There is a popular perception in Glasgow, in a sense a petty-bourgeoisie perception although its roots lie somewhere south of that, that Glaswegians as a people are predisposed to helping others. Whether in pointing towards legitimate socialist grass-roots movements worthy of praise such as the various food banks around this city or in telling sentimental anecdotes, the implication is ultimately that those separated materially from the hardship and oppression from whence they came retain some “working class” cultural capital regardless of the actualities of their lives. Ironically, the people who live in the grey monotone of the lower stratums of the complex late capitalist division of labour seldom feel bound to that same sense of city-wide community. What’s more, those beneath the lowest of the glass ceilings most acutely perceive the fallacy of this perception because they actually live in the intensely fractured reality of Glasgow. Perhaps the independence referendum, if it fails in its effort to distance Scotland from the blood-stained clutch of British imperialism, will at least agitate freedom from that damaging mind set which would talk about “we Glaswegians” in a city and a country so abjectly and acutely divided. It is with sadness we recognize that this is the exact terminology on which the SNP are negotiating for Scottish independence: an abstract and undefined “we” that does not exist and which they refuse to define.
If actions speak louder than words, the Scottish National Party’s Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill and its subsequent enforcement by Strathclyde Police in a campaign against the Celtic support, most violently targeting the Green Brigade, is a clamor ergo admonet. The SNP’s vision of Scotland is not one that is friendly to political discourse, Irish politics and, ironically, anti-imperialist politics. What this says about their approach to Scotland’s massive community descended from an Irish diaspora, and to freedom of political and cultural expression in a broad sense, is a question I imagine they would prefer was left unasked. Indeed, the Green Brigade’s display at the AC Milan match on 26th November 2013 which caused Celtic to be fined by UEFA and marked the beginning of Celtic’s relocation and dispersal of the group, asked exactly that question.
There’s another popular perception in Glasgow that Celtic is a political football club. Celtic PLC are happy to encourage this perception in their marketing strategies, invoking Celtic’s charitable roots, claiming in their social mission statement that the club exists to support its local community and is proud of its history. In the aftermath of the banner controversy last November, Peter Lawell stated ‘We are a non-political organization’. Irony heaped upon irony as the dispersed and boycotting supporters huddled round screens in the Celtic Supporters Association while ‘Let the People Sing’ blasted over the loudspeakers at Parkhead. Antipathy towards Peter Lawell is understandable. His image is associated with the shameful refusal to pay employees at Celtic Park a living wage and the targeting of the Green Brigade. In reality, however, his face is but the vulgar, flabby simulacrum of the Celtic PLC as it has existed since its formation in 1897, and the spirit of the limited liability advocates in the years prior to its actual formation. Brother Walfrid’s model for Celtic was to transform the admission fees of the impecunious Irish diaspora community in the East End into food for the hungry, the destitute and the children of the Calton. By 1895 the club was no longer spending money on the dinner tables of the children and unemployed, despite unreservedly continuing to take entrance fees from its local poverty-stricken community. If Celtic’s history and tradition is important and if Celtic is a political club, it is not because of the PLC.
What critics of the Green Brigade either fail to realize or view with distaste is that Celtic park is necessarily – and always has been – a potential discursive arena: as working people unite under common purpose. The prime function of the Green Brigade, other than supporting their team, is to inject political discourse into that arena. Firstly through their political displays which agitate political discussion amongst the Celtic support. Their banner at the AC Milan game is a perfect example of this: the juxtaposition of William Wallace and Bobby Sands MP surrounded by text questioning the motives of the SNP, the nature of the independence debate, and the permissibility of Irish anti-imperialist political discussion in contemporary Scotland. And secondly, through the example they set to young Celtic fans. The Green Brigade have effectively endeared a massive number of young Celtic supporters to socialist, anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic politics. Of course a grass-roots, socialist group that is politically awakening massive portions of the working class Celtic support are going to be treated with fear and disgust and will be victimized, hated and vilified for it – it is the opposite of what the ruling classes want for (particularly young) working class people. They want them hemmed into night clubs, paying six pound a pint, in an atmosphere of pure sexual competition, music blasting so loud that conversation is impossible. They certainly don’t want them taking part in a discursive reframing of the SNP’s independence campaign through the lens of anti-imperial struggle in Ireland.
And so the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill allows Strathclyde Police to further victimize and oppress the Celtic support for singing songs that it would not be an offense to sing was there not a football match on. It deliberately and specifically targets football fans for being football fans.Just like the campaign by Strathclyde Police against the Green Brigade using breach of the peace legislation (where no one need be offended other than the police officers present to constitute a breach of the peace), this is an attempt to harass and intimidate people out of politics. In a dawn raid, the police arrested a 17 year old boy on a breach of the peace charge for singing one such song, and he we remanded in custody for seven full weeks before the Lord Advocate intervened. At the Hearts away game a few weeks ago one supporter was pulled from the crowd and taken to the cells for having a banner with the word ‘ultras’ on it and then detained for 12 hours. The majority of the cases are not being prosecuted. But now it is illegal to sing, while congregated at a football match, folk songs. The irony is of course that Celtic people, meaning Scottish and Irish people, traditionally communicated through bardic and balladaic traditions: through folk songs, long before their encounters with British imperialism. It is not only an attempt to intimidate people out of politics, it is also an attempt to intimidate people out of their culture.
This Christmas past the Green Brigade, in the spirit of Celtic Football Club’s founding ethos, organized a food drive for the Glasgow North East Food Bank, which is ran out of Calton Parkhead Parish Church, and donated a massive 5746.75kg of food and £465.45 in cash collected from the Celtic support.