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. John Clark
    15th March 2023 at 22:06

    I note from Mark Elder in ‘the Scotsman’ online half an hour ago that Kyle Fox has withdrawn from ” Rangers take-over bid”
    So maybe the conditions were too onerous for the current board. Conditions such as anti dilution meaning the usual emergency funding would not be available, management interviews might prove more difficult than anticipated and then the data room? Poor Dave.

  2. gunnerb
    16th March 2023 at 09:28
    ‘.So maybe the conditions were too onerous for the current board.”’
    (Mark Elder’s piece is repeated, of course, in this morning’s print edition of ‘The Scotsman)

    The now dead RFC of 1872 had one ‘owner’ [ technically, SDM as the majority shareholder] with no fractious Board able to veto his (enforced by the bank] decision to sell.
    The Board of RIFC plc (the holding company of TRFC Ltd) are clearly ready to engage with at least one interested buyer, are clearly not singing from the same song sheet when it comes to the conditions of sale.
    Something will have to give, and soon. A cash-strapped entity that can raise survival cash only by borrowing from its directors and/or by diluting its shares has no long-term future.
    TRFC 2012 is heading for football extinction.
    Meanwhile, poor Beale is left waffling semi-philosophically:
    “It’s trying” he says, “to bring everyone together with a lot of clarity and cohesion in the way we think and where we’re going to go. We need to cut the cord from the past. There have been some déjà vu moments in the last few weeks because it’s me coaching the team and we have some issues we had before at the same stage when we were building and the same meetings. So, we’re cutting from the past and moving in a different direction in terms of the way we’re playing. And we’re moving in a different direction recruiting new players into it. A lot of people have done a lot of good things over the last few years but the club needs to move forward. The game doesn’t wait for anyone. That’s what the coming months are about.”
    It’s incidentally interesting that ‘The Scotsman’s’ business section carries not a word about the Kyle Fox bid as a matter of business and commercial news.

  3. Thompson (beardless!), Foster and McCann on ‘Sportscene’ this evening!
    Balanced comment on the Celtic v Hibs match?

    I deeply dislike having to ask that question.
    But the BBC in Scotland, by buying into and propagating the lie that TRFC is the Rangers of 1872, showed that it is no more impartial in ‘Sport’ than is the wider BBC in the much more serious world of politics (as the Lineker episode has shown).

    So, having 3 pundits- two of whom played for the dead Rangers of 1872, the third for the new TRFC- commenting on a Celtic v Hibs game is, frankly, a piece of bloody-minded nonsense.

    Whether those pundits are in fact ‘objective’ in their views and opinions is neither here nor there.
    They are emotionally thirled to the lie that TRFC is RFC of 1872. The perception therefore is, understandably, that there is the possibility that they MAY not be seen to be entirely objective.
    And the BBC should recognise that.
    The shade of Peter Thomson may well have crossed the Clyde to carry on its nefarious biased business.

  4. JC – I had the very same thoughts watching Sportscene last night and really struggled to understand in what football world the producer of such a show would consider the “pundit lineup” in any way balanced, and in my view this was borne out by their “analysis”. With regard specifically to Richard Foster I fail to understand why he is considered worthy of an opinion on any show – and lord only knows how he has secured licence payers money for the “Vardict”.
    I also found it curious that for Motherwell’s first goal they showed the “lines” confirming the Motherwell wingback was onside but didn’t show the same level of analysis for TRFCs 3rd goal which Motherwell were unhappy about.
    Before we know it BBC Scotland will be losing footage again…

  5. Re-Sportscene/Sportsound.

    According to BBC in correspondence I’ve had with them they employ pundits on the basis as stated:

    ‘Our contributors are appointed on the basis of their experience and knowledge of the game, not which club/s they may have played for during their careers. That Rangers may be one of the former clubs of some of our contributors is not indicative of bias’

    So there you have it. It just so happens that more ex-Rangers players have better experience and knowledge of the game than ex-players who do not have Ibrox on their CV. I would add that it appears to me that having been part of an unlawful tax avoidance scheme when playing for Rangers also appears to be an advantage when attaining a pundit’s position with BBC.

    Sadly we all have to pay the licence fee, but that does not entitle us to receive objective, balanced coverage of all of our football teams. I am a Celtic fan, and I do not want three ex-Celtic players on Sportscene as that would not be balanced. However, the notion that the BBC would ever dare to have such a panel is laughable. Social parity for ex-Celtic people is not yet a thing at BBC Scotland.

