Scottish Referees and VAR. Is it time for dialogue on the elephant in the cave?

With the introduction of VAR to Scottish football our football media, exposure to the on line, audio and print world has been akin to living in Plato’s Cave where debate/discussion  concentrates on the shadows reflected on the wall by the light of a fire: (PLATO ON: The Allegory of the Cave – YouTube )

The shadows take the following shapes.</p?

  • Was it handball?
  • What is handball?
  • Was it a penalty?
  • Was it offside?
  • What are offside rules anyway?
  • Do referees know them?
  • Do they apply them with any degree of consistency?

All are of interest as they are scrutinised, dissected and disputed, but they all ignoring the biggest shadow of the biggest animal in the cave:-  that of the elephant called ” trust”.

In the context of Scottish football, ever since the game became professional, referees in Scotland have never been trusted because of the demographic peculiarities of Scotland, a peculiarity created as a by-product of historical events in Scotland and its near neighbours Ireland and England.

With such a diverse populace tribal distrust of the other is a fertile breeding ground to grow and take life, like unattended weeds choke a garden.

In the Plato’s Cave allegory the commentator suggests the way out of the cave is by philosophical education and if you watch the video, one description of his guidance  on such education is “dialogue.”

So what is dialogue?

“ Dialogue is a conversation on a common subject between two or more persons with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that s/he can change and grow. This very definition of dialogue embodies the first commandment of dialogue.

If we approach another party to either defeat them or to learn about them so as to deal more effectively with her or him, or at best to negotiate with him or her. If we face each other at all in confrontation–sometimes more openly polemically, sometimes more subtly so, but always with the ultimate goal of defeating the other, because we are convinced that we alone have the absolute truth, we are indulging in debate and not dialogue.

But dialogue is not debate. In dialogue each party must listen to the other as openly and sympathetically as s/he can in an attempt to understand the other’s position as precisely and, as it were, as much from within, as possible. Such an attitude automatically includes the assumption that at any point we might find the other party’s position so persuasive that, if we would act with integrity, we would have to change, and change can be disturbing.

The parties must be prepared to come to the dialogue as persons ready to put aside their own needs and wants, at least for a time. They must be ready to listen, without judgement, to the thoughts and feelings as expressed by the other person in the exchange. The parties must be prepared to accept that reaching agreement may not be achieved, although that might occur, but dialogue will lead to both parties, through a better understanding of the others’ needs and wants, to being able to live amicably with their differences.”

How, then, can Scottish football supporters as key stakeholders in the game  via their own club supporter organisations and the likes of The Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA)? How can the clubs themselves effectively engage in a meaningful dialogue?

There are 10 “Commandments in the Original Dialogue Decalogue by Leonard Swidler that can be read at

but the following two are particularly apt in terms of acknowledging the presence of the particular elephant in our own Scottish football cave in order to drag it out and into the light?


SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only between equals. Both must come to learn from each other. Therefore, if, for example, one party views the other as inferior, or if one party views the other as superior, there will be no dialogue. If authentic relationship dialogue is to occur between the parties, then both must come mainly to learn from each other; only then will it be “equal with equal,”. This rule also indicates that there can be no such thing as a one-way dialogue.


EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust, which must be built.  A dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust. Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing the basis of trust. Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken. Thus, as in learning we move from the known to the unknown. So in dialogue we proceed from commonly held matters, which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from possibly years of misunderstanding and possibly hostility in the relationship, may take us quite some time to discover fully–to discuss matters of disagreement.

Philosophy/dialogue is all very well but what can it do to bring about the required level of trust?

The advice above is via small steps and one small step but with huge benefits would be the introduction of transparency to the VAR process. This could be done in the reasonable short term by making conversation between referees and VAR assistant audible to all.

It is a technical approach but with behaviour changing consequences because observed behaviour changes that of those being observed. It need not be live during a game but at very least released within half an hour of a match ending. It brings in transparency which is the forerunner to accountability and would be a game changer.

Longer term strategy for culture change to improve professionalism of referees, which the proposal by Sentinel Celts   Calling Out Scottish Referees – SENTINELCELTS sets out should be part of a longer terms strategy for changing the culture of the referee service with the ultimate aim of making refereeing a very rewarding professional career   and be fertile territory for dialogue between all stakeholders, not least referees themselves.

