Stephen Halliday: Want to see ourselves as others see us? No thanks

WITH due deference to Robert Burns, there are times when it is probably best not to be able to see ourselves as other see us. Scottish football is presently experiencing one such period when its image in the eyes of those outwith its own environs would make deeply unpleasant viewing.

It is fair to say that this is not shaping up as vintage season for the game in this country, on or off the pitch. The Scottish Premier League completed its first round of fixtures at the weekend with the gulf between the Old Firm and the rest perhaps as glaringly and depressingly apparent as it has ever been.

Just 11 games into the campaign and there is already an 11-point gap between second and third place as Rangers and Celtic romp off in their own private battle for the title without even the merest hint of a challenge from anyone else.

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Apart from Inverness Caledonian Thistle taking a creditable point from the champions at Ibrox, no-one else has been able to stall the supremacy of the Glasgow giants. Celtic's 9-0 victory over Aberdeen on Saturday, while highlighting the attacking potency of Neil Lennon's side, has to be regarded as an embarrassment not just for the once proud Pittodrie club, but also for the SPL as a whole. Our neighbours south of the Border, for example, will simply regard it as firm evidence of their long-held view of our top flight being a "Mickey Mouse" league.

Quite what they and other outside observers have made of the refereeing controversy which has dominated the media agenda in recent weeks, meanwhile, is another matter altogether.

In hardening the perception of Scottish football as a laughing stock, nothing has been quite so effective as the hysteria which has followed Dougie McDonald's award and rescindment of a penalty kick to Celtic in their 2-1 win over Dundee United at Tannadice on 17 October.

While the concerns raised by McDonald's willingess to concoct a version of events surrounding the incident in order to try to cover his tracks are justifiable and demand action, their escalation in some quarters into a campaign seeking to highlight institutional SFA bias against Celtic has been little short of pathetic.

John Hartson, normally an acerbic but cool-headed and analytical commentator on Scottish football, even went as far in his weekly newspaper column to say he now accepted that there is a refereeing conspiracy against his former club.

While Hartson, like any high- profile player, experienced decisions going against him during his career, he might wish to reflect on the efficiency of any conspiracy which allowed him to collect a hatful of winners' medals during his time with Celtic.Dunfermline supporters would be among those astounded by Hartson's comments, having witnessed referee Stuart Dougal fail to award their team a penalty for handball against Bobo Balde in the 2004 Scottish Cup final when the Fifers were leading 1-0. Celtic went on to win 3-1.

There would perhaps be less cause for those so inclined to dwell on the refereeing issue if the quality of the football being served up on a weekly basis was of a more palatable quality.

While Rangers retain some hope of making progress in the Champions League, their comprehensive 3-0 defeat in Valencia last week returned a harsher perspective to Scottish fortunes in Europe this season which saw all of our other participants expire in the qualifying stages of their respective competitions.

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The national team have failed to provide any form of solace, largely limping their way through the first half of the Euro 2012 qualification campaign with a series of alarming displays which have seen eight points dropped already.

Burns may have believed that seeing ourselves as others do would free us from many a blunder. For the moment, though, ignorance is perhaps the only bliss available in Scottish football.