OUT vox-popping on the streets of Glasgow last week, I encountered little pre-election buzz. While the end of 14 years of Tory rule was welcomed, the atmosphere was subdued, with most people resigned to ongoing austerity and paring down of services under Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.

A frightening number said they did not intend to vote; and those who were set to put their X in a box on July 4 were motivated more by a sense of civic duty than an enthusiasm for engaging in the democratic process.

So many people told me they’d lost their faith in politics; so many people told me that nothing ever changes.

Contrast this to the scenes in Munich on Thursday and Friday; hundreds of thousands of Saltire-waving Scots - four per cent of the population - packed into the city’s sunny Marienplatz in advance of the opening game of the Euros.

You didn’t have to be a football fan to be caught up in all the joie de vivre; to appreciate the pleasure of being with like-minded people, and the transformative power of hope.

The solidarity that comes from joining the Tartan Army is nothing new. Nor is it dependent on a win. I experienced it myself in Italia 1990 (when a young Chelsea player called Steve Clarke almost made it into Scotland’s World Cup Squad).

It was the year of Nessun Dorma, Toto Schillaci and Only An Excuse? on cassette. Unable to get a ticket, I watched the Costa Rica debacle in a tiny Genoa bar, and the Sweden triumph at my Italian family’s kitchen table.

Courtesy of a tout, though, I made it to the last match of the group stages against Brazil, dancing in the rain to samba music outside Turin’s brand new Stadio delle Alpi, then watching between my fingers as David held off Goliath until the 82nd minute when Brazilian substitute Müller scored and the dream was over (again).

With the underground out of commission, we all walked back to the city centre together, a deflated regiment, singing Flower of Scotland, not as an anthem, but as a lament.

Scotland v Germany

Scotland were simply outclassed by the hosts


Fans' pilgrimage

This year’s celebrations seem more inclusive, and invested with even greater significance. Men and women of all ages, couples, families with young children have made the pilgrimage to Germany in the pursuit of a historic progression to the next round; but with a guarantee of memories no matter what the result.

Every second post on my Facebook timeline shows ticketless friends decked out in Tartan Army regalia, their faces lit up with happiness just to be part of the giddy throng.

Football gets a bad rap sometimes. But there have already been great acts of generosity. Craig Ferguson, who walked 1,000 miles from Hampden to Munich to raise £55,000 for the men’s mental health charity Brothers in Arms, was greeted with a guard of honour as he completed his journey. Childhood friends Mark Shannan and Stewart Duncan cycled to the city from the Garnock Valley in aid of a cancer charity.

What it says that so many politicians - Angus Robertson, Stephen Flynn, Alex Salmond - would rather be on Steve Clarke’s campaign trail than their own parties’, I’ll leave for you to decide; but - if your success depends on invoking a sense of national identity - then I suppose what better wagon to hitch yourself to than one chock-full of Irn Bru and misplaced optimism?

Journalists too, so often chained to their desks, seemed thrilled to be out on the road covering a rare good news story. They have watched Lisbon Lions-scale myth-making taking place in real time; daft, drink-fuelled antics that will spawn stories to be handed up and down the generations. If the photograph of our youngest wearing the hat of a beaming police officer (and captioned ‘Danke’) is anything to go by, we shall soon be hearing some of our own.

The Euros have also given us a hero in the form of Clarke (please, hear me out). On Thursday night his son John posted “My Dad’s done this - unbelievable” over footage of a pub-full of gustily singing supporters.

For 20 years, we had written ourselves off as a footballing force. But with hard work and tenacity, Clarke turned the squad around so we could experience our first major tournament on foreign soil since 1998; no mean feat, despite Friday’s eventual 5-1 gubbing.

Scotland manager Steve Clark

Scotland manager Steve Clark

Sources of joy

Football is not the only source of joy in bleak times. The power of pop music was also evident when Taylor Swift swept into Murrayfield, and Edinburgh became one vast ocean of glitter and friendship bracelets and love and adrenaline.

Her Eras Tour set was so rapturously received it caused literal and metaphorical tremors strong enough to be registered by the British Geological Survey. The appeal is the same: the gift of connection in a fragmented world; of rallying behind something bigger than yourself.

Taylor Swift at Murrayfield

Sure, in the end, the Scotland match left much to be desired. Ten minutes in and we were already on the back foot. By half-time we were three goals and one man down.

Fans held their heads in their hands, and the mood in Scottish living rooms and on X turned briefly accusatory. Still, it didn’t take long for a degree of positivity to come creeping back in as we agreed we had always been destined to lose this one; it was the games against Hungary and Switzerland that *really* mattered.

A consolation goal meant we could kid ourselves on that at least we scored one, even if, in reality, Antonio Rudiger had headed the ball into the back of his own net. “Remember Costa Rica”, we said. We just need to keep our chins up, regroup and start again.

Euphoric 1997

Not so long ago, politics was also capable of instilling hope and capturing the public imagination. Whatever the revisionists would have you believe (and whatever came later) May 1, 1997, was a D:Ream, the atmosphere euphoric as vans with loudhailers toured the streets assuring us the world was finally on the up.

Prime minister Tony Blair walkabout in Edinburgh, 12th September 1997, the day after the Scottish Devolution referendum. Photograph by Gordon terris

Tony Blair walkabout in Edinburgh, 12th September 1997, the day after the Scottish Devolution referendum. Photograph by Gordon Terris

In 2014, the whole of Scotland was gripped by referendum fever, as the country decided whether or not to take a leap of faith. Even Jeremy Corbyn, whose legacy Keir Starmer is so desperate to escape, had the power to inspire a youth movement.

But years of Tory carnage have bred apathy and drained opposition politicians of all pizzazz. Last week, Rishi Sunak was busy telling the electorate about a childhood deprived of Sky TV, while Starmer closed down a heckler with the words: “We gave up being a party of protest five years ago.” Then they both unveiled milquetoast manifestos to a muted response.

You could, if you were so-minded, dismiss the Euros and Taylor Swift as bread and circuses, something to distract the populace from political stagnation. It is true such events, however pleasurable, are no substitute for radical policies and a bold vision for a better future.

Yet, at a time of fragmentation and wilful polarisation, they bring us together in a common cause. At a time when social media algorithms are conspiring to drive us apart, they remind us of the value of friendship and sharing each other’s company.

What most people crave, after all, is a sense of belonging and something to celebrate or mourn together. Until our broken democracy mends itself, football and music will have to fill the void.