The last time a Tory politician came so close to the Scottish Cup was in 1988, when Margaret Thatcher was drafted in to present the country’s most prestigious football trophy at Hampden. The boos ringing out from a crowd of 74,000 tell their own story.
Until – that is – some marketing genius at the competition’s current sponsor, William Hill, decided to cart the trophy down to Birmingham this week and parade it at the Conservative conference.
Attendees at the conference – which saw the party adopt a hard right stance on immigration and announce plans to exempt the military from human rights law – were invited to pose for photographs with the cup, which is the oldest football trophy in the world and insured for some £2 million. It is unclear how many Tories took William Hill up on the offer nor how many party members – who have one Scottish MP – are even aware of its significance.
The cup was famously won by Hibernian this year after a 114 year wait, sparking a mass pitch invasion which was described by one Tory MSP as “disgraceful and frightening” and by another as having “ruined” the day.
The trophy appeared on a stand operated by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), a lobbying group which spent the conference dishing out free drinks and canapes to conferences goers. Corporate stands at the four day event cost up to £33,000 and the hosting of fringe meetings and associated advertising far in excess of this. The ABB appeared at a number of fringe events, including alongside two right wing thinktanks where they talked on striking the balance between “personal freedoms” and “protecting the vulnerable”.
Recent developments in England have exposed the rotten state of corporate football, where backhanders and dodgy deals have become an open secret. But there is nothing remotely opaque about what went on over the last few days at the Tory conference in Birmingham, where Scotland’s premier football trophy was used as a pawn by corporate lobbyists as they sought to influence Tory decision makers. Is nothing sacred? Why are the SFA allowing it to happen?
Rumours that Ibrox-minded MSPs Adam Tomkins and Murdo “Queen’s 11” Fraser have spent the last three days trying to smuggle the trophy out of the ICC and stick blue and red ribbons on it remain unconfirmed…