THE sport of golf may be about to join the 21st century. And not before time. Yesterday the chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, signalled that golf’s governing body would be reviewing its policy on men-only clubs.
Mr Dawson was reluctant to call it a review, but it is clear that is precisely what he meant.
This is most welcome. In 2013, it is bizarre that national sporting events such as the Open are held at venues with a clearly discriminatory policy against people on account of their gender.
Loopholes in the law allow this to be legal, for now. Yet if clubs such as Muirfield were to discriminate on grounds of race, creed or sexual orientation, there would be absolutely no room for discussion here. It seems some men find it acceptable to exclude people on account of them not possessing a Y chromosome.
In the modern age, this is beyond bizarre – it is downright offensive.
The R&A has come under sustained pressure on this issue, not least from the position taken by First Minister Alex Salmond, who said last month he would not be attending the Open at men-only Muirfield, in East Lothian. Mr Salmond said at the time it was “indefensible in the 21st century not to have a golf club that’s open to all”.
This is indeed a Scottish issue – two out of the three Open venues that do not have women members are in Scotland (the other is Royal Troon, in Ayrshire), and as Scotland’s most senior elected politician Mr Salmond clearly felt he had a duty to take a stand.
The First Minister made his stand in a nuanced way. It would have been difficult for him to effectively call for a boycott of one of the biggest events on the Scottish sporting calendar, which is both a draw for tourists and a great advert for VisitScotland. But he absented himself, while at the same time pointedly making plain his view on the gender issue.
It is clear from Mr Dawson’s comments that the First Minister’s stance had the desired effect – the R&A chief executive seemed to have Mr Salmond in his sights when he condemned political interference as “posturing”. Nevertheless, it seems to have struck home.
The result of the R&A review is awaited with interest, and it remains to be seen whether such an inherently conservative institution is capable of such a change. But if the review results in a sea change in the sport of golf, Mr Salmond will undoubtedly have a feather in his cap.
It is to be hoped that the Royal and Ancient will take a long hard look at the issue of single sex clubs and the clear discrimination on grounds of gender without being too hidebound by the past, because the past belongs in the past.
Credit to Mr Dawson for deciding to take this first step towards, hopefully, dragging golf from the clutches of the blazers in the bar and into a world where equal treatment for women is a sine qua non.
Holyrood’s turn to think devolution
In th 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution, the areas most lukewarm about home rule were those furthest from the Central Belt, notably the Northern Isles.
Seen from Kirkwall or Lerwick, it was perhaps understandable that government from Edinburgh might seem no less remote than government from London.
Maybe it was inevitable, then, that with a new constitutional upheaval now on the cards, the distinctive voice of Scotland’s island communities would again be heard.
Joining forces with the Western Isles, the Northern Isles yesterday made their case at Holyrood for a new phase of devolution in which powers were passed to island communities.
Of particular interest to these local authorities is responsibility for the seabed around their shores – a power that could be very lucrative given the revenue that could accrue from the use of the seabed for renewable energy projects.
Up until now the debate about Scottish devolution – and indeed independence – has been about a transfer of power from Westminster to Holyrood. But if this has political legitimacy, why stop there?
It would be perverse for supporters of home rule – to whatever degree – to say that power could not also be devolved from Holyrood to local communities.
Scottish Labour is said to be considering such an idea in its constitutional commission, but it is unclear how willing the SNP is on the idea.
It would seem hypocritical, however, for politicians who have self-determination as one of the founding principles of their party to be less than open to others doing the same.