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Wings Over Scotland

Once upon a time in the West

Posted on March 16, 2012 by

We were struck by a little parable in the Scotsman today, penned by our favourite teller of fireside morality tales Michael Kelly. (Who, as attentive readers will know, only fails to grace our “Zany Comedy Relief” links column due to the lack of any central hub address for his contributions to the paper.)

In what we could most charitably describe as a “there but for the grace of God” scenario, the man whose chairmanship of Celtic took it to within hours of the fate that’s currently befalling Rangers reiterated the tired old lie about how Scotland needs both of the Old Firm, but in the course of the article he also passed on an interesting fact we hadn’t previously known.

“Rangers were once before in financial difficulty. It was in the 1920’s when my grandfather, James Kelly (a former Scotland centre-half), was chairman of Celtic. Rangers had a temporary cash flow problem and their board came out to his house in Blantyre to explain the problem and seek help. Celtic gave them an unconditional short-term loan. The fact that Rangers felt able to ask and that Celtic willingly responded indicates that both clubs were aware of their inter-dependence.”

We couldn’t help but find the 1920s football situation strikingly analogous to the modern political one. Rangers and Celtic are supposedly the bitterest of rivals, and their fans treat each other like diametrically opposed poles, with honour and virtue the sole property of one side and bigotry and hatred found exclusively on the other. Yet when it comes to the crunch, the institutions themselves know which side their bread is buttered, and unhesitatingly come together in their mutual interest. Remind you of any two big political parties at all?

Kelly’s piece sent our minds back to a terrific graphic novel we read back in the late 1980s. Penned by the acclaimed Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis (who’d later go on to write the hugely successful Preacher series), Troubled Souls portrayed the story of two young men on either side of the sectarian conflict.

The key event in the book’s climax is when the IRA footsoldier Damian McWilliams meets his commander on a hill overlooking Belfast and is horrified to learn that the purpose of their rendezvous is to meet the local UVF and cosily arrange the exploitation of the city’s population to the two groups’ mutual benefit.

His illusions of a great moral war shattered, McWilliams runs off and kidnaps the Protestant character, Tom Boyd (who he’s previously intimidated into assisting with a fatal bombing), and the two men talk while holed up overnight in a remote shack.

Enough spoilers already. Buy the book. But we wonder how many Labour and Tory supporters these days are experiencing similar emotions, as they watch their two parties, still proclaiming in public to exist on the opposite ends of the political spectrum (though most vaguely intelligent people saw through that fiction years ago), snuggling up cosily together in the Lords and the Commons to protect their narrow self-interest at the expense of Scotland?

When it came to the crunch, Celtic bailed out Rangers to protect their mutual feasting on the lifeblood of Scottish football. And rest assured, when it comes to the crunch in the independence debate, Labour and the Tories will put their arms around each other’s shoulders on the same stage and do their utmost to prop each other up, by ensuring that regular Tory governments in Westminster maintain the illusion of conflict. Orwell foresaw such a future for politics only too clearly in “1984” (Chapter XVII):

War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference.

Far in advance of the rest of the UK, Scotland is showing signs of waking up to the reality of Labour and the Tories’ true relationship to each other, which is why they’re both frantically pulling out all the stops to preserve the status quo that gives both of them their power. Michael Kelly, consciously or otherwise, is talking about more than one Old Firm.

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15 to “Once upon a time in the West”

  1. Kenny Campbell

    Rangers and Celtic are in a partnership, not quite a cartel but as near as they can get to it. As a Gers fan mysefl I always struggled with sharing the same logo on the shirts e.g CR Smith
    The players from both clubs picking up their new cars from Arnold Clark or whoever. In most cases the players shared photo op's and in some cases went into business together. Only the tools in the seats thought there was any real rivalry above what went on , on the field.
    There is actually an underlying conspiracy theory that at times they have shared the spoils to keep attendances up. I say that as a Rangers fan, like professional wrestlers, its all about the business side.

  2. Kenny Campbell

    BTW I don't think Celtic or the SPL need Rangers to survive but it does make it easier in some ways. My concern if they were to fold is that a lots of people would be lost to football and take up something else, its not the only game in town now. I am quite bizarrely enthralled by the idea of starting from 0 again in 3rd division…if we ended up in SPL it would be an anti climax.
    I'm sure Nick Clegg thinks the same sort of thing once this Westminster government falls.

