Born Under a Union Flag: Rangers, Britain and Scottish Independence (Luath Press) will be an interesting read for those yet to open its cover, and I would strongly suggest you do. It allows the reader access at times, to the mindset of the authors of the various chapters, some of which will challenge you, some may even alarm you, but having drawn me in, it was one of those books I had to read from start to finish without interruption.
It may seem strange for an avid Unionist to highlight a chapter written by a pro-independence author, Gail Richardson, but I do so for 2 reasons :
(1) Gail asks questions relating to the motto of a group of which I am a member – Vanguard Bears
(2) Of all the pro-independence chapters within the book, Gail’s was unique in that it offered a cohesive, rational and positive argument for independence which was free from negative subjective experience often cited by her peers, nor did it seek to demonise Britain as a justification for exercising a yes vote, in short it offered vision rather than vilification.
I use the word “demonise” deliberately. When Alan Bissett argues that Britain is responsible for, amongst other things, “the mass slaughter of World War 1” you can perhaps begin to understand why I suggested in the opening paragraph that you may be challenged, even alarmed by its contents.
Gail opens her chapter with a question :
“THERE IS A small group of Rangers fans whose motto is ‘Defending Our Traditions’ – a motto that manages to be both clearly defined and utterly bewildering at the same time. What are the traditions of Rangers? Beyond playing at Ibrox, wearing royal blue and winning a lot of trophies, I would struggle to come up with any.”
Do the Loving Cup ceremony or the portraits of Her Majesty the Queen hanging in the home dressing room at Ibrox not qualify as traditions ? Both are long standing practices at our club, with club historian David Mason, opening this year’s Loving Cup toast describing it as “A very important tradition in the history of Rangers Football Club since 1937”. Furthermore are they merely traditions or, additionally, a powerful statement of identity i.e. this is a club which values the traditions of monarchy ?
The foregoing example serves as welcome introduction for another area of such debate which is often overlooked by many. Gail asserts :
“I would argue that many people simply project their own beliefs and values onto the club and expect it to uphold them. I would also argue that this is a form of madness.”
It is madness. But what about the flip side of that coin ? What about the instances where the beliefs and values come from within the club itself ? Are they in themselves not statements of identity ? If the historical commentators such as Graham Walker and Bill Murray are to be believed, and there is no good reason not to, then Protestant identity evolved due to a number of factors, primarily though that the Protestant indigenous Scot sought a football club which reflected their faith and culture in the same way that the newly formed club, Celtic, reflected the faith and culture of the Irish immigrant population.
If Gail is guilty of overlooking symbolism and traditions which emanate from within the club, perhaps because they don’t quite fit with her assertions and beliefs, I confess, I could be equally as guilty of reading something into symbolism from within the club because they do happen to fit with my particular assertions and beliefs. I have difficulty accepting however that Church and Boys Brigade Parades, the holding of the Orange Order Annual Divine Service at Ibrox, our refusal to play football on the Sabbath, the welcoming of Kings at Ibrox, Armed Forces Days, amongst other things, are not statements of identity. Furthermore these take no account of the erroneous, which again have their formation from within the club itself.
Gail makes reference to Rangers signing policy, I would add to that the comments of Rangers vice chairman Matt Taylor in 1967 when he stated in interview relating to it, “part of our tradition….we were formed in 1873 as a Protestant boys club. To change now would lose us considerable support.”
However mis-guided, however ham-fisted, however opposed to true Protestant ideals and values the foregoing examples are, I would suggest they are a clear attempt to attach a Protestant identity to our club from within the club itself.
I cite these examples not to usurp Gail’s questioning of their relevance today in an increasingly secular Scotland, but to demonstrate that the club itself over the years has actively encouraged an identity with which it is often associated, therefore to suggest that it’s our supporters who have projected their beliefs onto the club and asked them to uphold them is incorrect.
When Gail states : “I’ve said that I don’t believe Rangers Football Club is a Protestant club or a Unionist club.” how does such a statement equate to a football club who have just released their 3rd strip which has as its centrepiece, the flag of the Union itself ? Particularly in view of the current political climate in Scotland.
Strangely, the answer to Gail’s original question comes from an unlikely source, in chapter 3 of the book. Harry Reid, an Aberdeen supporter speaking of the demise of Rangers identity under Sir David Murray:
“They most certainly lost touch with the club’s core traditions and, to employ an overused but very important word, their identity.”
And later in the chapter :
“A club’s identity, or, to be more highfalutin, its soul, is a particularly precious thing. Forfeit it and you lose everything. If a club becomes the plaything of over-ambitious folk who have no understanding of it, there is serious trouble ahead. If it becomes the plaything of people who have no knowledge of its traditions and its values, then the trouble can be noxious.”
“And the worst aspect – indeed, the really serious downside of this – was that the core values of Rangers, including a strong mix of Scottish pride, dignity, probity, and an historically honourable commitment to the best in Scottish Protestantism, suddenly became, if not irrelevant, then certainly something of an encumbrance.”
Later in the chapter Harry emphasises the importance of any football club seeking to expand its aspirations, remaining true to its core fan base.
There is really not a lot I can add to Harry’s quotes. The values, traditions and people Harry alludes to are very much at the core of what we at Vanguard Bears, seek to defend.
I hope this article not only answers Gail’s questions, but also challenges her to examine her own vision of our club, as much as her chapter from the book caused me to examine my own.