  6. upthehoops
    19th March 2023 at 16:32
    ‘…Our contributors are appointed on the basis of their experience and knowledge of the game….
    That Rangers may be one of the former clubs of some of our contributors is not indicative of bias’
    Whoever it was in the BBC who wrote that seems to imagine that an ex-professional’s ‘knowledge and experience of the game’ means that he can be somehow more objective in his view of whether a referee has ‘called it right’ in any particular situation than the any ordinary spectator can!
    However, their ‘expertise’ lies in being able to discuss/explain/ point out the strategies and tactics of the teams and whether and how the respective team managers have made the right choices of personnel before the match and are able to spot and explain the weaknesses and failures that result in goals being conceded and the strengths that bring success, and such like.
    The pundits’ OPINION on whether an offence calls for a yellow or red card or whether a player takes a dive to get a kick in the head and win a free kick is JUST an opinion that carries no more weight than, say, yours or mine.
    Bearing in mind the culture of untruth in Scottish Football and BBC Scotland football coverage department and the very real fear of becoming a ‘persona non grata’, not many pundits with a playing connection with either the defunct RFC of 1872 or the lying TRFC of 2012 creation are going to broadcast an opinion that might cause them any kind of problem!

  7. With all the interest in the pitfalls of VAR, and the thoughts of various clubs’ fans as to how it is being used against them, yet again I am beginning to wonder if I live in a slightly different universe to the rest of the SFM crowd.

    Bearing in mind that the blog is supposed to be about something other than just the big Glasgow teams (I never use the term ‘Old Firm’ these days – John Clark would cast me into the outer darkness!). However, and I have to say yet again that I am a Killie fan of too many years (I saw them play Real Madrid), but yesterday I saw as clear a handball penalty as you are ever likely to see by a certain Mr. Considine for St. Johnstone – the referee had a clear view of it, but no penalty. Nothing whatsoever has been said on the blog about it – wake up at the back, please! It was far more blatant than any other thing I’ve seen in relation to VAR this season. I’m presuming that some of you may have missed viewing it because it was towards the end of Sportscene. In that case, please have a look on iPlayer and tell me what you think that the referee saw and why he wasn’t asked to look at the incident. It was such a ridiculous decision that I’m surprised that he didn’t send a Killie player off for breathing heavily. On top of all that, he disallowed a Killie goal when the ball brushed against the scorer’s arm which was by his side.

    I really would like you all to look at this and tell me what you think the referee saw or thought he saw. He did not penalise a Killie player. The two points lost in the draw could be absolutely crucial when you consider the upcoming games for Killie.

    I look forward to hearing your views.

  8. Haywire
    19th March 2023 at 23:16

    I watched Sportscene and am in total agreement regarding the Considine incident – penalty and red card in my opinion . Not so sure about the disallowed goal , though , as the contact with the arm , which I saw as more than a brush , altered the trajectory of the ball and it fell favourably for the forward . Accidental and unfortunate , but I agree with that decision . Do you think Killie are suffering from worse decisions since the inception of VAR , or is it still the same but you expected better ?

  9. @Haywire – agree completely on the Considine handball. Why that hasn’t been given is beyond me (but only if I exclude rank incompetence of the officials). Agree with PM on the disallowed goal – rule quite clear that if the ball hits your hand at all then you cannot score directly as that player.
    I don’t watch The Vardict – does anyone know if the handball was discussed?

  10. Haywire
    19th March 2023 at 23:16
    Considine’s handball was a penalty. The goal should have stood; the arm was tucked in front of the body. However, that is only my view in a sea of confusion.
    VAR is a complete mess. New factors appear for each incident. This week’s Sportscene analysis threw up “touching lines”, and “onside although the forward’s line was in front”. Twice referees were not called to VAR when it appeared a mistake had been made, which is what VAR is supposed to be for. On other occasions referees are called to VAR for marginal decisions, after they have let the game run, some of which are not clear even with imaging.
    Where are all these considerations coming from? Which document? The SFA should release the rules that VAR is working to, so that we can all understand. I have found the IFAB (FIFA) ones, but they do not include what I am hearing in Scotland, and that must be because of the room for interpretation allowed to member Associations.
    VAR was always going to be a hostage to fortune in Scotland, given the long history of “honest mistakes”, but with no consistency and unfathomable decisions it has become utterly discredited, and distrusted by by pundits, coaches and fans.
    The Sportscene pundits rightly commented on the importance of two points lost to Kilmarnock and Dundee Utd. through VAR errors. It is a matter of time before a Cup Final or League title is decided by a dodgy VAR, which will be the point of no return for fans, and the game’s credibility.
    Dundee Utd. should be granted their inquest and every club should be in there with them.

  11. …….and the pundits were Thompson, Foster the VARdict man and McCann for goodness sake. Next week it will be Crichton after she has done the live video rulings on contentious decisions on Sportsound, and the paragon of impartiality that is Iwelumo. For balance and an Edinburgh viewpoint, Stewart also appears.

  12. You would hope that the SPFL are learning from the current carnage that is VAR in Scotland . It was rushed in mid season , hopefully to iron out any wrinkles in the system and give experience to our whistlers in its operation . I would suggest that they have a media debrief of VAR use after every weekends’ fixtures and appoint a VAR Czar to explain the decisions and the nuances that guided the decisions .I’m not holding my breath , though , as I honestly think there is a severe lack of competence in our refereeing ranks . Time to go professional ,imo .

