming the Jews. Most of the UK problems are of its own making, the rest comes through its trading partners.

    There is a fail safe mechanism where an UK citizen can leave the EU, go to a US defence site, break their lousy Perl server and leave them a hostile note … then you’ll be free of EU tyranny through your real imperial overlords.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Never underestimate the power of football. The Irish Soccer team of the late 80s and early 90s played their part in boosting the self esteem of the nation and may have had a minor role in setting the stage for the Celtic Tiger although measuring these things is always subjective.

    However, the England defeat in the 1970 World Cup probably played did play a huge role in the surprise win of Heath’s Tories in the election of that year. Wilson, despite his public utterances was worried about such an eventuality and one of his ministers Tony Crosland put the defeat down to Labour complacency and the ‘disgruntled Match of the Day millions.’

  • JR

    You Can’t mention the roll of sport in defining a Scottish national identity without the Famous 1990 Rugby match where Flower of Scotland was sung with such emotion while GSTQ was barely audable. For some that was a turning point. Something was awakened deep down and the Official British National anthem would never again be their National anthem.

  • dodrade

    I must admit i’m baffled at the popularity of “Flower of Scotland”, an anti-english dirge about a 14th century battle, not exactly the forward looking progressive vision Salmond would like to project of Scottish nationalism. Scotland the Brave is a much better song, upbeat and patriotic without harping on about the Sassenachs.

  • Actually being antiEnglish is remarkably satisfying in itself. And probably a good starting point for Scottish Independence. Thats the first 20 per cent sorted.
    As Salmond does not need to be as consistent as Cameron he can easily put together a number of reasons with which people can identify.
    North Britons like Andrew Neil and assorted London based Scots are actually counter-productive and only provoke more resentment.

    Incidently there are two “Scotland The Braves”. The sycophantic Edinburgh Military Tattoo one. And John McDermotts version on you tube. It has a go at the English……and others.
    “firm as my native rock……..I have withstood the shock
    Of England…Of Denmark ….of Rome ……….and the World”.

  • dodrade

    Surely a truly mature nation does not need to define itself by references to past quarrels against its neighbours?

  • Obviously Scotland is not YET a nation in the oft accepted sense and its supporters which of course includes any nationalist anywhere must build up the dossier.
    The break up of the “United Kingdom” is a something with which I agree and is also obviously in my self-interest.
    The great thing is that everytime a London based Scot speaks up for the “Union”, he adds 1% to the Yes vote. And everytime an English person says something pro-Union he/she adds 2%.
    Its great stuff.

  • JR

    Without Bannoc Burn there might not be a Scotland at all. Like Cornwall, Kent and Dorset it might all be part of a large English nation.

  • John Ó Néill

    FJH – I’d not expected the graph to show such a close match in peaks with the FIFA ranking and the SNP vote (partly as I think the rankings are nonsense). But if FIFA (post Olympics) decided that the Home Nations arrangement was outdated and ended it (if the Basques etc demanded equal status), I’d think that would instantly ramp up the Yes vote by 10%.