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. A11

    Rergarding your comment about never having read I my question of 22nd March 2023 @ 10.37 ( selective amnesia on your part?), I find your final paragraph above, at best, childish, mildly insulting and evasive .

    As you well know, my point was, alas forlornly, intended to elicit a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.

    Clearly beyond you dear boy, but I do accept that, for whatever reasons, you will not/ cannot accept that:-

    Yir club’s deid (copyright Leigh Griffiths).

    Finally, since you appear to have an inside track on TRFC matters, have you heard when the official liquidation date will be announced?

    Probably a daft question but I fancy one more go at getting an honest answer from you.

  2. I have to admit I could only suffer watching a few minutes of the Craig Houston/Paul Murray interview and found myself fast-forwarding through what was in any case a tortuous forty minute mix of deliberate factual inaccuracies resulting in the usual rewriting of history.

    When the CVA failed in 2012, Duff & Phelps and Charles Green both described Green’s ‘takeover’ as “the purchase of the business and assets of the Rangers Football Club plc.”

    I have never, previously or since, heard of such a phrase being used to describe the purchase of any football club, anywhere in the world, in the entire history of the game.

    Why, if Green had simply bought the football club, was it not described as just that? Why the need for entirely different terminology? Rangers Football Club had several previous owners during the 140 years of its existence, all of whom had bought the club, not its ‘business and assets,’ so what was different about Green’s transaction that required a specific new parlance?

    We all know the answer to that. As Billy Carlin rightly points out in his post above, the club couldn’t be purchased because nobody was prepared to pay its colossal debts, so instead, Green set up his new club utilising the ‘business and assets’ he’d paid for, such as the stadium and intellectual property, including the trading name.

    Here we are more than a decade later and the rewriting of history continues unabated.

    So many blatant lies concocted following the death of Rangers Football Club become accepted fact through prolonged repetition in the media and by the vested interest of fans and former players. Charles Green “buying the club,” as peddled enthusiastically and repeatedly by Paul Murray in his interview with Houston just illustrates the point.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve even read someone from Duff & Phelps using the words ‘club,’ ‘Rangers’ and ‘business and assets’ interchangeably in recent years (ie once D&P were no longer involved with ‘Rangers’), when describing the entity that was purchased by Green, as if they were somehow all identical.

    These examples illustrate that ‘a fact’ is more likely to be established in the public perception through the repetition of a lie than by the infrequent telling of the truth, and we’ve long since passed the point at which history has been entirely rewritten about the demise of Rangers Football Club, with inconvenient genuine facts totally airbrushed out of the picture.

  3. wokingcelt
    15th May 2023 at 20:43
    ‘…Saw this on Twitter and had to chuckle..’
    I hadn’t seen that before, wokingcelt, so I had a good belly laugh!
    What a bampot!

  4. Highlander
    15th May 2023 at 07:06
    ‘…when describing the entity that was purchased by Green, as if they were somehow all identical’
    Not to mention the blatant nonsense of RIFC plc’s clear insinuation that it is the holding company of RFC of 1872 [ which as we all know has been since 2012 in Liquidation as RFC 2012 plc company number SC 004276] when its website declares [in tiny print!!!] that it is the holding company of TRFC, company number 425159.
    Even the Ibrox board are not brass necked enough to openly lie in print on their ‘investors page’.
    Perhaps somebody someday will get round to asking serious questions about RIFC plc’s marketing of itself.

  5. I refer to the last line in my post of 15th May 2023 at 22.39
    I rather fear that the ‘somebody’ will not come from ‘The Scotsman’!
    The sports reporters/sports editor continue to peddle the myth that the ‘Old Firm’ still exists, as witness the headline of today’s piece about a former TRFC player which includes the words ‘Old Firm”
    Ironically enough, in a separate self-congratulatory piece’ [ by the very Editor of the paper!] references the fact that his readers ‘placed great value on in-depth, authoritative journalism’.

    There has not been much in the ‘Scotsman’ in the way of in-depth, accurate and truthful reporting of the fact of RFC of 1872’s death as football club or of the disgraceful and ridiculous farce staged by the SFA in which a club (that they themselves insisted had to apply as a new club in 2012)is allowed to claim the winning of honours and titles of competitions it was not in existence even to participate in.
    The sheer bogging hypocrisy of it all, for filthy lucre’s sake, is disgusting in itself.
    The more so to me this last few days after listening to Jeremy Bowen’s account of the heroism of true and truthful journalists in searching for and reporting Truth even at the cost of their lives.

