Being a Rangers fan and a Scottish nationalist has been quite an unfortunate mix over the past few years. My football club’s gone through quite a remarkable series of unfortunate events, while politically I’ve been on the losing side of two life changing referendums. Excellent.
Nevertheless, it is clear that many in Scottish society believe that being a Rangers supporting nationalist must involve some serious “doublethink”. How can a nationalist support a club whose fans sign off every game with a rendition of God Save the Queen? How can a supporter of the “quintessentially British club” vote for a party who aim to break up Britain?
To understand my thinking, I guess it’s a good idea to go back to the start.
Everyone is a product of their environment. There is no such thing as a self-made man. You’re shaped by parents, teachers, co-workers, friends and siblings. Especially in your formative years, their beliefs become your beliefs.
My father is a nominal Rangers fan. Far more interested in rugby than he is football, but nevertheless that blue nosed connection carried on.
I was born in the early 90s, so my boyhood fortunately coincided with some of the best Rangers teams in history. With formative memories of Laudrup, McCoist and titles, Rangers was quite frankly an easy sell.
The addiction progressed as I grew up. Teletext articles and games on Setanta Sports turned into the real thing, first at Ibrox, and then beyond.
In your teenage years, everybody searches for an identity, and I was no different.
I was on the supporters’ buses, singing the songs and having a great time. In my head, my support for Rangers and my support for the union went hand in hand.
Then I went to university to study politics.
Turning politics from a part of my identity to a field of academic study opened my eyes. Beliefs I thought I held dearly were broken down into thousands of smaller issues. I realised that the basis for my opinions was shaky at best.
Scottish independence is a pretty complex issue. To hold a strong opinion on it involves all sorts of forecasting. Sure, you can look at precedent in various other countries, but there’s no set manual on how it would all unfold. What would businesses do? What would the central bank look like? Would we keep the Scottish Parliament as it is, or add in extra chamber?
I don’t believe Scots are superior, nor that independence should be sought at any cost. However, I believe that the closer you are to your government the better. Why can the government of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland better govern Scotland than the government of Scotland? I believe that power should be closer to the people, and as such, Scotland should be independent.
Within a few months, I realised that I would vote Yes in the referendum. At the same time, it became clear that my opinion on the constitutional status of Scotland had nothing to do with my boyhood football team.
If you look across Twitter or message boards, you see plenty of people who claim that if you voted Yes, you’re not a Rangers fan. There are even Rangers supporters buses out there who refuse to give a seat to Scottish nationalists. I suppose it hurts that some elements of your own support consider you less of a fan due to political opinions you hold.
However, the world is bigger than the internet and a couple of supporters’ buses. I certainly don’t attend games wearing a Yes badge, but nor do I hide my political beliefs if challenged. I’ve had disagreements, but in every case, the disagreement stays political, not personal. As it should be.
Sure, I don’t agree with a lot of the songs. And I do believe some Rangers fans base their political views mainly on their choice of football team.
However, none of this is unique. People love their football teams, and it’s quite natural for this support to manifest itself politically. The AC Milan support played a huge part in Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to the Italian presidency. On the other hand, there are bound to be plenty of Celtic supporters who support the union, and plenty of Barcelona and Bilbao followers who would prefer Spain to stay as it is.
As long as the songs stay on the right side of the law, they can sing what they like. Who am I to deny them their freedom of expression just because I personally disagree with it?
This column wasn’t written to speak for all Rangers supporting nationalists, nor indeed all political minorities at any football clubs. I can only speak for myself in this case. If you leave this article with just one thing, let it be this: you pick your football team well before you pick your politics. And trust me, you don’t celebrate a goal, nor mourn a defeat, any differently because of them.