By Jason Michael

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but then if everything was always what it seemed to be there would be scant work for psychoanalysts. I have a suspicion the BBC is telling us more than it is actually telling us. Watch closely.


Celebrating the murder of the young soldier Lee Rigby or cursing his name with profanities as a means of riling an opposing football team’s supporters is vile. There’s no other way to describe the video of a handful of Celtic fans misbehaving while on tour recently in Sunderland. But the incident’s coverage on the BBC piqued my interest. Almost three weeks ago the story of a number of football fans singing “F**k Lee Rigby!” was featured as the lead story on the BBC’s evening news in Scotland. But since when, anywhere, did an obnoxious football chant become a headlining news story?

Given that this is Scotland we are talking about, we have to get over the idea that the news is only ever about the news. Right now in Scotland Lee Rigby and Celtic Football Club are deeply coded ciphers in the public imagination, and both are profoundly at odds with one another. We have no access to the character and opinions of Lee Rigby as he was before he was brutally murdered, but this symbolic use of Lee has nothing to do with him as a person. Against the wishes of his grieving family his image has become an icon of a certain type of ultra-right-wing Britishness, the posterchild of Tommy Robinson’s school of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism.


In Scotland this street British nationalism, together with its disgusting use of this young man, has translated into street Scottish unionism where it is nourished by the dog whistle politics of members of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Regardless of the personal opinions of Lee and his family, his face has become a rallying point for a particular segment of Scottish loyalism and unionism. Nowhere has this cult become more overt than among a particular cadre of football supporters at Ibrox. Lee Rigby, or rather the construct of Lee Rigby, has become a package; a bundle of social and political ideas relating to British nationalism, Scottish unionism, and racist ideologies.

Similarly, regardless of what individual Celtic supporters believe, Celtic Football Club too has taken on a surplus of meaning in the unionist imagination. Every so often on social media we see a connection being made between an admixture of Celtic, Catholicism, and Irish Republicanism – all often cognates in the Venn diagram of Scotland’s footballing world – and Scottish nationalism. Jill Stephenson (“Historywoman”), the retired Edinburgh University professor of history and outspoken unionist, has linked these two notional concepts repeatedly in her tweets.


When we remove these meanings from what was otherwise a non-story of a group of louts sings a nasty song about a murder victim, and place them together in the context of post-2014 Scottish politics they make sense. We have the perceived symbol of dangerous Scottish nationalism – in the form of Celtic supporters described in the news bulletin as “scum” – and a symbol of right-wing British nationalism cum Scottish unionism in heroic military uniform – in the form of the martyred young Lee Rigby. Then, when the SNP MSP James Dornan – introduced also as a Celtic fan – is brought onto the show to answer for this behaviour, the circle is complete. A subtle and brilliant connection has been made between all the coded meanings of dangerous Irish Republicanism and not only Scottish nationalism and the independence movement, but also with the Scottish National Party.

As consumers of the news, in Scotland and anywhere in the world, we are not simply taking in neutral information. Our minds are more complex than this. We are being fed cues, cleverly encoded with symbolic meaning. We simply cannot always be consciously aware that we are taking in this oblique information. Those behind the scenes at the BBC know perfectly well what they can tell us without us being fully aware of what we have been told. This is the very essence of subliminal messaging, and the more closely we analyse the media in Scotland the more we come to see how much of this is going on.

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“Tommy Robinson Celtic Fans Can Go F*ck Themselves” by the Loyalist Channel


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