Desmond Kane

Salmond risks political own goal with Rangers intervention

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond during a speech

The issue of sectarianism and its effects on the general populace are never far from bubbling away at the surface in the main thoroughfare of everyday Scottish life. Politics, law, religion and football remain four strands of the country's unique culture and history that divide opinion and provoke debate like nothing else out there. In some people's minds, they remain inextricably intertwined.

These are certainly topics best avoided at your average dinner party in Scotland's Central Belt, especially when the drinks are flowing. When the drink is in, the wit is out. Over the past few days, the wit has been out during sobriety. In deepest Lanarkshire, these appear to be sobering times for all those who run in the name of the Scottish National Party.

The curious case of Lyall Duff, not Duffer, has been something akin to sticking the ball in your own net during a game of political football. For those unaware of this tale of woe, Duff is a prospective SNP council candidate for the wonderfully titled Murdostoun ward of North Lanarkshire council. He has nothing to do with Duff and Phelps, the frazzled administrators frantically trying to find a buyer for Rangers FC and their unpaid debt mountain of millions. The bold Duff has rightly provoked some local outrage after describing two Catholic midwives who objected to helping with abortions on the NHS as "money-grabbing old witches".

As far as we know it, Duff was not slurping Buckfast tonic wine when he made his feelings known. Duff was suspended by the SNP for his outburst pending further disciplinary measures within the party. These comments are especially untimely coming at moments when Scotland's First Minister and party leader Alex Salmond is trying to shove through the idea of an independent Scotland, a prosperous place free from the religious prejudice of yesteryear. At such times, it is easy to despair.

Somewhat astonishingly, Duff was not immediately disowned or expelled by the SNP for his views. Without condemnation from Salmond, there remains suspicion that the SNP view such figures as fit for political life, perhaps even wishing to endorse such bigots. It is fairly obvious, but can you imagine the outcry there would justifiably be if the midwifes were Jewish or Muslim? For some reason, such rabid attacks on Catholicism remain fair game in Scotland.

Against such a backdrop, Salmond may be wiser to avoid getting involved in football - that other sticking point of Scottish life - with Rangers apparently owing anywhere between £50-£90 million to HM Revenue and Customs. There are surely enough intelligent folk involved to get the club back on its feet despite the unpaid tax.

For every Rangers fan fretting over how their club can rise from the abyss of administration, there are others out there who want natural justice to be done in relation to money owed to the public purse.

The Glasgow club could be found guilty of tax evasion, bringing the game of football into disrepute and signing players on illegal contracts to win trophies amid a few of the other lovelies that have come to the fore since the Scottish champions sunk into administration in February.

The situation at Rangers is a rotten burgh, shaky ground that could yet turn into sinking sand for the sitting PM of a country simply because it is so visible.

The SNP should be commended for trying to tackle head on the issue of sectarian behaviour in football and the hate crimes that out themselves all too often in Scotland, but Duff's continued attachment to the SNP tends to undermine such a policy.

Trying to help out Rangers by asking HMRC to go easy on them because of their vast support within Scotland would undermine the law of the land and the natural order of life to pay tax. How could Salmond justify an independent Scotland complete with its own tax-raising powers if there is going to be one rule for one, and one rule for another? Do celebrity tax dodgers escape Scot-free under Salmond's version of home rule?

Salmond has already stuck his foot into choppy waters when he came up with his ill-conceived "Celtic can't prosper unless Rangers are there" line in an interview with David Frost back in February. It was a comment that attracted derision from Celtic, who accused him of exploiting the subject for political reasons.

Salmond apparently spoke to HMRC about the issue of Rangers in January and what was needed to secure a settlement for the club. It has been claimed that the Scottish Government's stance on the matter would be at odds with those of the British Government. The whole mess shrouding Rangers is giving off a stench that could yet strike at the heart of Holyrood. The First Minister has a duty to remain whiter than white.

It is is difficult to recall Alex Salmond being spotted among the various constituencies when Motherwell, Dundee, Livingston and/or Gretna were in administration and threatening to unravel at a less rapid rate than Rangers.

There are obviously political points to be garnered by showing a sympathetic ear to the plight of Rangers, but Salmond risks alienating voters, many of them tax-paying, non-football supporters, who assisted in handing his party a majority in the Scottish Parliament.

The Catholic Church in Scotland feels the SNP risk a backlash at the ballot box in North Lanarkshire for the bold Duff's opinion of a couple of midwives. There are dangers that Salmond will sample a similar effect at an independence referendum if his footprints are found in and around the rather murky goings on at Rangers.