I’VE always hated false equivalences. They were a redoubtable tool in the armoury of my teachers and parents (both terms attributable to my own mother) to make round-holed arguments work against their square-pegged little interlocutors. As quasi-toddler, four-to-five-year-old scholars, we’ve all followed, blindly, our peers into committing some heinous act of hooliganism such as emptying the sand pit onto the playground and, when confronted by the pulsing temple of our primary one teacher, responded with a shrug, “He was doing it first”. The reply to this defence has a 100-hundred-per-cent kill rate: “If he jumped off a bridge would you jump off after him?” Now, I’ve never encountered death by grain of sand, but even fresh out of Pampers I would always wince at this reply.

But as we get older, grumpier, and eventually reproduce the snotty-nosed little cretins at the sandpit, when we are confronted with the idiocy of the tipping-of-the sand-onto-our-freshly-mown-lawn ritual and rush out to illicit sweet justice, we do so armed with that killer line just in case they’ve twigged that it’s really not such a big deal.

That’s kind of the position our prime minister, Boris Johnson, finds himself in at present: after his own potential penalty check came back with the award of a fixed-penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police, the Prime Minister was caught out squarely for breaking the laws he delivered to the British people, while his snivelling peers rally round and try to draw up false equivalences of their own. One suggested in the immediate aftermath of the news of Johnson’s fine that the Prime Minister, who wrote the rules, genuinely wasn’t aware of the rules. He then went on to, presumably, get his own back on those primary-school teachers who had berated him for spilling the caviar on the Persian rug, insisting that they were doing it first.

So, with the gods of false equivalences beaming in the firmament, they’ll be sure that Scottish football delivers its promise to introduce VAR to next season’s Premiership competition at a vote next week of the SPFL’s 42 member clubs.


Match referee Erik Lambrechts views the VAR monitor before ruling no penalty to England during the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Tuesday March 29, 2022.


Before they do, let me get one more false equivalence straightened out first and foremost: the Scottish Premiership is not the English Premier League – nor Spain’s LaLiga, France’s Ligue 1 or Germany’s Bundesliga. We may be cut from the same cloth, have massive clubs, clubs with great histories and traditions, but it’s a whole other ball game out there. And VAR is a part of that.

Again, you can think of our esteemed leader Boris Johnson and his fellow crim and right-hand man Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer. As with the Scottish and English football leagues, while both men are conceivably cut from the same roll of wallpaper, one is desperate to be seen as rich and powerful while the other slipped into the role after marrying a billionaire heiress. You get the feeling if Rishi walked into the Westminster tearooms tossing a flashy new light-up yo-yo and getting everyone excited, Johnson would arrive the same day with one he’d sent an aide to buy with a fiver down at the market. The self-styled clown would then arrive in his usual hurricane of bluster, wind the thing up, let rip and bang. It would fall to pieces and crash on the floor and everyone would go back to their Tetley’s.


Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak

Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak


My worry is that Scottish football is doing the same thing here with VAR. I’ve written before about the vagaries of video assistant referees in general, of the folly in thinking that it answers more questions than it presents. My main issue in a viewing sense is for the fans inside stadia (bearing in mind how heavily Scottish football depends on that income stream). Diminishing the ability to celebrate a goal properly, for instance, because it’s being referred to a guy in an SFA trackie sitting in a tin box X-amount of feet away from the ground is sacrosanct to the experience of the everyday football fan.

When we tune in to Sky Sports or BBC’s Match Of The Day to watch English football, these incidents occur with the commentator explaining the procedure, shots cutting to the control room, replays of the incident. In the Premier League, a minimum of 30 cameras record every match from every angle, and the broadcasters can utilise these to pre-empt the VAR decision and then go on and debate it afterwards in the studio to millions of viewers worldwide. At the ground, meanwhile, where Scottish supporters tend to dwell, the punter is simply at the mercy of the referee’s protracted whistle and gesture.

The costs, which will effectively eat into the prize money each team receives this season on a top-down basis (the higher a team finishes in the table this term, the more the club contributes to the VAR bill), do not represent value for money for me. We’ve had Davie Martindale, an honest speaker in the wake of wins and losses for his Livingston side, bemoan the financial hit of individual refereeing decisions after his side’s costly defeat to St Johnstone before the split. I’m sorry, Davie, but where a team ends up after 33 matches of a league season isn’t down to a soft penalty against or a stonewaller denied in one match. And VAR won’t solve that.

So while it looks like the VAR cavalcade will roll into grounds across the Premiership next season, wind up the celluloid and let rip against our game, my only hope is that it makes like a yo-yo and swings back out of town again before the whole thing does go bang. But perhaps the only solace we have is that if it all does go wrong, at least we can point to England and say “they did it first”.