  13. Haywire

    As a Celtic supporter, I have long regarded refereeing in Scottish Football as one of the ‘dark arts’, designed primarily to benefit, almost without exception, one (now defunct) club. Sadly, this insidious practice has not ceased following the liquidation of Rangers Football Club (1872 – 2012) and the subsequent ‘immaculate conception’ and birth of TRFC -indeed it has intensified with VAR whereby the referee on the park basically ‘jist diz whit he’s telt’ by some official hiding in a bunker – or wherever.

    From my perspective, it defies logic that the ‘other mob’ (term borrowed from Fashion Sakala) has not conceded (well, deemed not to have) a single penalty kick in this domestic season, whilst also being, I believe, joint ‘top of the league’ – NOT with Killie or Celtic – for penalties awarded. Maybe the VAR judiciary think Goldson is a goalie!

    With regard to your beloved Killie, I sympathise, and empathise, with your sense of injustice re the shambles, and inequity, of VAR.

    (Thinks – what odds might Paddy Power offer on TRFC going through the entire campaign without conceding a penalty).


    I tend, these days, to record Sportscene, watch the highlights, and fast forward through studio guests’ comments. Chicken soup for the soul and all that!

  14. Thanks to all for your comments on the mysterious non-penalty for Killie. Wokingcelt, I have to admit that I was not aware of the rule which does not allow a player to score even if his hand is by his side when the ball hits him. From your wording, could another Killie player have scored after Vassell’s slight contact with the ball?

    However, nobody has yet made a stab at answering my question. What did the referee see, or think that he saw? He had a good view of the incident and was not too far away from it. There was no melee of players involved and Considine’s hand was clearly up in the air. He didn’t give a foul against Wright, who jumped well above Considine and would have at least connected with the ball if the ‘hand of God’ had not been in front of his face. It just doesn’t make sense at all.

    In many respects, the VAR issue is almost secondary with this incident. It was so blatant and obvious that the referee should have given the penalty based on the evidence of his own eyes. From Killie blogs, I understand that this was the first time the VAR had performed these duties, but I ask again, what did he think that he saw in the incident? He was very quick to get the ref. to look at the Vassell disallowed goal, which was much more difficult to spot, but somehow allowed play to continue after much more obvious foul play.

    I’m not even going to get into ‘honest mistakes’, but I remain completely puzzled by this whole catalogue of errors.

  15. @Haywire – yes, another Killie player could have scored following the ball touching Vassell’s hand, assuming this contact was deemed accidental. I think there was an incident involving a Celtic player earlier in the season where the ball was won in the midfield and had come off the Celtic player’s hand accidentally. Play continued and Celtic scored – I recall some pundits being upset by the application of the laws of the game and the goal being allowed to stand!

  16. Haywire
    19th March 2023 at 23:16
    ‘(…John Clark would cast me into the outer darkness!)
    Naw ah widnae, Haywire!
    I am the most forgiving of men, needing plenty of forgiveness masel!
    I need your forgiveness now for not being able to look again at the incidents you mention- I haven’t a scooby about iPlayer downloading and my primary school grandkids aren’t at hand to show me!
    There was mention yesterday, I think, that Dundee Utd intends to call for a summit, hoping that enough clubs have seen that the way VAR technology has been used to date has been questionable, with none of the basic questions answered, and are prepared to support them.

    It cannot go on like this, with none of us (including ‘pundits’) knowing for certain how the technology is to be used in a wholly consistent way.
    And I am inclined now to begin to think that Sweden’s top-flight’s refusal to adopt VAR might have been a very sensible choice, especially if, as Mikael Lustig asserts, it was the supporters of the 32 clubs who didn’t want it [ see Andrew Smith’s piece in this morning’s ‘the Scotsman’.)

  17. Joel Sked in this morning’s ‘The Scotsman’ has a useful piece on whether VAR is still worth having.His own view is that it is not. He cites with approval Ally McCoist’s view that it should be dispensed with, and quotes , also with approval, Ange Postecoglou’s observation “For me it’s more about the disruption it gives to the game. We had 15 minutes of extra-time purely on the back of officials’ disruption. That doesn’t really excite me that much”
    An editorial in the same paper suggests ” that perhaps what is needed is a better VAR system.” Or that if we go back to relying “on fallible human decision-making, perhaps we should copy American football which uses 7 or 8 officials”
    It concludes that if we want a return to “one referee and two assistants’ then fans must be prepared to accept inevitable mistakes and cut referees some slack”

  18. The make up of the latest Scotland Mens A squad is a wee bit of an eye opener – only 2 players each from CFC and TRFC . And I remember a time when we wanted to ban “Anglos” from representing their country .

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