For as long as I was involved in politics, I was forever appalled at the number of times one of my own political reps got up on stage in front of a friendly audience and took a shot at the people in the room because he or she knew it would play well with the press and with the kind of folk who wouldn’t have voted with us in the first place.
It has long been seen as one of the great truisms of political activism that you can take a shot at your friends without being damaged, and in doing so win new ones elsewhere.
It is a short-to-medium term strategy with some rather large drawbacks.
Foremost amongst them is this; your friends might not desert you but they don’t forget either. And when the unappeasable enemy you were trying to placate next bites down hard on you, the vast choir that usually sings at your back may stay silent instead.
Do it too often and a reservoir of resentment starts to fill out … and that can have very serious consequences indeed if someone decides to outflank you on your strongest side.
I felt a little of that old betrayed anger the other day as I watched Steve Clarke take a shot at the Ibrox support over sectarian singing, and then roped us into the point as if it were our fans shouting bile at him and being charged by UEFA over such action.
Clarke is falling prey to a classic desire at Hampden; to ride the middle of the road, to seek “equivalence” in every debate involving the team from the other side of Glasgow, which means that no matter how wrong they are, the excuse can be made that they are merely “one head of the coin” with us on the reverse side, like yet unalike.
This is a strategy with no long term future.
The media loves it, but the Ibrox fans are not suddenly going to take to the man who called them out in such scorching language whilst he was the boss at Rugby Park.
They don’t see him as fair minded or even handed; their websites continue to excoriate him as an enemy of their club. They won’t get over it.
On the other hand, following this well-trodden path of slapping down those who’ve had your back in the interests of satisfying the hacks and appearing “neutral” is not going to win him many plaudits amongst bemused Celtic fans who wonder what we had to do with this.
There was no need to take a third-way position on this; Scotland was shamed, yet again, by fans at Ibrox Stadium, fans who have been repeatedly warned about their party tunes and just don’t care.
And all Clarke had to do was stick to those simple facts. Instead he wandered off on a tangent and down the oldest, and stinkiest, blind alley there is.
Celtic fans will not turn on Clarke over it – we understand full well the media pressure to shine the light somewhere else, all the better to allow what festers at Ibrox to continue to – but we won’t forget either. And in the process here he has lost a little of our goodwill.
He best hope that doesn’t come to cost him later on.
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