Politics and football fandom in post- ‘indyref’ Scotland: nationalism, unionism and stereotypes of the ‘Old Firm’

Abstract

Electoral politics is strongly influenced by unfolding events, some of them leading to major shifts in alignment. There has been renewed interest in the ‘floating voter’ in contemporary Europe, not least because of increased electoral support for right-wing political parties. In Scotland, however, the clearest example of realignment is to be found not so much in support for specific political parties, although that should not be ignored, but rather in a shift of sections of the population from UK unionism towards support for Scottish independence, despite the result of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. We explore past contentions from certain authors that the ethno-religious, socio-economic and political stratification of supporters of the two largest football clubs in Scotland, Celtic and Rangers, may be linked to their personal voting dispositions with regards to the issue of Scottish independence. These past findings are discussed in light of our interviews with fans of Scottish football teams which explore their perceptions of the interconnection between football club support, nationalism, unionism, and political voting in contemporary Scotland. Our interviewees suggest that the shifting dynamics of contemporary Scottish politics in an era of constitutional evolution has been reflected in shifting political and social affiliations of Scottish football clubs: although the traditional political allegiances of Celtic and Rangers were argued to persist to a degree, consensus emerged that these traditional allegiances have been destabilised by broader political, socio-economic and ideological developments.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We purposely use this phrase rather than “Scottish sporting nationalism” to avoid conflating sporting nationalism in Scotland with Scottish nationalism in sport. In a country where supporters of the two biggest football clubs continue to perform (and display) support for Irish nationalism and Ulster unionism respectively, this linguistic clarity is essential.

  2. 2.

    We use this label cautiously. We are aware that some would see their (and others’) sports clubs in alternative ways. For example, some people view Celtic FC as an Irish club in Scotland.

  3. 3.

    Given the ambiguities and disagreements over the definition of ‘sectarian’, it remains problematic to assume from such claims that prejudicial or bigoted behaviour have been prevalent in each of these cases given that they are predicated on the opinions and perceptions of supporters.

  4. 4.

    It should be noted that Rangers’ closure was for what UEFA deemed to be racist chanting. Celtic’s self-imposed closure was unrelated to racist or ‘sectarian’ behaviour, and related more to the supporters’ use of pyrotechnics.

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Whigham, S., Kelly, J. & Bairner, A. Politics and football fandom in post- ‘indyref’ Scotland: nationalism, unionism and stereotypes of the ‘Old Firm’. Br Polit (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-020-00142-8

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Keywords

  • Scottish football
  • Politics
  • Sociology
  • Scottish independence
  • Nationalism