The behaviour of some The Rangers fans and some Forces personnel at the recent UK Armed Forces celebration at Ibrox has been ably covered elsewhere. But what, I wonder, was the motivation of the chiefs at Ibrox (who might soon outnumber the Indians) in inviting UK Armed Forces on Armed Forces Day? Was it to celebrate the Forces contribution to society? To some that would be fair enough. Or, was it to celebrate the Ibrox feeling of Britishness and being part of The Union? There’s nothing wrong with a section of society celebrating its sense of identity, if it’s done respectfully.
But in a society that, though perhaps not as broken as N. Ireland, still has fractures there’s something suspect about a section of that society appearing to claim ownership of an army that is supposed to be at the service of everyone.
Was the motivation to invite the Forces to say to other elements in society, “it’s our army”? Others might say they’re welcome to it. But that’s not the point. If such elements really believe that it’s their army then they’re not interested in notions (some might say pretences) of UK forces neutrality. For instance, should conflict break out in Belfast to the degree that army presence is deemed necessary by UK government, then how would the same armed forces who’d partied to sectarian tunes so enthusiastically at Ibrox be seen? This should concern Forces bosses because, if this claim of ownership is left unchallenged, then it brings the ostensive integrity of UK Armed Forces into disrepute.
There are many within the Armed Forces who do not support Rangers and who are disgusted by incidents such as Armed Forces Day at Ibrox and the previous Remembrance Day debacle. As one former army acquaintance told me recently, “We’re not their bloody army”. This former soldier does in fact support The Rangers yet he has no time for what he called “feeding frenzies”.
I asked another former career soldier, who is a life-long Celtic supporter from Aberdeenshire, what he made of it all. “What on earth were they thinking?” was his resigned reply. He was referring to Army top brass. Of course there’s no doubt that many Scots in the army support Rangers and one suspects if some within that grouping were asked to attend the ceremony at Ibrox they’d jump at the chance. Its conceivable then that stresses which occur in our society as a whole may place a debilitating strain one day within the UK Armed Forces.
Another motivation for The Rangers bosses inviting the nation’s Armed Forces to Ibrox was of course to curry favour with the Ibrox faithful, some of whom revel in militaristic displays like this. Not for them the questioning of UK Armed Forces activities around the world, from Ireland to Afghanistan, where civilians have felt the full force of often less than neutral soldiering.
With memories of the recent Irish Troubles and UK Armed Forces often controversial activity in them still being fresh, the invitation to celebrate Armed Forces Day at Ibrox Park had a provocative element. Perhaps by appealing to the worst prejudices of the worst subsection of The Rangers support (who couldn't restrain themselves to respectful applause - as many at Ibrox did) is the only way those seeking to become the new regime at The Rangers feel they can impress their “troops”.#
You can call that many things, except progress.