712 thoughts on “Scottish Referees and VAR. Is it time for dialogue on the elephant in the cave?”

  1. @BP – Freeport opportunities…that made me chuckle. Maybe SDM was just ahead of his time and thought that Govan was already a designated freeport and as such taxes didn’t apply.
    I could imagine the noise now though if ICT are deemed to be getting tax breaks in the future….

  2. paddy malarkey
    1st March 2023 at 18:01
    ‘..Imran Ahmad…..’
    I myself attended the morning session.
    The smallish court-room ( only about 42 seats in total) had only 9 unoccupied!
    The legal teams of the Parties occupied 18 of these ( 11 on the Lord Advocate’s side, 7 on Ahmad’s)
    I recognised only Mulholland as a journalist, but presumably Anna Savva was there as well.
    Everyone else, apart from me, seemed to a a legals or para-legals taking an interest in the case though not connected with it.
    I was in the back row, and had such difficulty in hearing what was being said that I gave up trying to take notes after a while.
    Counsel for Ahmad, Lord Keen of Elie KC, opened by informing the judge that Parties had agreed a chronology, and had also agreed a note about the ‘proposed indemnity’. He suggested to the Judge that he might wish to break about mid-morning so that there could be a discussion about the note. The Judge agreed, and said he would break at 11.20 or as near as practicable to that time.
    Counsel for the Lord Advocate ( Moynihan KC) wished to draw the Judge’s attention to Rule 47(1) and (2) of the Rules of Court, which refer to the requirement that ‘there should be reasonable opportunity to prepare” He wished to reserve his position in respect of information he had received late about Allenby. He said ” I don’t know where this is going in relation to Allenby. We were told on Friday that [ I missed the next bit].. the FCA were…[?] I don’t know what the basis of these allegations is…”
    referring to page 26, he asked ” Is Ahmad party to that? Why are we allowed to see that only on Monday morning? I would not know , if my learned friend brings up something in his evidence-in-chief how to respond [in cross-examination] …My complaint is thatI could be prejudiced .
    Lord Harrower asked: Has a motion been made on these documents or not?
    Moynihan KC : Yes, but ‘potential allegations’ smear or false…
    Lord Harrower: Lord Keen supplied… I can give you time to talk to Lord Keen?
    Moynihan: Nature of activities? Mr Ahmad?….(??)
    Lord Harrower:Lord Keen, do you wish to talk to Mr Moynihan?…
    Lord Keen: The Allenby documents…… Denton’s said there were other Parties …nothing further that I can do …other people’s confidentialities.
    Lord Harrower: Mr Moynihan would not be able to cross-examine…Let’s crack on.
    Imran Ahmad called to the stand and takes the oath, confirms his name as Sheik Imran Ahmad, gives his age as 53, confirms that , aware of the ‘malicious prosecution’ he moved to Dubai, resided there for 9 days. Resident in the UK since 2015. Separated from wife in December 2016. Reconciled 12 months ago. Living together again since January 2023.Been a broker for AIM companies since 1997.
    Lord Harrower: broker and adviser?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Lord Keen: as your career developed…..[missed the question and reply]
    Lord Keen: .. continued after you left Allenby.About 40 deals since 1997?
    Ahmad: [That’s] not all
    Lord Keen: 15 plus [indecipherable scrawl that looks like Reezim..]Is that the totality?
    Ahmad: No
    Lord Keen: The failure of Rutherford in 2022 impacted your reputation?
    Ahmad : [didn’t catch any response]
    Lord Keen: You refer to your employment with Allenby?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Lord Keen: The circumstances, the confidentiality agreement?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Lord Keen: the 7th inventory of production from Allenby., document 6/159. Letter from HB Markets to… Who are HB Markets?
    Ahmad: My old employer.
    Lord Keen: Who is Jeremy Morgan
    Ahmad: Chairman of Allenby.
    Lord Keen: second page: were HB shareholders in Allenby?
    Ahmad: Yes. 10 per cent,
    Lord Keen: who else were shareholders?
    Ahmad: I had 80%
    Lord Keen : [ indecipherable] …….mention placings
    Ahmad : [didn’t catch any reply]
    Lord Keen: was it designed to dilute? was it unlawful?
    Ahmad: It was not illegal.
    Lord Keen: Who made the offer for HB shares?
    Ahmad: [ couldn’t catch his reply]
    Lord Keen: It was you who intended to purchase?
    Ahmad: yes
    Moynihan: interjected with a query, to which the judge replied, and Lord Keen withdrew that question.
    Lord Keen: I withdraw that question and take the witness to the minutes of a meeting of the audit committee of Allenby.
    2 members of Littlejohn LLP were doing the audit?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    There was a payment of £250,000 to BDL for introducing clients, and a discussion on the appropriateness of that payment. Were you aware?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Lord Keen: ..then a letter from the auditors to the directors of [ missed the rest]
    Ahmad: [I missed whatever he replied]
    Lord Keen: You, Jeremy Morgan and some other directors, some queries about payments to ‘quasi-related’ parties. Do you know what is meant by ‘quasi-related’?
    Ahmad: No.
    Mr Moynihan: My Lord, objection to the line of [questioning?]
    Lord Harrower: [said something which meant ‘over ruled’]
    Lord Keen: ‘compromise agreement..employee suspended..allegations. Were allegations made re BDL?
    Ahmad: No
    Keen: Did you receive auditors’ letter?
    Ahmad: No
    Keen: ‘termination of employment’?
    Ahmad: yes
    Keen: Had you engaged a lawyer on your own behalf?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Keen: A new company ” Allenby Emerging Markets .Ahmad will be heading up” At whose suggestion ?
    Ahmad: Allenby.
    Keen: Did you sell your shares in Allenby?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Keen: How much for?
    Ahmad: Roughly £360k.
    Keen: Was Allenby approved by the FCA?
    Ahmad: yes
    Keen: were you approved by the FCA?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Keen: You joined…[?]
    Ahmad: yes
    Keen: Did you make application to the FCA?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Keen: Your employer had to submit (the application)?
    Ahmad: yes
    Keen: Did you complete the form accurately?
    Ahmad: yes.
    Keen: CF 1 ‘director’, CF 30 adviser..?
    Ahmad: Yes, Hierarchy of approval.
    Keen: You made certain proposals for Rangers Football Club?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Keen: You made certain payments to the Administrators?
    Ahmad: Yes., at 11 pm for exclusivity.
    Keen: Who granted exclusivity?
    Ahmad: [ I missed the reply]
    Keen: You were in contact with Charles Green?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Keen: In April 2012 did you take up a directorship of Rangers Football Club?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Keen: Did you resign from Zeus?
    Ahmad: yes around June 2012.

