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.