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.

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

  1. Bect67 20/03 17.59.

    (Thinks – what odds might Paddy Power offer on TRFC going through the entire campaign without conceding a penalty).
    Still a bit to go to equal Celtic’s record though.

    14/01/06 – 29/04/07 50 games without conceding a League penalty.

  2. I too am utterly aghast that Kilmarnock were not awarded a penalty last Saturday. Even more aghast that if the Ref missed it, that VAR did not recommend what would have been a straightforward look at the monitor, followed by the penalty being awarded.

    I was all for VAR in Scottish Football, and although I generally still am, the SFA really do have a lot of work to do. Are they up to the task? My initial thoughts are they are not.

  3. Haywire
    21st March 2023 at 17:37
    ‘JC: I wouldn’t want you to miss this. Please see..’
    Thank you for that, Haywire.
    No wonder you’re spittin’ blood! I don’t think there has been such a distinctly clear example of a refereeing ‘mistake’.
    Haven’t heard anything more about Dundee Utd’s proposed ‘summit’?

  4. upthehoops
    21st March 2023 at 18:57
    ‘.Even more aghast that if the Ref missed it, that VAR did not recommend what would have been a straightforward look at the monitor,’
    Yes, uth,that’s the puzzling thing we’ve seen from time to time: an incident in the box that at least raises doubt but is not seen as such by the ref in the Baillieston dug-out and not flagged up to the on pitch ref.
    Could it be the case that the Var ref has to ASK the on-pitch ref whether he wishes to look at his decision again, and has to shut up if that ref says ‘no, I’m happy with my decision?’
    I think I always thought that the job of the VAR ref was to tell the pitch ref that there might be something he hadn’t seen and invite the ref to have a look at the screen for himself.
    Am I wrong? Is the on-pitch ref free to say ‘bugger off, I KNOW my decision is right’ without going to the screen to have a look?
    If that’s the case then the whole point and purpose of the technology is vitiated!
    I’ve said before that there can only be one definitive referee and that is the on-pitch ref. But surely where there is some evidence that he may have been unsighted or distracted at a critical point ( and it is only critical points that the VAR ref is supposed to flag up), the on-field ref should be required to look at the screen for himself?
    I think we need a fresh statement from the powers-that-be about the intended and actual use of VAR.

  5. I’ve just noticed this from ‘The Scotsman’ online (as updated this evening)
    “The BBC claims that the SFA is exploring the possibility of having officials who only work with the VAR technology and Clydesdale House. Presently, referees rotate between being on the pitch and then in the nerve centre of its operation in Baillieston, but if these new practices were brought into place, then there would be a distinction between an on-field official and a VAR official.
    Scottish football began using VAR back in October in the cinch Premiership and certain cup ties, although it has not been without controversy. There were a number of contentious decisions just last weekend which brought frustration from players and managers, with a penalty award to St Mirren against Dundee United labelled “as soft a penalty as I’ve seen given all year” by Tannadice boss Jim Goodwin”

    I’m having some difficulty in grasping the concept of two distinctive types of football referees.
    ‘On-pitch’ referees who do not ever sit in the Baillieston dugout and VAR refs who never act as on-pitch refs!
    Sounds interesting, if somewhat soul-less!

  6. A11 – a most reasonable chap. 21Mar@17.44

    ‘Still a bit to go to equal Celtic’s record though.

    14/01/06 – 29/04/07 50 games without conceding a League penalty’.

    Fair dos there so, continuing this theme …

    Rangers* have now had two runs of 44 League games without conceding a penalty in just over three years (which incldes VAR decisions) as follows:-

    1st run of 44 from Jan 20-April 21
    2nd run from Jan 22 – Nov 23
    (These stats , of course, refer to the new entity playing out of Govan. Their predecessor had most recently ‘achieved’ a similar invinciblity’ in 2004 I believe. (I might be wrong there?)).

    It should also be noted that, since the new club was elevated to SPFL in 2016/17, they have consistently been awarded more penalties than Celtic.

