IT is difficult to stifle a laugh when the innocent protest that politics and sport should not mix. It is as if there is a belief that sport exists outside the grubby world of politics and should be kept safe from its malign influence.

The truth, of course, is that everything is politics. Even, sometimes particularly, 22 players chasing an inflated sphere.

Consider this: when does one hear a condemnation of the excesses of capitalism? Rarely about hedge fund managers, regularly about footballers. The outbreak of Covid produced a rant against footballers’ wages instead of politicians' incompetence. Baffling but oddly predictable.

Consider this, too: when does one hear concerted protests over the lack of human rights in, for example, Saudi Arabia? Rarely, when said country is doling out huge sums to the economy of this country through arms deals, property speculation and land buying. Very rarely when Saudi investment funds plough money into Disney or Starbucks. Klaxon alert when a Saudi fund buys a football club.

Similarly, there is uproar over the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. This otherwise unsullied bidding protest has given us World Cups in Putin’s Russia, under an Argentine junta and in a Brazil ruled by a military cabal.

The idea, then, that football, or any other sport, is untouched by the influence, interests and politics of the wider world is absurd.

But there is another element. Can sport influence politics? There is anecdotal evidence that it does.

Vladimir Putin, for example, used the World Cup to frank his credentials as a modern Tsar, a statesman who could place his country at the head of world affairs. The World Cup of 2018 was as smooth and dark as an oil slick.

No trouble. No protests. Just footballers going about their business in marvellous stadiums. The world watched and Russia was not harshly judged by the casual spectator. Russia continues on its way that does not include the sanctity of borders, the veneration of human rights or a rigid adherence to transparent business practices.

In domestic politics, there is a series of accepted truths about sports and politics. Harold Wilson won the 1966 general election because he capitalised on England winning the World Cup. He must have done so early doors, in football parlance. The overwhelming victory for Labour was achieved in March and England did not win the World Cup until July 30.

Similarly, the failure to bring in a Scottish Assembly in the referendum of 1979 has been laid at the feet of the country’s footballers who, in unpopular memory, conspired to make the 1978 World Cup in Argentina a national scandal rather than an international tournament.

The theory runs thus: national self-esteem was destroyed by a squad that included one member sent home for taking a banned substance and a cabal of others who were found in possession of shameful perms.

The truth, of course, is that the team played three games: losing one, drawing another and beating the eventual runners-up in the tournament. And Scotland voted for an assembly: 51.6% supported the proposal. The turnout of 64%, however, represented 32.9% of the population, below the 40% stipulation required to make the assembly a reality.

It was fancy footwork in the Commons rather than poor footwork in Argentina that made the difference to whether Scotland had a national parliament.

Similarly, Andy Murray’s intervention in the 2014 referendum was hardly influential. His “let’s do this’’ was widely seen as a call to vote Yes. Scotland, as you may recall as it was in all the papers, voted No.

Sport then seems to be on the sidelines when influencing voter intentions. But there is one twist. If the Scottish cringe is accepted as a reason why some vote against independence from Westminster, then can a sense of well-being and confidence induced by sporting prowess raise self-esteem and self-belief in the nation as a whole? For example, can a successful Scottish national football team add to any momentum for home rule?

The answer is, appropriately, given in the lexicon of Kenny Dalglish. His famous “mibbes aye, mibbes naw” sums up the imponderable.

The feel-good factor induced by success does lead some to be more confident, more willing to believe in a nation. Others may be unimpressed.

In the week when the national team won two games, there has been a distinctly Scottish response. Euphoria after one win, moaning after the second.

The idea that sporting success can galvanise a nation is, perhaps, as far-fetched as Scotland winning a World Cup (spoiler alert: we do not qualify for 2022 after losing in the play-offs)

The truth is that the Scottish electorate is entrenched. Most Yes voters would vote for independence if the Scottish team lost 20-0 to Andorra and it was mandatory to watch daily re-runs on the telly.

Most No voters would retain their stance despite Scotland winning consecutive World Cups, a Test series against Australia and the Eurovision Song Contest.

Identification with success in sport may inspire our young (mostly Yes supporters anyway) and warm the old (mostly No supporters) but it will have little impact on voting intentions.

Politics is entwined with sport but only to reinforce prejudice. The gammons will rail at wealthy black players who use their influence with the best of intentions. The worthy will wring their hands at the awarding of sporting franchises while ignoring the conspicuous wrongs of business and government at large.

Politics and sport will conduct this dance to the end of time or until the next Scottish referendum, whichever is the sooner. (Spoiler alert: end of time is favourite to come first).

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