Leader: It’s time to play political football

THERE was a cleansing brutality to the decision last week by Scottish football clubs that the new manifestation of Rangers should begin its life in the third division, and not the first as had been mooted as a compromise.

THERE was a cleansing brutality to the decision last week by Scottish football clubs that the new manifestation of Rangers should begin its life in the third division, and not the first as had been mooted as a compromise.

At least in the future there will be no nagging resentment that Rangers were given a sweetheart deal by virtue of their power in the game. This way, natural justice is seen to be served, and the moral peril inherent in a compromise avoided. That, however, is only half the story. The decision to condemn Rangers to the third division will have consequences, not just for the Ibrox club but for the whole of Scottish football. It is important this weekend to look beyond the plight of one club – however powerful – and to the potential cataclysm that could befall our national game if the exit of Rangers from top-flight football for at least three years deprives Scottish football as a whole of millions of pounds, potentially driving some financially precarious clubs to the wall.

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Central to this concern is the worry about revenue from TV companies who buy the rights to broadcast matches. Will Sky and ESPN want to pay big bucks to show Rangers v Annan Athletic? Market logic would suggest not, and would also suggest that a TV deal deprived of regular Old Firm clashes would be worth a substantial amount less to a broadcaster. The issue, therefore, is whether normal market forces are allowed free reign, causing unbeknown damage across the game, or whether other forces are brought to bear. And this is where the saga begins to take on a political aspect. There is surely a case for an appeal to the broadcasters to show a long-term commitment to Scottish football and continue to invest money for the greater good of the game. If broadcasters were to do this, it would help ensure that when and if Rangers regain a place in the Scottish Premier League some years from now, Scottish football could return to full and prosperous health, and not be permanently 
damaged in the interim.

But, of course, big multi-national corporations are not often known for generous gestures – even ones that could be argued to be in their long-term financial interest. If only there was a senior Scottish politician with real clout who had a personal 
relationship with senior figures at News International, who could call in favours and argue the case for continued financial support at a time of crisis, as a demonstration of the broadcaster’s commitment to Scotland and the Scottish game...

Of course, that person exists. First Minister Alex Salmond famously – or infamously, depending on your point of view – justified his offer to lobby for News International in the BSkyB takeover on the grounds that he was protecting Scottish jobs.

As we report today, the First Minister has signalled in general terms that he is willing to use his muscle to defend Scottish football. This is welcome news as far as it goes, but what is needed is for Salmond to commit to using his relationship with Rupert Murdoch to press for Sky’s continued financial investment in Scottish football.

No-one should underestimate the serious nature of the predicament in which Scottish football now finds itself. This game is part of the fabric of the nation, and an important part of the identity of millions of fans. The challenge now facing Rangers supporters as they get used to the idea of third division football is a stark one. But the decision is made, and must be tholed. The priority now is the greater good of the Scottish game. The First Minister must call in his favours.

Cutting-edge skills

Surgeons hold almost a mythical status in society.

Despite their origins in the haircutting trade and on the barbarous battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars, they are often placed at the pinnacle even of the medical profession because they possess the skills that can almost instantly appear to save lives or patch up battered bodies. TV dramas abound in which green-suited and masked heroes, despite the odds, pull off daily miracles in the operating theatre.

So it will come as a surprise to many that the title itself has no legal status and that some health practitioners who have not been through rigorously monitored training are allowed to call themselves surgeons. As a survey by the Royal College of Surgeons found, most patients will not query this – given the eminence in which all surgeons are held – and so may remain in ignorance of the qualifications of the person treating them at a vulnerable time.

This is not just professional protectionism at work. As the College makes clear, it has evidence of patients who have been treated inappropriately by practitioners using the surgeon title without having the training that the public would expect. This is an anomaly that must be addressed if public trust is to be maintained in what should rightfully be a fully qualified and highly skilled profession.