    Ah ferr enjoy playin’ these games – mibbee we should continue (selectively of course). Naw – am dun!

    I’ll leave you with a reminder that my main point was about he partisan nature of refereeing in Scotland, and ask, just for clarity, if you accept that Rangers (1872-2012) were liquidated.
    n.b no literary ‘gymnastics’ will be accepted.

  7. @JC – I agree with the soul-less nature of a VAR-only ref and agree with Derek McInnes that Scottish refs need to fundamentally raise their game. So for me (given that I suspect full time refs not something we can afford – I reckon we would need at least 12), then we need to look at options such as:
    1. Using retired refs in the VAR studio where their experience “should” be helpful.
    2. Up the training provision and requirements for our refs. We have too many basic errors in the application of the rules. I would also up the physical fitness levels of our refs and assistant refs – the effort some exert keeping up with play is not then conducive with good decision-making.
    3. Own the mistakes and explain decisions post match.
    4. Bring transparency to the referee pathway to encourage more uptake (no sniggering at the back!) and blow away the “who you know” culture.

  8. ‘SPFL face Celtic and Rangers* post split fixture headache as things stand.
    The Hoops are due toplay five away games and Gers* five homefixtures if the top six remain the same’ (Ryan McDonald – Footballscotland).

    I’m not saying Ryan’s ill-informed, lazy or being over dramatic, but here’s what I think…

    After the top six is finalised on completion of 33 fixtures, Celtic will have played 17 home matches, and Rangers* 16. Thereafter, whether it finishes as it currently stands or not, for the remaining 5 fixtures, Celtic will have 2 home games, and 3 away (one at Ibrokes), and TRFC will play 3 home games and 2 away. Both these teams will therefore complete 19 home and 19 away matches over the course of the season – this primarily to avoid a right ‘stooshie’ between the top two.

    Any inequity will affect teams in positions 3-6.

  9. The Scotsman online had this earlier today:
    “SFA accused of treating fans with contempt as former referee blasts VAR errors.”
    “The Scottish Football Association has been accused of treating fans with contempt by one of its former referees over its failure to address the controversies surrounding VAR.
    By Matthew Elder
    Published 22nd Mar 2023, 16:01 GMT
    Updated 22nd Mar 2023, 16:52 GMT

    ‘The video assistant referee technology has been the subject of intense debate since being introduced to the Scottish Premiership in October and the scrutiny has intensified this week following a weekend of highly contentious decisions.
    VAR failed to intervene to award Kilmarnock a penalty in their 1-1 draw with St Johnstone on Saturday despite a blatant handball against defender Andy Considine.
    There was also controversy over Rangers’ third goal in their 4-2 win over Motherwell over a potential offside against Fashion Sakala in the build-up, while at Tannadice, referee Craig Napier was not summoned to the monitor despite awarding St Mirren a penalty when replays suggested no foul had been committed.
    Hibs were also incensed over decisions made in the 3-1 defeat at Celtic Park including the red card shown to Elie Youan and the penalty awarded to Celtic that allowed Jota to equalise from the spot….
    VAR was involved in a number of controversial decisions in the Scottish Premiership last weekend.
    The SFA has yet to comment publicly on the issue, but a BBC report claimed that the governing body is considering drafting in specialist video assistant referees to improve decision-making. Former grade one referee Steve Conroy branded the recent errors “shocking” and called on his former bosses at Hampden to explain what is going on.
    “It’s been the most explosive, controversial and worrying weekend of VAR we have seen this season,” Conroy said. “There were major decisions in virtually every game – some bad and some inexplicable.
    “We are now four months or so into this and it’s not getting any better. There is nothing wrong with the technology – it has been the interpretation of it. Referees can make mistakes, but VAR is supposed to be there to rectify them. That didn’t happen.
    “There were shocking mistakes in Dundee United’s game with St Mirren and Kilmarnock’s match with St Johnstone that could have significant bearing on their survival.”
    Speaking to BonusCodeBets, Conroy added: “Every time something like this happens there is deafening silence from the SFA. They are treating the Scottish football public with contempt. Why not come out and say, ‘we’ve had a howler and we’re going to try to get it right’? They have to say something.”
    (As a wee aside, I say :such irony! ‘The Scotsman’ giving space to criticism of the SFA over an issue such as VAR when the SMSM still propagate and foster, in absolute contempt for Truth and the rest of us, the lie that TRFC is RFC of 1872)

