Ewan Aitken: Conflict is not confined to cup semi-finals in Scotland

Though it looks likely to soon be changed, the Scottish Premier Football League's decision to hold both semi-finals of the 2018 Betfred Cup on the same day in the same venue, has been met with a barrage of criticism from police, transport, players, the clubs involved, commentators and many more besides.

No matter the rationale provided – managing tight fixture lists from completing competitions, contracts with Hampden and other pressures – no-one thought it was a good idea. 

The objection is summed up by one fan who has gone to the trouble of starting a petition to change the decision on the campaigning website change.org, citing his reason as: “Quite simply, if four teams play in the same city on the same day there will be nothing short of carnage. Expect violence on an industrial scale.”

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I make no criticism of that individual, who may well be justified in his fears of violence based on his much greater experience of attending football than I have. In many senses he is to be applauded for being willing to make a real effort to seek change to avoid conflict.

Celtic fans face a line of police officers separating them from Rangers supporters. Picture: John DevlinCeltic fans face a line of police officers separating them from Rangers supporters. Picture: John Devlin
Celtic fans face a line of police officers separating them from Rangers supporters. Picture: John Devlin
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But it is tragic such a fear should be so real in 21st century Scotland. It is always a challenge moving large numbers of people to and from events. But why should the proximity of two events seem to be accompanied so confidently with predictions of violence? Why is the certainty of violence not being questioned, rather than the competency of the SPFL to manage its fixture lists?

We have a serious issue with conflict in Scotland. It pervades all of society, not just football. Our political parties seem often to be mere coalitions of internally warring tribes – a culture that manifests itself into a constantly adversarial approach to public debate with other parties. We are not good at conflict and it hurts our ability to be the country we want to be: where difference is a strength not a lack of agreement and diversity is seen as something to be celebrated.

Over ten years ago, Cyrenians began working with families in conflict because so many young people were leaving home because they’d fallen out with their families. Then five years ago, we set up the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) to try to get upstream and prevent young people leaving home by introducing them and the adults they spent time with to the skills to manage conflict. Since then we’ve provided training in nearly every local authority in Scotland.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of CyreniansEwan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians

When the Centre started, 6000 youngsters were becoming homeless because of family breakdowns – it’s now down to around 4100. Progress, but it’s still too many.

Since setting up the SCCR, we’ve developed tools to combat conflict and help people understand what’s happening in their brain, so they can respond more rationally and constructively. To do this, we’ve broken down complex neuroscience into accessible language so young people, parents, and professionals working with them understand the ‘Science of Conflict’ and can unpick how feelings, emotions and neurochemicals make us act and react.

Our free digital resources have proven so invaluable across all age groups and diverse audiences, not just homelessness prevention, that we – and professionals using them – are now calling for them to be available to every child in Scotland. There’s a compelling case to use them to support young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

To help with this, we’re launching our new online Resource Hub – www.scottishconflictresolution.org.uk – to ensure these digital tools are accessible to all, regardless of geographical location. Our ambition is to change the culture of conflict in Scotland. It’s a big task but unless we do something, we’ll be forever blighted by a world view that sees a fight as the solution to everything and I for one don’t want to live in a Scotland like that.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians