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. wokingcelt
    21st May 2023 at 07:57
    Interesting use of language in this BBC report. Discuss…

    Both the English clubs involved make abundantly clear on their official websites that they are new clubs with no claim to the history and honours of the clubs they succeeded.

    Personally, I have no problem with the current club playing out of Ibrox claiming some form of tenuous link to its defunct predecessor, in view of the shared fans and stadium.

    I do take great umbrage though at the preposterous notion that a brand new football club can somehow claim the honours and history of a shamed and cheating club that demonstrably died a self-inflicted death of liquidation, along with the utter absurdity of our vacuous football authorities and media giving credence to such patent ‘same club’ nonsense.

  2. Highlander
    21st May 2023 at 13:52
    ‘…both the English clubs involved make abundantly clear on their official websites that they are new clubs with no claim to the history and honours of the clubs they succeeded.’
    Indeed they do, Highlander.
    The failure (as it seems to me) of the Scottish Football authorities to acknowledge that TRFC, a club that they themselves admitted as a new applicant for membership of a league and of the SFA, is not and could not possibly be RFC of 1872 marks them out to be shamefully derelict in their duty as the Governance bodies of a sport.
    In the same way that (as it appears to me) the Financial regulators by giving the nod to the Prospectus of a PLC in which it is clearly implied that that PLC will be the holding company of RFC of 1872 showed a disgraceful lack of concern for the truth, namely, that RFC of 1872 was NOT brought out of Administration but ceased to exist as a football club participating in Scottish football, and exists merely as a legal entity in Liquidation awaiting dissolution when the Liquidators make their final report and seek discharge.
    Companies House has come in for some stick in recent times because it appears to have no checking powers over thousands of newly created scam companies.
    The FCA in my opinion appears to be rather faint-hearted in checking the truthfulness of the Prospectuses of would-be plcs. Faint-hearted? Nay, rather, perhaps negligent to a degree bordering, some might say, on the criminal. It may be that some stick should be laid on its back, too!
    I’m in perfect agreement with you, Highlander, that there is no harm at all in sentimental attachment to the dead club of one’s forebears.
    But there’s every harm to Sporting Integrity in according to TRFC the many sporting titles and trophies of the Liquidated RFC of 1872. ( As there would be if the nonsense of a conference league in which three or four teams [the B teams of clubs in the SPL] would not actually be competing for anything! but that’s another matter)
    Just as there would be chaos in the world of Finance if plcs were allowed to tell whoppers in their share-launching efforts.
    We really have to get the nonsense sorted. TRFC is no more RFC of 1872 than FC Halifax is Halifax Town Association Football Club of 1911!

  3. In an idle moment I read tonight a BBC report on Everton and then followed the ‘Comments’ thereon.
    I came across this comment
    “Comment posted by Andrew Mason, at 20:10 22 May Andrew Mason
    20:10 22 May
    MSP? The Manic Street Preachers are investing? 😉
    I’ll get my coat”
    That ‘I’ll get my coat’ brought back memories of a poster on SFM whose blog name I cannot now remember, but whose posts I always enjoyed.
    [I have no great interest in English football and was a wee bit surprised at the state that Everton is in, with some American outfit apparently ready to ‘invest’ mega-millions! and Everton’s massive losses and[apparently] FFP breaches and alleged falsifying in their claims of loss due to Covid.
    That kind of thing rang bells with me, for some reason.}
    Anyway, I hope the SFM poster who used the ‘I’ll get my coat’ tag is alive and well and still reading SFM.

  4. Morelos, Arfield, McGregor, Helander, and Kent not wanted at Ibrox.
    How much is the cumulative wages saving? Will Beale be given a few bob for new players, or are there other bills to be paid first to keep the lights on?

  5. Putting your two posts together JC I guess that’s “Beale get their coats…” sorry!

  6. wokingcelt
    23rd May 2023 at 18:39
    ‘…I guess that’s “Beale get their coats…”
    Indeed, wokingcelt, it seems to me that Beale will himself be taking his own coat off the hook and will not be around to build another, better squad!
    It was left to him to try to explain how mega-millions-worth of player talent was somehow going to be found and paid for in the close season, and that players who have that talent are going to sign for the kind of club that TRFC is.
    The Ibrox board are clearly not unified enough [Geez, how could they be?] to be able to emulate the tax-cheating knight of the realm who once boasted about his club [now dead because of his boast!] being able to spend 100% more than his club’s rivals.
    It seems to me that there are bitter divisions as particular interests try to put up a front of unity while each interest tries to work out what may be best for itself.
    And poor Beale at any given time is not entirely sure what he should be saying, other than uttering meaningless empty, hollow useless PR words given him by (as it seems to me) people as useless, as it seemed to me, as James (whassisname again?) was!
    For balance, I should say that a Board being united and of one mind is only okay if what they are united and one minded of is legally and morally acceptable.
    I can think of a club about which there may be a question as to that.

