Looking for False Equivalence

Looking for False Equivalence

Woodward or Bernstein he’s not, but through the circulation of the Record Keith Jackson has a position to impact on public opinion. Given this ability to influence and inform, his column this week was risible. He chose this platform to join the vast ranks of media past and present to wash his hands of the songs problem in Scottish football and in the process bring Celtic into the debate on the songbook of an unrelated club. It was as if he’d read an Idiot’s Guide on how to sweep racist and sectarian chants under the carpet.


As I wrote earlier in the week, Stan Collymore once again shone the spotlight on the Ibrox song sheet. As we know some vile stuff was sung at Hampden and this repertoire was added to with Collymore specific abuse at their recent Raith Rovers game. Jackson, in his column, dismisses Collymore’s claim due to his lack of reference to Celtic. In summary, Stan criticised RFC without equally criticising Celtic. He is de facto a Tim and therefore his comments have no validity. What balderdash.


In a debate about the songs from Ibrox, like many before, Jackson shoe-horns in the “sins” of the Celtic fans. Criticism of RFC is only valid when accompanied by criticism of Celtic, but as outlined in my piece written on Sunday last, this is a false equivalence. Equating “The Billy Boys” with “Orange B’stards” defies scrutiny, but more importantly ignores the most important aspect of considering any problem in a society based upon free speech. The decision on where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable free speech must be referenced in the context of history, intent and consequences and, I would argue, on these points there is no equivalence between the song sheets.


I have written previously about the position of Catholics and Irish immigrants within Scotland. I was born in the era of colour TV and decimalisation yet in my lifetime citizens of Scotland have been refused access to the best jobs due to their faith, and even today I live in a country where my faith prevents me (and people of my faith alone) from becoming head of state. In such a context, I would contend there can be no equivalence between songs on either side of that divide but in fairness to those unaffected by such matters it can be difficult to empathise and understand the impact of largely historical discrimination when hearing songs of superiority, so let’s look at the songs themselves and specifically the songs (and banners) at the recent meeting between Celtic and the current version of Rangers at Hampden.


As stated Jackson is looking for equivalence and will not condemn The Billy Boys without condemning “Orange B’stards” chants along with general media reports that both club had escaped sanction for “sectarian songs and banners.”


Let’s get the banner one out of the way.


Hun is NOT sectarian. That has been decided by the courts, declared by Nil by Mouth and the very fact that sections of the Ibrox club’s fans are still campaigning to make it so illustrates it is not. Their hackles were also raised because it referred to them going bust and anyone who does not go with liquidation denial is a bigot. Look, your club went bust, out of business. IT IS DEAD! Get over it!


So the banner is a misnomer. Next let’s review the chants and songs.


Jackson claims we sang about “Dirty Orange B’stards.” I’m not saying we didn’t, but I am not aware and have no recollection of it. Is calling someone this sectarian? Well if they consider “Orangeness” to be a derogatory and offensive term and by implication referring to the Rangers support as also only of Protestant faith by extension perhaps. If no self-regarding Protestant would like being called Orange, then yes I suppose it may be. So no-one wants to be an Orangeman and it’s a particularly offensive term? Black mark to us surely – well we are looking for equivalence here and equivalence on this one would surely be “Fenian B’stard”?  I’m not 100% sure if the offense bit here is the “sectarian” term of the b word. I’d be more offended by being called a b’stard so this isn’t clear for me. Equivalence in sectarian & racist songs and chants is what we’re really looking for and the above (on both sides) is not clear-cut so let’s jump across to the song sheet.


The game at Hampden kicked off with The Billy Boys, which contains the line about fenian blood. The most reliable account as to what this song is about is the razor gang of Billy Fullerton (a member of the British Fascist Party) which roamed Bridgeton in the 1920’s & 30’s targeting Catholics, more specifically his gang would sing this as they marched through Catholic areas and on Catholic Holy Days. After the disbandment of his gang, the above-mentioned Orange Order adopted it. Nice!


Next in the repertoire was the Famine Song; a song urging the descendants of the Irish Famine to go home. No more discussion on that needed. A club formed by immigrants 127 years ago and their opponents sing a song telling them to get out of the country and “go home.” Honestly?!


Next I would contend we have the offensive but I’m not sure about sectarian or racist.


No Pope of Rome. A ditty I don’t think I’d heard en masse since the 1970’s. Urging the end to the Catholic Church in Scotland. Whilst I would contend football is not a suitable place for this and it relates to a celebration of Protestant superiority over Catholicism, there should be a right in a free society to disagree with the principle of religion – any and/or all.


Jimmy Saville. This was a new one, but referred to pedophile Saville being a Catholic and of course, if that famous Catholic is a pedophile we all are. To be honest it says more about them – I wouldn’t even consider singing similar about Gary Glitter or any of the others. I don’t know their religion and have no interest. The defining fact is these guys are evil. Equally Sir Jimmy Saville was one of the establishment’s own but I’ve written enough on that nonsense.


The Scottish government brought in the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act to create balance but it is a nonsense. Whilst I understand the comments of those who say, “if you don’t sing horrible stuff you won’t fall foul” but the problem then becomes who are the guardians of decency? I would find Aberdeen fans singing about Neil Simpson’s tackle on Ian Durrant or about poor job opportunities in Glasgow during a recession pretty unpleasant but should people be arrested for singing it?


The problem I have with Jackson is why he dragged Celtic into a debate about Rangers songbook? If bringing unrelated fans songbooks into the debate, why not the Dons fans for the ditties above, why not also bring in Liverpool and their songs on the Munich disaster. He may claim journalistic balance, but the role of the writer is to understand where there is no appropriate equivalence. Just because there is a counter view doesn’t mean that a journalist MUST provide that counter view when discussing a topic. For example there are people who do not believe in human created global warming, but when 98% of experts believe that humans play a significant role in climate change it would be wrong for a journalist to give equal weighting to the views of a climate change skeptic.


To quote Bob Garfield, “false equivalency – the practice of giving equal media time and space to demonstrably invalid positions for the sake of supposed reportorial balance – is dishonest, pernicious and cowardly.”


Failure to understand that would lead to the views of Simon Wiesenthal given the same weighting as those of David Irving, comparing Rangers with a Kit Kat or equating the singing of the national anthem of Ireland with the anthem of a Fascist Party razor gang.