Saturday, June 09, 2007

Back in the Fold

Murrayfield rejoins the
international rugby community
I might be only half Scottish and live in London, but the SNP is really beginning to grow on me. It's not even just the fact that Alex Salmond seems vaguely human by politician standards and some of their supporters post great campaign songs on YouTube. It's early days, but they really do seem to be setting the Scottish nation free and seem in no great rush to turn the country in to the hard left hell hole'paradise' that some of their erstwhile policies suggested they might. They even seem to be more concerned with getting on with governing Scotland than making cheap shots at their southern neighbours.

Their latest act is to announce that it might once again be allowed to have a beer during rugby games at Murrayfield. Kenny MacAskill, the SNP justice secretary announced:
"There is a world of difference between people drinking a bottle of cheap cider in a park to get drunk and enjoying a pint of beer at half-time of a rugby match.

"We've listened to representations from fans, Scottish Rugby and the police.

"The fans can't understand why they can have a drink at Twickenham and at Millennium Stadium and at some rugby games and not others.

"They want to be able to enjoy a civilised drink during international matches at Murrayfield."

Quite right Mr MacAskill. Flint and Hewitt please note this is not 'Blue Skys Thinking' this is what normal people call 'Common Sense', that part of higher brain function whose absence is a prerequisite for high office in the NuLab ranks. Sadly I can only imagine the low hum of excitement that would go round the Department of Health if someone got it into their minds that there was half a chance of getting away with banning alcohol in the whole of TW1 on match days.

It's true that Murrayfield will still need permission from Edinburgh Council, but after the recent elections this should hopefully not be too much of an issue. ScotNuLab lost half its seats, losing overall control, the Nats went from 1 to 12 seats, and the Lib Dems gained 3 to 17. The Lib Dems are now the largest party, but they've done an almost complete Pontius Pilate act on the actions of the last Holyrood government, of which they were part, so this should be no obstacle. It shouldn't be forgotten though that the 'Liberal' Democrats were part of Jack 'Best Wee Numpty in the World' McConnell's government, which could have done what the Nats have now done, but instead saw fit to some introduce Nanny State legislation that would make Westminister NuLab's busybodies blushfeel green with envy.

The ban was introduced after an old firm clash in the 1980 Scottish Cup final which saw an on pitch battle between Rangers fans, their Celtic opponents and the police. It was not originally intended to cover Murrayfield, but was extended to cover all major venues after representations from the police, demonstrating once again their regrettable tendency to seek ridiculous new powers off the back of sensible attempts to tackle a real problem.

I'm not going to have a pop at kevball this time around. To be honest from the little I know on the subject most of the clubs seem to have improved immeasurably in recent years and this seems to have been accompanied a gradual slackening off of alcohol restrictions. The only time I've been to a football match I enjoyed my beer both at the Emirates Stadium and in the first pub we came to outside the dispersal zone after the match, despite what was apparently substandard Arsenal performance. Even the remaining restrictions on having alcohol within sight of the pitch seemed slightly absurd, with various shutters and blinds having to be closed at half time to allow us to consume our free beer while staying within the letter of the law.

The key thing is that while there were a few ill considered knee-jerk reactions to the problems in the English game, over time pragmatism has prevailed. Local solutions have to local problems has taken the place of sweeping catch-all national diktat. The clubs and authorities played their own part in proving they deserved such pragmatism by taking responsibility for the problems, and taking their own initiatives to deal with them. In areas like this, national legislation should constrain itself to setting basic minimum standards, while giving legal basis for further more draconian action where it is warranted on a local level, with a clear presumption that such action should only be taken where circumstance demonstrably prove it to be necessary.

Having said all that there is still a bit of pride in me every time I see the "No Alcohol Beyond This Point During Football Matches" signs at Vicarage Road when I go to watch Saracens. Also, having praised the Nats, it should be noted that there may be a little self-interest in play. According to BBC,
'Mr MacAskill was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly before the England versus Scotland Euro 2000 play-off at Wembley stadium.

'He had intended on going to the game but spent the night in police cells. He was not charged or cautioned and later claimed his arrest was due to a misunderstanding.'
BBC News

I'll put it down to enlightened self-interest, not that it really matters anyway. Even if it wasn't a misunderstanding, it is history, and anyway, it's outcomes that count, and this can only be a good outcome for Edinburgh. I suppose that in this case, in the words of Blur "I'm a professional cynic but my heart's not in it". I've been to the Calcutta Cup game at Murrayfield, had a great time, and the alcohol ban, while not an especially big deal, was just plain silly. There were thousands drinking into the early hours afterwards, without any incidents I could see that wouldn't happen in any city centre on any Saturday night.

Despite now living in one of the 'World Cities' I find the 'Burgh something special. For me it was a place where as a young boy, heading up to visit grandparents, you'd emerge from the strange semi-subterranean world of Waverley station to be confronted with everything to a child’s eye that a city should be. It was often near Christmas so the imposing and garishly illuminated shop façades of Princess Street to the right tended to catch the eye first of all, as they were designed to, followed by the soaring buildings that seemed to cling improbably some kind of mountain to the left, and, best of all, a real castle dominating the skyline at its summit. Work now takes me up there from time to time and even as an adult there’s something I love about the place. Some of it is a nostalgia I suppose, but there are also great people, great bars, pubs and eating spots, all mingled together with the great historical sites and the places where the modern business of the city takes place.

Lets hope that, come the next internationals, we'll hear Auld Reekie say nae mair pish to this particular bit of Nanny State nonsense.

Update 10th June: Oh dear the SNP seem to making worrying noises on retaining DNA samples from the innocent...I'm going to have to come back to that one.

No comments: