What would independence mean for Scottish football?

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I’m not sure how big a story this has been around the world, but next month Scotland is voting to decide whether or not they should become an independent country for the first time since 1707.

Scottish nationalism may be very high at the time voters go to the polls. Glasgow has just successfully hosted the Commonwealth Games, in which the UK countries compete as separate nations, and the Ryder Cup will soon be held at Gleneagles.

Opinion polls seem to suggest that, at the moment, Scotland will stay in the UK, but let’s say hypothetically that the ‘yes’ campaign is successful and Scotland becomes independent.

An independent Scotland would face a lot of major obstacles they would have to quickly overcome to be successful. For starters, they currently haven’t got a plan in place for what currency they’d use, if, as the UK insists, they couldn’t keep the Pound. But while others debate that, the question on my mind is...

What effect will independence have on Scottish football?

In international terms, Scotland is already an independent country. However, due to politics, independence may have a negative effect on Scottish football, both at international and club level.

Well, there may be an issue about the eligibility of Scottish players to play other countries. The UK is a member of the EU, and EU rules state that anyone from an EU country can live and work in another, which is how foreign footballers play in other leagues.

There is a real question as to whether or not Scotland would be in the EU. A key part of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond’s (that's Salmond demonstrating how not to head a ball in the picture) independence campaign is that because the UK is an EU member and Scotland’s part of the UK, Scotland will automatically become a member of the EU.

However, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission has suggested that Scotland would need to apply. There’s no reason that an application by Scotland would be unsuccessful, but the process is a lengthy one and could take several years.  

This could have a huge effect on Scottish football.

I think that until Scotland gets EU membership, it would be far more difficult for Scottish players to play abroad than it is presently. Scottish players have proven far more willing than their English counterparts to move abroad, though the relatively weak standard of the Scottish Premier League probably has a lot to do with that.

I’d assume that some sort of deal would be reached where Scots would be eligible to work in England or Wales, but in other European leagues, especially those with restrictions on how many non-EU players a team can have, Scottish players would be a far less attractive proposition than they currently are.

This may cause a situation where some Scottish players opt to play for another EU nation if they are eligible to do so. In recent years, and for different reasons, Scotland has lost both Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy, two hugely talented players, to Ireland. Others players may follow suit, especially if it means they have a greater chance of a lucrative move abroad at some point in their career. This may weaken the Scotland team and generally set Scottish football back several years.  

At present Scotland’s league is pretty uncompetitive. Last season Celtic won the Scottish Premier League (SPL) with ease, winning the title by 29 points and not losing a game until the league title had been sewn up, which is the earliest a team had won the title for 85 years and they only dropped 15 points all season. Even though Celtic are weaker than last season, they we still 1/66 with bookmakers to win the SPL, which is about as close to a sure thing as you can get.

This lack of competition is having a detrimental effect on Scottish football. Celtic, who have done relatively well in the Champions League in recent seasons, including a win over Barcelona, were comprehensively beaten over two legs by Legia Warsaw in the Champions League qualifiers, but have been reinstated after the Polish side fielded a suspended player. All the other Scottish sides have already been eliminated from European competitions.

I’m not sure what Scotland’s policy on immigration would be, but not being in the EU may make it more difficult for Scottish clubs to sign players from abroad as there may be all kinds of work permits and visa issues to be sorted out. Also, if it’s more difficult for a player to bring their family with them, it would make moving to Scotland a far less attractive proposition than it currently is.

Scottish Football doesn’t attract anywhere close to the TV deals English football does. The only games of interest to the rest of the UK are the Old Firm games and to a much lesser extent, the Edinburgh Derby. Well, the Old Firm games haven’t been played for two seasons now, due to Rangers being booted down to the Third Division and having to make their way back up. Similarly, the Edinburgh derby will now be a Championship fixture, as both Hearts and Hibernian were relegated last season.

In fact, after Rangers were banished from the SPL, there was a real fear that the TV contract, which contained clauses guaranteeing rights to show all four Old Firm games per season, would be voided. Scottish clubs had to pay broadcasters back some money to keep games being broadcast.

So, if it becomes harder for clubs to attract good players from abroad, it will in turn reduce the standard of football on offer, which will mean TV companies will want to pay less to show games in the future, which will adversely affect clubs, many of which are already struggling for money.

I’ve focused on the negatives so far, but there may be some ways in which Scottish football benefits from independence.

A split with the UK would presumably mean a change in the way TV is broadcast. At the moment, BBC Scotland broadcasts the SPL highlights, but they are less prominent than the Premier League highlights. If Scotland becomes independent, chances are there wouldn’t be a BBC Scotland, so whatever replaces that as the broadcaster of the SPL highlights might put it in a more prominent timeslot, which might help raise its profile in Scotland.

Also, a lack of opportunity to sign players from abroad could mean that Scottish clubs would be more willing to buy from other Scottish clubs, which will help to spread money around Scottish clubs, which hopefully would make them more competitive.

This could also mean a far greater emphasis on youth development. There are some Scottish clubs with excellent academies, such as Motherwell, Dundee United and Hamilton Academical, the team that produced James McCarthy and James McArthur amongst others, who were promoted to the SPL last season using a side which was mostly filled with academy products.

But if clubs were encouraged to develop their own talent rather than to buy, it could mean that a talented new generation of Scottish players could come through, and improve the standard of both the Scottish leagues, but also the national team.