  6. I was re-reading Lord Bannatyne’s judgment in the Grier case a wee bit earlier tonight because I saw it referenced in a judgment published the other day (on an entirely different matter to do with building contracts!)
    And by pure chance I came across this item
    in January I was in Australia and hadn’t seen any reference to this investigation.
    As an ordinary person with no specialist knowledge or special access to sources of information I cannot get my head round what motivated Robertson.
    I have not seen any outcome of the investigation into him.
    Has anyone?
    Is he still in post, or suspended?
    A fall guy, ready to throw himself on the sword?
    If so, on whose behoof?
    There’s a bloody good book to be written about the whole bizarre story of the procedurally fcuked up prosecution, I imagine.
    I’d love to have the talent and resources to write that story!
    Sadly, no investigative journalist has had the desire to write that story, or dig into the phenomenon, the miracle, that a ten-year-old football club has a 150 years of history!
    Honest to God!

  7. Grier lost his appeal against no malicious prosecution verdict and Whyte subsequently dropped his case against the PF . I am not sure how this might affect any investigation into DCI Robertson but he looks to be set up as the patsy in any future public enquiry, the clamour for which will surely build given the current air of corruption about Holyrood.

  8. The next podcast in Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Frontlines of Journalism’ [BBC Radio 4] is entitled ‘The Big Lie’.
    Sadly, it’s not about the Big Lie at the heart of Scottish Football!
    Maybe I should suggest to him that all his reserves of courage would be called upon if he were to question BBC Scotland’s standards of investigative journalism in the sphere of sport?

  9. From the Rolls of Court (yesterday);

    “Thursday 25th May
    Court TBC – Parliament House
    Pre-proof By Order
    between 9.00m and 10.00am
    COS/CA104-22 ATP Investments Ltd v Rangers International Football Club Plc

    COS/CA105-22 Norne Anstalt v Rangers International Football Club Plc”

    ‘Court TBC’ : presumably the decorators are still on the premises!

  10. johnscobiedan
    19th May 2023 at 11:53
    ‘..In court more often than Andy Murray’
    Ha ha, johnscobiedan,
    And with fewer positive results than Andy.

  11. From Ryan Jack’s statement:
    “..but it goes without saying that this season has not gone as planned so for me I am delighted that I am going to get the chance next year to go and try and make it a better one.”
    Poor chap – and even poorer agent as an agent that allowed him to agree to that wording!
    Is it Kent’s fault that ‘the season has not gone as planned’? Of course it isn’t!

    Lack of legitimate readies for TRFC (as opposed to the illicit mega millions available for players’ purchases and wages bills through the cheating SDM’s EBT scheme in operation at the dead RFC of 1872) is the cause of the (relatively!) poor season that RIFC has had.
    Kent’s contribution to perceived failure is that TRFC can make no money from transfer of him. They equally have no money to buy relatively more expensive players, and clearly no club has been interested in buying him.
    Kent should, in my opinion, get himself a better agent.
    But then, what I do know?
    Or care?
    TRFC is a club living a massive sporting lie, in my view.
    Those associated with it are therefore, in my view, as tainted and no more to be sympathised with than SDM and those associated with him and RFC of 1872 in its years of falsely-based pomp!
    I think I may pen something to that effect to truth-seeking real journalist Jeremy Bowen!

  12. The Thistle/Ayr United game was a real pleasure to watch. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
    I have to declare that my late sister was married to a chap (now also ‘late’ some years ago!) whose old man used to work at Firhill.
    And on the basis of that flimsy connection I, having no connections of any kind with Ayr, kind of supported Thistle!

  13. John Clark
    19th May 2023 at 22:19

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, I think you might have got *Rangers’ two Ryans mixed up there JC.

    One is Kent to be leaving Ibrox while the other won’t Jack it in for another season.

  14. Highlander
    20th May 2023 at 11:49
    ‘… I think you might have got *Rangers’ two Ryans mixed up there JC..
    Silly of me, Highlander. Apologies to all!

  15. Highlander
    20th May 2023 at 11:49
    ‘…One is Kent to be leaving Ibrox while the other won’t Jack it in for another season’
    I’ve just re-read that line of your post, Highlander.
    My embarrassment at my egregious mistake prevented me from appreciating how clever your play of words is!
    Really good.

  16. wokingcelt
    21st May 2023 at 07:57
    ‘…Interesting use of language in this BBC report. Discuss…’
    Brennan writes for the BBC: I wouldn’t believe a word he might have to say about liquidated football clubs!

Comments are closed.