    I’m now knackered, posting this! And it’s late. I’ve a few more pages to decipher, and I’ll try to find time tomorrow.
    I should add that there was no indication that any reporting restrictions applied and that I openly scribbled in my notebook.

  3. My post of 2nd March at 00.06 refers.
    Here is the continuation of my notes of the Ahmad v The Lord Advocate hearing, such as they are.
    Lord Keen KC: Did you withdraw your application to the FCA?
    Ahmad: …..the form might have been submitted late.
    Lord Keen: the form gives a list of ‘reasons for withdrawal’ one of which is ‘resignation’?
    Ahmad : Yes.
    Lord Keen: ….your signature?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Lord Keen: the date is typed in -2013? Can you recall who might have typed the date other than you?
    Ahmad: [ did not hear his reply]
    my next scribble reads
    ‘ from the administrators for ‘exclusivity’ £250, 000 at 11 pm’
    [20 minute break]
    on resumption: Ahmad withdrawal of FCA application appropriate, and spoke of employment at Rangers Football Club as Commercial Director.
    Lord Keen: Was there any requirement for FCA approval?
    Ahmad: No
    Lord Keen: Your functions at Rangers?
    Ahmad: Commercial activities…Charles Green was involved on the Football side..
    Lord Keen: was there any requirement for FCA approval?
    Ahmad: No.
    Lord Keen: Did you encounter Malcolm Murray?
    Ahmad: I hired him.
    Lord Keen [ I didn’t catch the question]
    Ahmad: There was a gathering of directors on 14th June and Malcolm was there. He appeared to me to have had one too many …….
    Lord Keen: Did Malcolm Murray say that you needed FCA approval?
    Ahmad: No, On the IPO, Cenkos told me privately that vMalcolm had been bad-mouthing me.
    Lord Keen: When did Malcolm Murray leave Rangers?
    Ahmad: July 2013. We fired him for breaches of confidentiality
    Lord Keen: The IPO..did you dispose of shares in Rangers?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Lord Keen: Did you need FCA approval for that?
    Ahmad: No.
    Lord Keen: You moved to Proton. Did you require FCA approval?
    Ahmad: No, because allof the cash flowed between FCA-approved brokers.
    Lord Keen: Joint Bundle,3713 at 5.1.4, there bis reference there to Chris Evans, Martin Walton and ‘Arthurian’ ..who was ‘Arthurian’?
    Ahmad: Neil Woodford. He was putting up a £800 million fund investing in private companies…Deloitte and [ I lost the rest of what he said]
    LordKeen: You were instrumental in appointing them?
    Ahmad: Yes. And I did not need FCA approval for Alban Partnersb LLP