  3. tom

    Terrific piece, but permit me to go off topic: I see from the Irish Examiner that oil has been found offshore around Cork. I hope the Irish are aware of what a disaster this is for them. They will probably be poorer as a result, their economy will flounder due to to instability in crude oil prices, and what will they do when it runs out?
    A national catastrophe!

  4. Kenny Campbell

    Oil off the coast of Ireland…I fear for their airports,,,,,,,

  5. MajorBloodnok

    …and mysteriously redrawn marine boundaries…

  6. Longshanker

    'Old Firm' kind of tells you something, without having to refer to 1920s folklore, to realise the symbiotic nature of the relationship.
    Yes, the unholy alliance will come together to protect the milking of the northern cash cow which helps maintain their respective ideologies.
    Independence's biggest bugbear is your average Scots Jock – of which I consider myself to be the most unspectacularly average.
    You like your charts, I take it you've seen this one:
    Yes, having a proper referendum to look forward to is exciting. I'm still in the camp of AhDinnaeKen –
    Convincing the Scots that the SNP can be trusted with real power is a Sisyphean struggle for a mostly one man party.
    And yes. I still believe that the spectacular – and welcome in context – result for the SNP in 2011 was a reflection of what Scots are against and not so much what they're for.
    For more Hate blinded idiocy

  7. David Briggs

    'Longshanker' is as welcome as a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses at the front door.
    One innocently clicks onto a blog and 'Aw naw …….it's Longshanker' we exclaim.
    Don't you have a someone else to pick on rather than we downtrodden Scots?
    Off course we're what's left of the 'British Empire' and there isn't much left to complain about.

  8. RevStu

    Yeah, enough link-spamming, I think. He can put a link in his username if he likes.

  9. Longshanker

    Link spamming will stop. Apologies. Have asked you to let me know before though. Consider me telt. 
    I notice you're not commenting regarding the link to the poll and it's conclusions though. Curiously  unlike you.
    David Briggs
    Homogeneous  back slapping and whoop whooping when someone says something you agree with is all very well. But things are different in the real world. And comments on the British Empire. Que?
    As for picking on downtrodden Scots.
    RevStu doesn't take prisoners, so what are you bleating about?
    Reminds me of some of the less savoury paranoia which pours out of certain parts of the West coast of Scotland from time to time.

  10. douglas clark

    David Briggs may have come across this on your website: 
    and he might have thought it was serious comment. Which it clearly is not. It is an attempt at satire and it fails.
    In very general terms you are playing a Casandra like role to the politics of Scottish Independence. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that Nationalists see you as a fool.
    If you want to play the satirist – and you are not A Swift – it seems to me that you have to up your game a bit.
    Just saying.

  11. Longshanker

    …he might have thought it was serious comment.
    Sound of laughter trying hard not to be derisive fades into background.
    … you are playing a Casandra like role…
    I don't believe me.
     It is, perhaps, unsurprising that Nationalists see you as a fool.
    You speak for them do you? More laughter, snorting etc.
    If you want to play the satirist…
    No, I'll stick to playing the Nationalists fool. Nice label – cheers. 
    (Tries hard not to pish self laughing now)
    Just saying
    Just laughing
    NB. I'll not post the link, but you should check out my piece which takes an in-depth serious look at the future of a 'joyless', 'thoughtcrime free' independent Scotland. You're there already. Well done.

  12. RevStu

    "Have asked you to let me know before though."

    And that was me doing it just then.

  13. Seasick Dave

    From Longshanker:
    And yes. I still believe that the spectacular – and welcome in context – result for the SNP in 2011 was a reflection of what Scots are against and not so much what they're for.
    You reckon?
    Not for me or my English wife; we voted SNP for positive reasons.
    Same for my elderly parents who were first time SNP voters.
    BTW, a vote for Independence is not a vote for the SNP.

  14. MajorBloodnok

    …and the way things are going in the rUK (NHS and road privatisations, tax perks for the rich, pay cuts for the poor, illegal wars, etc.) not to mention the mature and civilised attitudes being displayed by all of the Unionist parties (irony), there will be more and more positive reasons to vote for Independence (and possibly also the SNP).

  15. Longshanker

    You reckon?
    The almost total wipeout of the Judas like LibBents kind of suggests it – so yes, I do reckon.
    …we voted SNP for positive reasons.
    I'm pretty sure that most of the people who voted SNP did. I see it as a positive thing that the LibBents and Labouring Party got uncompromisingly 'telt' by the Scots. The Unholy Alliance have reaped what their complacency sowed.
    BTW, a vote for Independence is not a vote for the SNP.

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