Football and Scottish Independence
‘Will Scotland keep the pound, or that old lady that appears on it?’
‘Will the Scots have to empty their sporrans at the border when they head South?’
‘Will Irn Bru be moved to the exotic foods part of the supermarket?’
As the independence debate enters the final furlong, an important question has been largely overlooked. If they vote Aye, what the hell would happen to the most important issue of all – football?
Scotland’s place within football internationally
For starters, it would likely end FIFA’s debate on whether the plucky home nations can continue to exist within a single political state. Indeed, FIFA insiders were recently quoted as saying that a No vote would see this topic “come up as a conversation” and that “there is going to be real pressure to have that UK disparity finally dealt with.” Presumably a Yes vote would kill this completely (for Scotland at least).
What won’t be affected? In what’s surely a relief to the future Matt Phillipses of the world, it won’t alter who qualifies as eligible to don the Tartan Army shirt. And unlike with the EU, NATO, and Eurovision, their membership of FIFA and UEFA won’t be affected as they already have a separate seat at those particular tables through the SFA.
Effects on the English leagues
The obvious question of the English football fan: how might it affect the stuff I’m interested in? In a best case scenario Scotland would join the EU in March 2016; in a worst case scenario, it could be 2019 before they could join. That could mean a substantial limbo period where Scotland might be independent but temporarily out of the EU. Would Scottish players need an additional piece of paperwork, a work permit perhaps?
This season, there are 118 Scots plying their trade in first team squads in the main English leagues: 28 in the Premier League, 51 in the Championship, 24 in League 1, and 15 in League 2. Plus a handful playing elsewhere in the EU. In a climate where we see points deductions for player ineligibility, with so many players to sort through you’d imagine some clubs might not be completely on-the-ball. Will Sebastian, the summer intern at Fulham, remember to properly obtain the right paperwork for inexplicable £11 million player Ross McCormack?
And if considered as non-EU players, what of the work permit criteria – the ‘highest calibre’ standard for example, where a player has to have played in 75% of competitive international games in the previous 2 years. Fine if you’re someone like Steven Fletcher – less so if you’re someone like Jamie Murphy. The standard also prevents players playing in non-league. Then there’s Greg Dyke’s commission’s recommendation that clubs should be limited to two non-EU players in the future.
All this could seriously impact on player movement during this limbo period. Also, outside of the EU, the Bosman ruling does not apply. Scottish players approaching the end of their contracts would no longer be bought on-the-cheap.
Effects on individual clubs
Rangers would obviously have to cope with the sudden demise of the Union Flag, (somewhat trivial compared to the problems at Rangers in general). The larger effect on both Glasgow sides would be to cement them more firmly in the Scottish leagues. Much like the FIFA debate on home nations representation, the equally tedious debate on whether Celtic & Rangers would join the Premier League would potentially disappear. It’s never been particularly likely anyway, even less so with Rangers’ recent odyssey round the lower SFL divisions.
A more immediate concern though would be for the only English-based team in the Scottish professional leagues – Berwick Rangers. Would they be allowed to stay? John Bell, their vice chairman, is adamant they would. He recently told the Independent: “Berwick Rangers are full members of the SFL and as such we would expect to remain members of it, regardless of any independence issue.” Perhaps, John… But just to be safe, this could be the first target of the newly-formed Scottish Defence Force. You can just picture a charge over the border, led by Michael Stewart, Brian Cox, and The Proclaimers, to the battle-cry of “For Scottish League Division Two!”
Plenty of questions then, and about as much clarity as a Kenny Dalglish interview. Common sense would suggest any move to independence would probably be handled fairly smoothly for sport. But too often we see not only a lack of common sense but a lack of foresight applied by football’s governing bodies. Let’s hope in the event of a Yes vote they aren’t caught napping.