Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and a former Foreign Office Minister.
The forthcoming referendum in Scotland rightly dominates domestic politics at present, and there are issues of the greatest import to consider.
But, in keeping with the nature of this column, which is to give our minds a little time off from the intensity of politics and remind us that there are other things in life to discuss on doorsteps, I can reveal that
My parents are Scots, born in Dundee and Fife. I am first generation born in Lancashire, and thus very typically British. I was and remain a passionate supporter of Scottish football, and as a child in the 1960s and 70s, wearing a tartan rosette with my Dad at Wembley, I had much to cheer.
A succession of Scottish club sides had great European nights: Hibs, Dundee, Dunfermline and Rangers. Jock Stein’s Celtic became the first British side to win the European Cup in 1967 – with a side all of whom had been born within 30 miles of Glasgow. In 1963, two Scottish players, Denis Law and Jim Baxter, were chosen for a Rest of the World side to play against England. In 1967, Scotland became the first team to beat World Cup Winners England 3-2 at Wembley. In 1972, Rangers won the European Cup-Winners Cup, as did Aberdeen in 1983, Alex Ferguson outsmarting Real Madrid. In 1974, Scotland were arguably the best side ever to go out at the group stage, and in 1978 Archie Gemmill scored the goal of that or any other tournament against Holland.
But apart from the occasional flurry of an odd individual result since then, (Dundee Utd’s feats should not be minimised), or a brief international team surge, from the 1990s at latest Scottish football no longer terrifies at club level, nor delivers what is deserved at national level. There is no Scottish player who would trouble world selectors, nor are they at the heart of every great English club, as so often they were.
The painful analysis of this has occupied many over recent years. But what impact, if any would independence make? Would football, enthused with a surge of nationalism, be a beneficiary? What should Scots football fans do?
There is, alas, little to go on. Due to history, one sovereign state, the UK, is uniquely gifted by FIFA with four football associations. Whether Scotland remains part of the UK or not, it will still have its own FA. We have no precedent of the impact of independence, therefore, on subsequent results.
The break-up of the Soviet Union may give some loose analogy. Before 1989, the Soviet Union had won the European Championship, as had Yugoslavia, and it and Czechoslovakia were regularly well placed. Post the break-up of 1989 neither Russia, nor any of the new states – beyond one runners-up spot for the Czechs – have particularly shone.
I fear those looking for independence as a clue look in vain. The answers must lie elsewhere.
But here’s a thing. Scotland’s greatest football years, and their most barren coincide not with independence, but with the number of Tory MPs. By and large, if Scotland has about 20 Conservative MPs, its international football reputation is strong. The fewer Tory MPs, the more Scottish football appears to slide off the map.
Scotland’s football fans, will, like all Scots, make up their own minds about the benefits or otherwise of the Union. To those of us who are ethnically Scots, sufficiently full of passion to leap from their posh seats when Scotland scored against England last season, and who love the Union and all that it has meant, the knowledge that the best chance for the revival of Scottish football is Better Together with more Conservative MPs represents as good a ‘Double’ as we could wish for.