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The author of the blog that has pulled down the facade at Rangers was motivated by the failings of the Scottish press
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds“ â€“ Samuel Adams, 1775
It is easy to feel powerless in this world. “Why bother? What can I do?” Even as a student, I did not join protest marches. While most of my generation screamed: “Can’t pay! won’t pay!” about the hated poll tax, I could and I did. Raging against the machine seemed like Sisyphean futility and talk of changing the world was for poets and artists. To me, practical people just got on with it and made the best of events. Cynicism was a uniform I wore with pride. Against such a background, I make an unlikely campaigner and the last person anyone would pick to give voice to a silenced and disenfranchised community.
Yet my blog, rangerstaxcase.com, seems to have done exactly that. What started as an impulse one Sunday evening in March of last year has grown into something of a Scottish cultural phenomenon. Love it or loathe it, few would dispute that this blog has played a significant role revealing the facts and shaping the debate on a subject that has taken on such importance that the UK prime minister and Scottish first minister have belatedly jumped on the bandwagon.
This monster has grown to the point where it is now fielding daily traffic of over 100,000 views, while new arguments and ideas are fuelled by reader comments that are now coming in at a rate of about 1,500 per day. These are odd statistics for discussions characterised by accounting conventions and insolvency law. It is as if all of the cool kids in the playground suddenly want to read the swots’ algebra homework.
In a world of free information, where most blogs die alone and ignored shortly after birth, the very popularity of rangerstaxcase.com carries a message about modern Scotland. It is a story of the unmet need for the straight story, uncorrupted by the sinister Triangle of Trade that renders most of what passes as news in Scotland’s media outlets as worthless. It is the tale of why things went so wrong at Rangers and why the club’s many fans seemed paralysed by disbelief until it was too late.
If you have not spent much time in Caledonia what follows will seem a little surreal. It seems that way because it is. Scotland is a land where nothing matters like football matters â€“ in particular within the west-central region. For over 120 years, Glasgow’s two biggest football teams have engaged in one of the world’s most bitter sporting feuds. With mindless tribalism masquerading as a religious divide, stabbings, live bombs sent through the post, and even murders have been woven into the tapestry of the recent history of Scottish football. Yet I still get challenged over my penchant for anonymity? Football in Scotland is not like football elsewhere – at least not in Europe. (Latin Americans might recognise the poison brought to the surface by the poultice of football, but few other places would understand).
Yet for all of its ugliness, I love it. A large part of my “two score and change” years on this planet has been devoted to supporting my team, Celtic. Actually watching the team would be a very small part of the time expended. The obsession with your team colours many other aspects of life for those unfortunates who find themselves pulled into the vortex that goes along with supporting either of the Glasgow giants.
Football clubs from places like Manchester and Liverpool can lay claim to much more success on the field, but these cities do not get close to Glasgow in terms of intensity of interest. It is this passion that serves as the growth medium for the bacillus that infects the news business in Scotland, which in turn serves as the carrier of the disease that threatens to kill Rangers.
Selling news of any kind in Glasgow has long been a simple business: sales are driven by stories about Rangers and Celtic. If you need a circulation boost to improve advertising rates, you need more and better stories about these football teams. Good news moves newsprint. Bad news sells, too, as fans wallow in the misery of their hated enemy. However, Scotland is not evenly divided between these clubs. Celtic and Rangers may attract similar attendances to home games, but the demographic reality is that there are a great many more people in Scotland who would claim to be Rangers supporters than Celtic. Religious census figures provide a decent proxy for the numbers that sustain both clubs: in 2001, less than 18% of the population of Scotland identified as being Roman Catholic. Celtic’s support base is far from exclusively Catholic, but it would be a little daft to ignore the reality of family religious origin in determining which football team a young boy or girl is most likely to follow in Scotland. Rangers’ demographic surplus has determined the general editorial tone of the nation’s news business for decades.
During the early 1990s when Celtic had their own brush with financial mortality, newspapers sent journalists across the globe to chase down scandal related to Celtic’s imminent demise. Such was the open glee in print, it is a wonder that the English language had to import the word Schadenfreude from German. The lowland Scots dialect would surely have had several words of its own to offer, but I doubt that the acronym GIRUY would have translated as readily across the globe. Celtic’s travails were good for the media business. There was no shortage of Rangers supporters willing to smirk at their impoverished foes while dreaming of European Cup triumphs to come. The arrival of Celtic’s saviour from Canada, the unfashionable Fergus McCann, ended the era of amateurism in the boardroom and also planted the seeds for the great divergence in the fortunes of the clubs. Few could have imagined how much could change in just two decades.
The story of Rangers’ insolvency is already becoming a fireside tale told mostly by those who were not there. Trampled down in the rush of journalists claiming that “of course, I knew all along, but I just could not say anything” are all of the derisive newspaper articles and radio call-in panellists dismissing the risks Rangers were facing. I am in no doubt: Scotland’s media, sports and business desks alike, are complicit in the disaster than has befallen Rangers. They killed their golden goose.
The Triangle of Trade to which I have referred is essentially an arrangement where Rangers FC and their owner provide each journalist who is “inside the tent” with a sufficient supply of transfer “exclusives” and player trivia to ensure that the hack does not have to work hard. Any Scottish journalist wishing to have a long career learns quickly not to bite the hands that feed. The rule that “demographics dictate editorial” applied regardless of original footballing sympathies.
The last vertex of this triangle is the reader â€“ the average football fan. Fed a diet rich in sycophantic rubbish, he lost the ability to review critically what he was reading. Super-casino developments worth Â£700m complete with hover-pitches were still being touted to Rangers fans even after the first news of the tax case broke. Along with “Ronaldo To Sign For Rangers” nonsense, it is little wonder that the majority of the club’s fans were in a state of stupefaction in recent years. They were misled by those who ran their club. They were deceived by a media pack that had to know that the stories it peddled were false.
In the end, Rangers fans sat back for years and barely raised a word of complaint as their club was abused and misused. Many of these same fans who sat on their hands have had plenty to say about the motivations of my blog. Egged on by spokesmen for those doing Rangers the most harm, it is widely believed that HMRC are feeding me information to do damage to their club. Firstly, anyone reading the blog again would see that my sources of information probably lie outside of the government. Secondly, the blog has been the only dependable source of information about the sorry state of affairs within Ibrox. By revealing what has been happening at Ibrox, I have provided Rangers fans with an opportunity to do something about it. If I was really intent on harming their club, I would have said nothing at all. That this opportunity has been squandered is something for Rangers fans to contemplate. It is in helping expose this Bermuda-triangle-for-truth that I take most pride.
Rangerstaxcase.com has become a platform for some of the sharpest minds and most accomplished professionals to share information, debate, and form opinions based upon a rational interpretation of the facts rather than PR-firm fabrications. In all of the years when the mainstream media had a monopoly on opinion forming and agenda setting, the more sentient football fan had no outlet for his or her opinions. Blogs and other modern media, like Twitter, have democratised information distribution. Rangerstaxcase.com has gone far beyond its half-baked “I know a secret” origins to become a forum for citizen journalism. The power of the crowdâ€‘sourced investigation initiated by anyone who is able to ignite the interest of others is a force that has the potential to move mountains in our society. All that is required is an issue about which others are passionate and feel unheard.
“Why bother? What can I do?” If it is something you care about, you can do anything you want.