  7. Well, on a very quiet night with nothing much doing football-wise I caught some puzzlement among the ‘open all mikes’ folk on BBC radio Scotland at the apparent fact that a player whose name was not on anyone’s team list was being brought on as a substitute.
    I wasn’t free to listen to the full thing so I don’t know what the story was.
    I assume that the pundits might have been thinking of the possibility of an ineligible player being introduced, which would mean, I think, that the opposing team would be declared the winners.
    Can anyone provide more detailed info?
    What a terrible, unsporting and ungentlemanly thing to do, to field ineligible players. Surely no club has ever done that and got away with it!
    What’s that you say? There was a club that did that??? Seriously? and for years??
    And was not punished appropriately? You’re surely having a laugh! The Football Governance body would surely have been on to that in a flash!
    What’s that you say? eh..which club?
    Ah, of course! Silly me, got you now!

  8. From the Rolls of Court :
    Lord Menzies
    Court 12
    Tuesday 30 May
    Proof (4 days)
    Aviva Insurance Ltd v [a named former RFC player and others: nothing to do with RFC/RIFC plc/TRFC so I won’t give the name]
    Also from the Rolls
    Lord Richardson
    Court 8
    Thursday June 01
    Proof before answer (2 days)

    ATP Investments Ltd v RIFC plc
    Norne Anstalt v RFC plc

  9. “Pre-match footage showed the majority of the Aberdeen players applauding as the champions ran out but eagle-eyed fans spotted McCrorie, who came through the ranks across the city at Rangers, standing with his hands behind his back instead. Images also appear to show Graeme Shinnie standing with his arms folded rather than applaud.”
    Thus reports the DR.
    Sportsmen of the year? I think not, and never likely to become such!
    Petty, childish behaviour by young men who clearly have no concept of sportsmanship or of professional recognition of the success of others in the same profession.
    Says not a lot of good about them as being ordinary decent people with some kind of idea of normal sporting behaviour.
    [Perhaps they have SDM as their model?]

  10. John Clark
    29th May 2023 at 00:19


    I was at Celtic Park on Saturday. The announcer stated that Aberdeen intended to do a guard of honour, and when their players entered the pitch to line up they received a decent level of applause from the home crowd. I couldn’t tell you who in the Aberdeen team did or didn’t applaud as Celtic took the field, however I do think the whole guard of honour issue has just become yet another thing in football for people to get upset about. Personally I couldn’t care less whether teams do it or not, and I have to say most of my fellow fans seemed to think the same.

  11. Another one for JC . My nephew plays for Pollok and tells me they’ve signed Kyle Hutton , who once picked up a wage with both RFC and TRFC and had a loan spell with us (meh ). Here’s what Wikipedia says –
    Ahead of the 2012–13 season Hutton agreed to transfer to Charles Green’s new holding company saying, “For me, it is in my best interests to stay where I am and to try to establish myself in the side next season. I feel I’ve got a lot more to give the club.

  12. It was surprising to look in here, as I often do, and see that nobody has brought up the issue of the introduction of a Conference League at Level Five of the Scottish Football Pyramid from season 2024/25. The SFA and Ian Maxwell appear to be in the forefront of this, and it is to be voted on at the SFA AGM a week today.

    A controversial scheme, the proposal is to include 4 Lowland and 2 Highland League sides, along with 4 SPFL B teams, initially Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen according to reports, but the Dons have rejected inclusion.

    Although the SFA appear to have been the drivers of the proposal, 3 weeks ago The Scottish Conference League Limited was registered as a private company with only two officers, Neil Doncaster and Calum Beattie of the SPFL. I’m puzzled by this.

    It’s a proposal which brings little favour from lower league fans, who perhaps feel that the football authorities are trying to introduce this new tier under the radar.

  13. paddy malarkey
    30th May 2023 at 12:27
    ‘…Ahead of the 2012–13 season Hutton agreed to transfer to Charles Green’s new holding company,..’
    Ha ha, pm: that’s a good one!
    Hutton of course (as I know you know) did not ‘transfer’ his employment contract with RFC of 1872 to SevcoScotland/TRFC/RIFC plc.
    Liquidation had rendered his contract with RFC of 1872 null and void.
    He therefore had NO contract to ‘transfer’.
    CG [much to his rage] could NOT enforce the employment contracts of any of the employees of the liquidated RFC of 1872. The ‘walking away’ by one or two higher profile players demonstrated that fact wonderfully well!
    CG did NOT buy RFC of 1872, and therefore did not acquire the legal rights to employee contracts of service [or any duty to pay RFC of 1872’s huge debts!]
    No, Hutton-and every other employee of RFC of 1872 who wanted stay at Ibrox- had perforce to sign a new contract with SevcoScotland, or become unemployed.
    And, of course, SevcoScotland was not a ‘holding company’ – it was football club granted by the SFA (probably illicitly under its own Articles of Association) ‘conditional membership’ of the SFA.