    ‘CG set up a company in Dubai 2015 wich did not provide ” any service which requires FCA regulation”
    Dr Mahli al-Farin Bank of Luxemburg, ” I first met Ahmad ..”
    27 August 2015
    [triumvirate Ahmad, Green and Walton]

    Lord Keen : did any of your share transactions require FCA approval?
    Ahmad: No.
    Lord Keen: Mr Ahmad, do you adopt your statement?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Mr Moynihan KC, cross-examining: Mr Ahmad, you say you sold your Rangers shares at 41p per share?
    Ahmad: Yes.
    Moynihan: Was there a contract?
    Ahmad: Yes
    Moynihan: Where is that contract?
    Ahmad: It is disposed of, it was a very old contract
    Moynihan: Look at theAhmad ‘Holyrood’ report 19 August 2013.’ Ahmad no longer has RFC shares,sold them.Capital gain £800.000.’
    I note that as 43p per share?
    Ahmad [ he spoke of the normal 3 prices in share dealing ,]
    Moynihan: You returned to the UK in 2018?
    Ahmad: I came back to help my brother in 2015. I have a house in England and a house in Pakistan….. ( help his brother get his his full entitlements to benefits)
    Moynihan: Look at your witness statement: ” I returned to the UK on or around 17 August 2022″
    There is a question about where your tax residence was..

    I stopped note-taking at that point. I’m not sure I heard any reply, and then it was the lunch break.
    I went home , and did not return for the afternoon session.

  4. Some downtime last night due to a server fault at the datacentre.
    Hopefully all good now …

  5. I’ve just been reading the email today from the Scottish Football Fans Association ( SFSA).

    and ‘Andy’s -sting-in-the-tail piece’ therein.
    In that piece he comments on the “fans’ ” behaviour before and during the League cup final.
    He says in relation to that: “The press silence is shocking.
    It should become a power for the good, and report all incidents classed as sectarian on an ongoing basis and the dialogue should start seeing not ‘bigotry’ but ‘racism’ as the cause.”
    I agree, of course.
    But I would add that the SMSM should in the first instance report simple , non-racist, non-sectarian Truth, objectively!
    The SMSM propagate the lie that TRFC is RFC of 1872.
    If they cannot report the true legal and commercial facts, there is little chance of them reporting truthfully on instances of bigotry and/or racism in Scottish Football!
    The denial of the death of the Rangers Football Club that was founded in both of my grandfathers’ time is a sure sign that we cannot look to the SMSM for any kind of objectivity in reporting on any matters of concern in the administration of Scottish football or in how the Clubs exercise control of their fans.
    Until the SMSM acknowledge that RFC of 1872 is as dead as Gretna and Third Lanark, and that TRFC has no sporting history earlier than 2012, they cannot be instrumental in influencing change for the good in Scottish Football development. They speak with forked tongues, and with a sickening degree of hypocrisy.

  6. Rangers win today and fans are all aglow with performances of some of the January signings. Lets look at who they were performing against, Kilmarnock with 6 wins, scoring less than a goal a game, and, conceding on average more than two a game. Also we have the normal Rangers penalty. Where were these star performers last week against real competition. Thankfully the run in to the Scottish Cup has been eased somewhat with a favorable draw. Transfer market opens up with untold fees and offers for this new group of Rangers. Still baffled as to the fact that anyone who performs/plays in Scotland earns the “star” designation. Any one with clarification on that would be helpful.