  10. From the Rolls of Court today
    Lord Harrower
    Wednesday 29th March
    Continued Proof (1 day)
    CA144/21 Imran Ahmad v The Lord Advocate

  11. I note from reports in ‘The Scotsman’ and other publications that Bernd Reichter , CEO of A22, is bumping his gums again about a proposal to set up a super European league comprised of an open 60 to 80-team multi-divisional format (with no permanent, founding members) guaranteeing competing teams at least 14 European matches per season…
    He seems to me to be away ahead of himself, since the European Court of Justice has still to issue a decision on whether UEFA/FIFA are/would be in breach of EU competition laws etc. in opposing any such proposal.
    The greedy-guts of the football business world got a bloody nose from European football over their first ridiculous proposal.
    Let’s hope that the ECJ decides in favour of UEFA/FIFA and rules out the possibility of companies like A22 ever getting any kind of control of Football.

  12. Couldn’t agree more JC. I would go further and say that the governance bodies of football (of which the SFA is a prime example) are unfit guardians of what is (on a global basis) the people’s game. The vested interests and associated stench of corruption is destroying our game. Reform from the top down is required – the question for me is by whom should FIFA be held to account? Maybe the UN should classify football as a “sport of special cultural significance” and impose proper scrutiny (not that the UN is perfect). Maybe all football administrators are subject to full transparency on their global earnings (I am not suggesting any wrongdoing but I would like to see Infantino’s earnings (cash and non-cash and those paid to related parties) over the past 10 years).

  13. Possibly the most untruthful and perversely misleading bit of ‘Sports’ reporting ever to come from Pacific Quay, clearly aimed at propagating the lie that TRFC are RFC of 1872 but making an absolute of the job is to be found here in this as uselessly fudged a report of fact as the RIFC plc’s IPO prospectus was.
    Have (another) look at
    “Dundee’s SPL membership is ratified a day before opener
    Last updated on3 August 20123 August 2012.

    Dundee are now officially members of the Scottish Premier League – a day before their opening fixture of the season away to Kilmarnock.

    The 12 members clubs unanimously approved the transfer of Rangers’ SPL share to the club which finished second in Division One last season.

    Dundee were invited to take the Ibrox club’s place on 16 July after their new owners’ failure to avoid liquidation.

    But the SPL had to wait until now to ratify the decision.

    Charles Green’s controlling consortium had its new club voted into Division Three.

    Rangers have already started their season with a 2-1 win over Brechin City in the Ramsdens Cup and host East Fife in the Scottish Communities League Cup on Tuesday.

    They make their debut in Division Three away to Peterhead on 11 August.”

    What an absolutely disgraceful piece of reporting that was, indicative of a level of fear and/or ignorance and/or bias on the part of the writer who wrote it and/or the editor (if any) who allowed it.
    Its saving grace is the sentence:
    “Charles Green’s controlling consortium had its NEW CLUB [my capitals] voted into Division Three.”

    [ I bring this up because I was earlier this evening, after watching the Spain v Norway game, looking at stuff related to the ECA and its predecessor club organisation, which led me into the untruths about TRFC being RFC of 1872 that Wikipedia parrots.
    I now know for certain not to trust Wikipedia any more than I would trust BBC Scotland in the matter of reporting on Scottish Football]
    And what a strange feeling came across from the ‘Off the Ball’ chaps after the Cyprus game! A 3-nil victory was kind of dismissed as being unexciting, in circumstances where a 1-nil lead could easily have been a 1-1 draw until late in the game!

