EVEN for dedicated football fans, the latest turn in the deeply troubled affairs of Rangers Football Club challenges comprehension as to motivation and consequence
It would be tempting to think that the move by Craig Whyte, the club’s majority owner, to file for administration is a matter of limited interest beyond creditors, the players and fans. But administration here has much wider implications. HMRC is owed at least £49 million, a sum accumulated over many years. The latest manoeuvres will be viewed as a critical test case that could set a pattern for other clubs in financial trouble.
For all the talk of “business as usual” and “no change for season ticket holders”, the club faces a ten point deduction if it does not come out of administration quickly, killing its prospects in the Scottish Premier League. More important, the ability of the club to retain existing players, still less buy new ones, will be severely constrained. And given the prominence that Rangers FC has enjoyed in Scottish football over many decades, this would have consequences right across the SPL. There is also the standing of the club as an important icon in the culture of the west of Scotland and indeed Scotland generally. Rangers may now be a private game between Mr Whyte and the HMRC now heading towards a penalty shoot-out. In truth, it is a very public game with wider ramifications.
If the circumstances leading to the filing of administration papers are labyrinthine, they are simple compared with what the outcome might be. For it is how the club emerges from administration that will be the real story.
The move towards administration comes ahead of a critical tax tribunal ruling over the disputed tax bill involving employment benefit trusts to pay players and staff. The virtue of administration to Rangers is that it acts as a debt moratorium, giving it temporary protection from creditors and a valuable breathing space. The club could use this to sell assets and try to force HMRC and other creditors to settle for a partial payment. Creditors representing 75 per cent of the debt by value must give their consent to any deal agreed. HMRC, with its obligations to other taxpayers, would be extremely reluctant to agree any wipe-out settlement on these lines.
A more radical solution would be for Whyte to transfer the club’s assets to a new company, together with the players, and apply to the football authorities for recognition. Not only would HMRC be extremely unhappy at being dumped, but there would also be many elements within the SPL who would contest it. What of all the money Rangers has received from European competitions in the past? Set against this, a ten point fine could be seen as laughable. And it would set a dangerous precedent for other stricken clubs to follow. Mr Whyte may see a wily way to dribble round the taxman. But the taxman is no mood to let football clubs dodge their liabilities. It is, as they say, “game on”.
Is Scotland big enough for Mr Salmond?
Imagine the fuss the SNP would make if a politician from England came north of the Border, quoted one of our great statesmen and lectured the Scots on how to run our country. There would nationalist outrage. That is exactly what Alex Salmond did last night, but in reverse.
The First Minister went to Merseyside to deliver a lecture in which he claimed the English regions would benefit from Scottish independence, with a rebalancing of power and responsibilities in the British isles.
With typical braggadocio, he echoed William Gladstone, who in a speech in Liverpool in 1886 said: “All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes.” Mr Salmond said: “All over England I will back the English masses over the Westminster classes,” repeating his view an independent Scotland would be “a beacon of social and economic progress”, which English voters might find attractive. He further suggested devolution within England, so issues like health were not run from London, though he said this was a matter for English voters.
Mr Salmond’s approach has difficulties on three counts. First, from a nationalist point of view, it contradicts the SNP’s view that politicians from one part of the UK should not interfere in another. Second, it assumes a common left-of-centre cause with English voters – maybe true for Merseyside, but not for the whole of England. Finally, it takes no account of the fact there is little demand for devolution within England – the North East rejected the idea overwhelmingly in 2004. This speech is Mr Salmond at his most bombastic – is Scotland, even independent, a big enough country for him?
Radio Scotland is on the wrong wavelength
Following its plan to scrap the Janice Forsyth show, BBC Scotland is to axe another radio programme. Mary Ann Kennedy’s Global Gathering, which showcases traditional and world music, is set to come off air after some 20 years. The decisions have a lot in common.
First, both programmes are hosted by popular and respected female broadcasters with significant followings. It would be no surprise if the decision to axe the Kennedy show, previously called Celtic Connections, met a similar outcry to that which greeted the bid to take Janny off the tranny.
Second, if the BBC believes these changes are necessary to be more innovative it is deluding itself. Forsyth’s slot will be taken by more sport and Kennedy’s will be filled by classical music. There is already plenty of sport on Radio Scotland, particularly football, and why put on classical music when the BBC already has Radio 3 and there is a commercial rival in Classic FM? If the plan was to broadcast performances by the likes of the RSNO or the SCO there might be justification but this does not appear to be the case.
No-one would argue Radio Scotland should never change, but these plans go against the wishes of the listeners who have no choice but to pay the licence fee. Is BBC Scotland in tune with the Scottish public it is there to serve?