  7. I note from PMCG’s blog (on 2nd March) a comment made by ‘Caine’ on 3rd March to the effect that Beale was reported as having said ” look at any team in the world, the team that spends the most is first. ”
    That is probably true.
    But only where the money spent has not been due to the tax authorities!
    As SDM/CW found out!
    SDM’s lavish, unlawful spending allowed RFC of 1872 to be ‘first’ for a decade or so.
    But the lies from the RFC board both to HMRC and the SFA caused both the death of RFC of 1872 in 2012, and the poisoning and corruption of Scottish Football governance.

  8. John Clark
    5th March 2023 at 00:12
    Speaking of finances, quite a few of my RIFC/TRFC supporting mates are querying why they should be spending circa 20% more than CFC fans just to finish second. And these guys aren’t glory hunters . Has the penny finally dropped ?

  9. Don’t forget the esteemed Lord Nimmo Smith declared that Rangers spending/savings by using ETBs which gave them the biggest budget to spend did not give any sporting advantage. Maybe someone should remind Mr Beale.

  10. Ballyargus
    5th March 2023 at 23:20
    ‘..the biggest budget to spend did not give any sporting advantage.’
    Ha,ha, Ballyargus: that surely ranks as the most fatuous and absurdly stupid observation made by anyone since Lord Denning’s infamous and (potentially dangerous) remark that
    “We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten and the whole community would be satisfied’
    Lord Denning may have been in his dotage, allowing deep-seated prejudice to surface,and might be excused on that account.
    There can be no possible excuse for LNS.

  11. Paradisebhoy
    6th March 2023 at 15:27
    ‘..Old big hands reappears .’
    Yes, and the rotten old Daily Express carries on the propagation of the Big Lie in the headline
    “Tax authorities ‘destroyed’ Rangers, former chairman Charles Green tells court..”
    Whatever Green was he was NEVER ever the Chairman of RFC of 1872. He bought a bundle of assets, which the perfidious SFA did not recognise as a football club except by constructing a number of nonsensical lies, destroying thereby the integrity of Scottish Football and the personal integrity of the guilty office-holders in the SFA .

  12. wokingcelt
    6th March 2023 at 20:59
    ‘..What to make of such differing interpretations…’
    Well, and it might be my own fault for being thick of understanding or of my general feckin ignorance, but I did actually believe that VAR technology would have removed the possibility of ordinary human error or deliberate referee bias seriously affecting the result of a match.
    That was the way it was sold to us.
    What I seem to have missed is that it is ONE single referee based in Baillieston who decides whether to signal to the on-pitch ref that there might be something that he might wish to look at.
    I may be wrong, [and if so that would demonstrate that the SFA have not adequately explained to us how VAR works]
    If I am right, then VAR as operated in Scottish Football is not worth a tuppenny toss in terms of removing doubt about potential refereeing bias on the part of the Video Assistant referee!
    The VAR has it in his power NOT to suggest to the on-pitch referee that there is anything to look at!
    And, sadly, there has been a time when particular on-pitch referees have been less than impartial.
    The possibility exists therefore that a referee tasked with being the VAR in any given match might conceivably ‘not see’ incidents that should be called to the on-pitch referee’s attention.
    That of course raises the possibility that the VAR ref in Baillieston has the power NOT to ask the on-pitch ref to look again at any potentially questionable decision.
    Back to square one!
    Ja wohl!

  13. Just read RTC latest tweet re the on air spat between Andy Walker and Kris Boyd during the St Mirren v Celtic game . Even with the benefit of multiple replays they couldn’t agree .
    RTC concluded by saying that it was impossible to eliminate personal bias from decision making .
    That being the case we need to look at the English system whereby referees have to declare club allegiances before being appointed to specific fixtures .

  14. @Paradisebhoy – think we would then find ourselves with an infeasibly large number of refs who support Third Lanark!
    Whilst our football clubs are very willing to accept that the best player for a position or indeed for manager may be foreign, our football authorities insist that our home-grown referees are always up to the task…

  15. There seems to be a distinct lack of MSM coverage of the Ahmad v Lord Advocate case . Charles Green gave evidence last friday and was due to appear again yesterday. Anyone have any updates ?

  16. @wokingcelt – yes I agree , Clyde and Partick Thistle would also receive a boost .
    However , some things are easily checked – like season ticket holders , shareholders, debenture seat owners and supporter club membership. We even have a current referee who is employed as a PE teacher helping to train one club’s future players.
    If we cannot find enough impartial Scottish officials to fulfil the fixtures – we need to look elsewhere.

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