  14. Well, nothing against Hamilton Accies of course but I was kind of rooting for Raith Rovers today.
    I would have been pleased for the sake of the memory of that man of great personal integrity and moral courage, the late Turnbull Hutton, if RR had won.
    It’s a stain on the escutcheon of Scottish Football that a 10-year-old football club is allowed to claim the sporting honours and titles and long history of a club which lost its membership of the SFA when it was required to surrender its share in the SPL.
    Hutton cried “Corruption!” on the stairs at Hampden while the general run of club boards shamefully put money before principle and agreed to and/or signed as dirty a deal as ever was signed, the signatories emboldened in their infamy because they were able to sign under the ‘protection’ of a ‘non-disclosure agreement’. [ Question: as a matter of interest, did they know that an NDA agreement is not worth the paper it is written on IF its use is hiding or disguising illegality? ‘Whistleblowers’ cannot be prosecuted for breach of an NDA]
    Oh, that even a couple of other chairmen of football clubs had been as brave as Hutton and that more than two SMSM journalists had found the courage to try to report truthfully on the death of RFC of 1872, and insist on these truths:
    that TRFC was not a member of a recognised football club until it became a shareholder in the SFL in 2012 and only on that account became eligible for membership of the SFA

    and that there was no ‘transfer ‘to TRFC of the SPL share surrendered by RFC of 1872 or of RFC of 1872’s membership of the SFA.. Dundee got that share on winning promotion to the SPL

    I really enjoyed the match, and Accies’ heroic 10-man resistance, and some really, really good saves by their goalie who seems to have a great instinct for being in the right place at the critical time.

  15. John Clark
    26th March 2023 at 22:35
    “there was no ‘transfer ‘to TRFC of the SPL share surrendered by RFC of 1872 or of RFC of 1872’s membership of the SFA.”
    John, Charles Green’s new club was given conditional SFA membership at the end of July 2012 to allow it to play Brechin City. Once Rangers’ SPL share was passed to Dundee and Green accepted certain conditions, such as the payment of Rangers’ football debts, Rangers’ full SFA membership was transferred to the new club on the 3rd of August 2012. This was clearly done to give the illusion of club continuity.

    When searching the SFA’s website and elsewhere today for confirmation of that membership transfer, I was reminded of many of the perplexing, absurd and sometimes comical events that have played out since the self-inflicted demise of Rangers Football Club.

    Who could forget the SFA hiring a QC to provide legal advice regarding whether Dave King passed their less-than-stringent ‘fit and proper person’ test? It remains difficult to conceive of finding a less fit and proper person on the entire planet, given his past criminal record.

    King appeared to have a season ticket for the front row of the High Court, regularly appearing on a weekly basis, such was his fondness for litigation, more often of the losing variety.

    Even today, more than a decade after Rangers ‘plunged’ into administration followed by liquidation, tens of millions of pounds are being lost from the public purse thanks to wrongful arrests in connection with the takeover of ‘Rangers.’

    In 2017, the SFA again obtained legal advice following the Supreme Court’s ruling on EBTs. Remarkably, the Senior Counsel advised that there was no prospect of success in pursuing anyone, despite Rangers’ decade of financial doping, and the football authorities advised there was no appetite for raking over old coals in the form of an inquiry. I strongly suspect they’d long since stymied themselves by the terms of the five way agreement that they’d drafted and signed up to, leaving them totally impotent when it came to restitution (title-stripping) and punishment.

    Somebody more cynical than me might spot a pattern emerging, whereby the legal opinion that was accepted invariably coincided with the express wishes of the football authorities, almost as if ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’

    Never was this more evident than in the sham that was the LNS inquiry, notwithstanding that its recommendations had no legal clout. Rangers had already accepted guilt over the DOS EBTs, but remarkably these were excluded from the inquiry by the terms of reference set by the football authorities.

    LNS then indulged in tortuous linguistic gymnastics in an effort to explain that having more money does not provide an advantage on the field of play, despite Rangers’ board members, including David Murray, later begging to differ.