    Only later when RIFC plc was launched (on the basis, as I believe, of a dishonest Prospectus) was there a legal separation between club and ‘holding company’.

    wiki’s take on things should always and every time be taken with a very large pinch of salt and cross-checked with other sources.
    I myself have found that in those very few areas of history and life generally that I know something about wiki can be a wee bit wanting and not to be taken as the last and definitive word!
    At the end of the day, we have, in my opinion, two deceitful football clubs (one now dead), a deceitful Football Governance that purports to legitimise the living deceitful club in its untruthful claim to honours and titles, and a barra-load of other clubs who did not at the time and do not now protest against that deceit.
    Scottish professional football?
    And throw in the nonsense of a ‘conference league’ in which some teams would not be playing meaningfully in competition in the way that their opponents would be playing!
    And whose places in such a league would deprive aspiring clubs of an opportunity to climb up the pyramid.
    Honest to God!

  14. Borussiabeefburg – I do find it strange that it appears to be progressing despite Aberdeen not being onboard. I do struggle with why not revert to an old-fashioned reserves league which would give more meaningful game time to fringe first team players and be a stepping stone for academy boys coming through. There’s a clearer pathway for boys in England with their U23 league (which is one of the draws for our academy players being attracted south at age 16). I’m sure there will be reasons/excuses made about cost but I think our clubs need to try harder.

  15. There already is an SPFL reserve league, although it’s restricted to nine games per season in its current ten-team format. It was won recently by Hibs, though neither Celtic or Rangers* are in it. Does anyone know why they and others abandoned the original reserves setup? Aberdeen, Hearts, St Mirren, St Johnstone and Ross County aren’t in the current reserve league either.

  16. Highlander
    3rd June 2023 at 14:32
    What Wiki says –
    In its first season, 2018–19, the league included 27 clubs, split into two divisions. At its end, several clubs (Aberdeen, Celtic, Hibernian, Rangers and St Johnstone) intimated that they would withdraw from the Reserve League to arrange their own programme of matches.[4][5] The 2019–20 edition was formed with 19 clubs, with the season being curtailed early due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland; the winners were decided on a ‘points per game’ calculation.[6][7]

    After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the league will return in season 2022–23 with ten clubs participating

  17. Its been awhile but after following some of the Rangers sites and the amassing of trophies at Celtic since 2012 I can’t sit back at the gnashing of teeth in the blue side of Glasgow. The Blue side seem to think the trophies won were due to them being relegated and starting a new journey. Since they’ve been back they’ve won a league title and a Scottish cup. Even the years they were on the journey they had the opportunity to win the league and Scottish cup and failed in those efforts. They may have been at a disadvantage in the league due to the relegation in 2012 but had opportunities in other competitions in which they failed. Grow up and stop using the crutch of not being in the Premiership when it comes to winning trophies. Also ,where is the money coming from on all these alleged Beale trips on scouting/signing missions, Brazil really. Biggest mistake a manager/coach can make is remembering the ability/talents of a young man 10 year ago.

  18. I watched the SFA cup final on telly this evening, of course.
    But post-match I listened on BBC Radio Scotland to McIntyre and English and Leeanne and Packy Bonnar and Wullie Miller.
    Geez, their focus was not on the game, or the result.
    McIntyre’s and the gombeen man’s and Leeanne’s focus and whole attention, it seemed to me, was on the likelihood/probability/ certainty that Ange has been approached by Spurs and has been offered the job there.
    One could almost touch their intense desire that that should be true!
    They were (metaphorically, I hope) pissing themselves with excitement at the possibility that Postecoglou’s reticence and use of words were an indication that he would be leaving Celtic.
    Bonnar and Miller were more objective and measured in their observations.
    As ever.
    ps. It was no sparkling display by Celtic, but a very workmanlike and determined effort by ICT who might just have taken the game to extra time.

  19. vernallen
    3rd June 2023 at 22:54
    ‘…They may have been at a disadvantage in the league due to the relegation in 2012 but had opportunities’
    Aw, hey, mind your language here, vernallen!
    Rangers of 1872 were NOT relegated.
    They had to surrender their share in the SPL by reason of an insolvency event, and thereby ceased to be entitled to membership of the SFA, and as a result ceased to be recognised football club participating in Scottish Professional football.
    SevcoScotland was a brand-new creation newly admitted into a recognised football league in 2012 and on that basis was admitted into Scottish professional football as a new football club!
    Do not in your posts accidentally support an untruth, I prithee!

  20. Beat me to it JC. @Vernallen – a universal rule, you can’t relegate a corpse of a club…
    Related but separate, I was at Hampden today (£3.60 for a Diet Coke, £2.40 for a glass of water…). Also at Hampden they were listing g all previous winners of the SCup on the big screen. And early winner was a team called St Bernard’s whom I have never heard of. Anyone?

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