By Rory Reynolds
THE SFA’s decision to ditch God Save the Queen in favour of Scotland the Brave at the 1982 World Cup sparked a furious row with government ministers.
Margaret Thatcher’s government feared that allowing the Scottish football team to use the traditional song as their anthem would play into radical nationalists’ hands.
They said letting Scotland’s 1982 side drop the UK national anthem would be “indicative of a national breakaway movement” and aid calls for independence.
But officials said that the issue was a political “minefield”, and allowed the SFA’s decision to use the Scotland the Brave at the World Cup in Spain to go ahead.
Classified documents, released by the National Archives of Scotland, have revealed the details of the debate for the first time.
In a letter to the Department of the Environment, sent just before the tournament, Scottish Sports minister Alex Fletcher said: “When a team from the UK play abroad it does not seem appropriate for anything to be played but God Save the Queen.
“To play the national anthem for one team but not another could lead some countries to think that the separate tune is indicative of a national breakaway movement.
“This is an aspect on which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office might well have views.
“Presentationally, for the outside world, it might be best if the main flag seen at all the games was the Union Flag.”
But fearful of a PR backlash, the government decided not to go public with their opposition to the move.
Another letter sent from Fletcher after the decision showed disappointment that “the Scots will play under the St Andrew’s Cross and use Scotland the Brave”.
“The question of which tune is to be played is left to the sport’s governing body.
“As such, the secretary of state has no formal locus and there is no case for intervening.”
Officials at the environment department agreed that it could be politically damaging if they challenged the SFA, saying: “The DoE agreed that the whole subject was a minefield and therefore one in which there could be no government dictat.”
Ernie Walker, who was the SFA’s chief executive in 1982, said that at the time the UK government was made nervous by nationalist issues, after they were brought to the fore by the SNP’s Jim Sillars.
He said: “At that time the Conservative government took serious notice about what they regarded as the threat of a Scottish breakaway.
“Anything that was seen as predominantly or exclusively Scottish was deliberately played down.
“This was not just in football, but on a whole host of fronts.”
Ernie added that he would have gone head-to-head with government ministers if they had interfered.
He said: “Ultimately, this was a decision for the SFA not the government.
“As is turned out, those in government decided not to become publicly embroiled in such an emotive subject.”
Despite the rousing anthem Scotland were beaten 4-1 by Brazil, despite a spectacular opening goal by David Narey, and went out in the first round.