    Then we had the sheer absurdity of Sandy Bryson’s contorted take on ineligibility, which effectively meant that guilt only applies from the moment you’re caught, and can’t be backdated. It’s almost as if the football authorities calculated that the general public would fall for anything they could concoct, however bizarre.

    Talking of falling for anything, let’s not forget the major part played by the Scottish media, who had unambiguously and in unison reported the death of Rangers Football Club back in 2012, before inexplicably slamming on the brakes and performing a screeching u-turn a short time later.

    I can’t remember whether it was LNS or during a later court case where a supposedly learned gentleman informed us that although a football club had never been legally defined, it must at least comprise of its supporters, the stadium, players, coaching staff and other assets etc. Remarkably, he did not consider the financial side of the undertaking to be part of the club, despite the fact that no modern professional football club, all of whom are businesses, could operate without it. But no, it’s a separate entity, conveniently suiting a distinct agenda where a football club is ethereal and immortal.

    I’ll leave my rambling post there before I bore myself and the rest of you to tears, but I just find it astonishing that more than a decade after the death of a specific cheating football club, its rewritten, fabricated history continues unchecked and unabated.

  16. Highlander
    27th March 2023 at 21:30
    ‘..Green’s new club was given conditional SFA membership’
    Yes, Highlander, by ignoring the requirement that under the Articles of Association a club has to be a member of a recognised football league!
    The determination to save ‘Rangers of 1872 drew out the rottenest streak of dishonesty in those who governed Scottish Football and made cowardly liars of journalists in the SMSM and the BBC and of the boardrooms of the majority of SPL/SFL clubs.

  17. Highlander
    27th March 2023 at 21:30

    “I can’t remember whether it was LNS or during a later court case where a supposedly learned gentleman informed us that although a football club had never been legally defined, it must at least comprise of its supporters, the stadium, players, coaching staff and other assets etc.
    I remember this comment

    “Mr Dewar adds that ” you can only be the chairman of an entity that has a legal personality. Sevco Scotland, and it alone, bought the assets and carried on the business. The concept of the Rangers Institution continuing exists only in the minds of die hard supporters.”

    Mr Dewar was responding to a question by one of the three appeal court judges who inquired: “Why is it so important that Rangers football club is Sevco Scotland rather than an institution going back 100 years?”

    Mr Dewar emphasized that Green bought ” the business and assets of the Rangers entity” then acted on behalf of, and for the benefit of the shareholders of Sevco Scotland.”

  18. bigboab1916
    28th March 2023 at 20:41
    ‘..Mr Dewar emphasized that Green bought ” the business and assets of the Rangers entity” then acted on behalf of, and for the benefit of the shareholders of Sevco Scotland.”
    Yes, bigboab1916.
    All the liars falling out with each other!
    very entertaining at the time.
    Me masel personally, like, think that the whole ‘Rangers’ thing was not at all well and properly handled by the Courts.
    At every level the Courts failed, it seems to me, to recognise that the football club of 1872, a shareholder in the SPL and on that account a member of the SFA, had ceased to exist when it had had to surrender its share in the SPL on going into Liquidation on account of huge debt that it could not pay.
    It is astounding that the Courts seem implicitly to have accepted that CG bought, as a new owner, Rangers of 1872 and that RIFC plc was entitled to claim that he was not covered by them for his criminal defence costs on the grounds that he had been the CEO of SevcoScotland, and not of RFC of 1872.
    One wonders, doesn’t one?
    The guy who claimed to have bought Rangers of 1872 whole and entire is knocked back by the very people who claim today that his Sevco is RFC of 1872!
    Honest to God!
    Was it, incidentally, Charles Dickens who said (and I may be misquoting) ‘there’s nothin like lying basterin lawyers’?
    Except, perhaps, lying conmen.
    footnote: my strictures against the SFA’s lying and cheating are one thing.
    I am praise for Scotland’s performance tonight. Great game to watch.
    And it annoys the hell out of me that the liars who created the Big Lie will try to get some reflected glory.

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