A STRAW poll of local councillors has found the majority back First Minister Alex Salmond in staying away from this week’s Open at Muirfield because of the East Lothian club’s male-only membership policy.
The Evening News contacted councillors across Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian to ask whether they would be snubbing golf’s showpiece event.
And while most said they hadn’t been invited anyway, there was cross-party support for the First Minister’s stance.
Others, however, claimed Mr Salmond’s boycott would not help promote Scotland’s interests at such a major international event.
Muirfield, which is hosting the championship for the first time since 2002, is one of three courses on the Open rotation – along with Royal Troon and Royal St George’s in Kent – that have a men-only membership. Women are allowed to play and have access to its facilities, but they cannot be members.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which runs The Open, is itself a men-only membership organisation.
Mr Salmond, who is a keen golfer and regularly attends The Open, announced last month he would not be going, saying “I just think it’s indefensible in the 21st century not to have a golf club that’s open to all”.
Two UK Government ministers – Culture Media and Sport Secretary Maria Miller and Sports Minister Hugh Robertson – have also turned down invitations.
But Scottish Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing will still attend, prompting criticism of posturing by the First Minister.
East Lothian provost Ludovic Broun-Lindsay accused the First Minister of “a slightly cheap political stunt” and suggested the event might be “better off without him”.
Councillor Broun-Lindsay had planned to attend but has been forced to pull out for personal reasons. Instead, depute provost Jim Gillies will attend.
The county’s economic development spokesman, Cllr John McMillan, will also be there to build business links for East Lothian.
He said: “I respect the views of the club as a private members’ facility.
“I can understand the First Minister’s stance on this issue, although I am aware that he attended the 2011 Open to promote Scottish tourism at St George’s where I understand membership rules are similar to Muirfield.”
Councillors Donald Grant, Norman Hampshire and Tim Day will also attend one day each for a few hours to host specific events aimed at businesses attending The Open.
Two senior Edinburgh councillors – finance convener Alasdair Rankin and transport vice-convener Jim Orr – will attend on Thursday, the opening day of the championship, along with three officials from the council’s economic development department.
But Cllr Rankin was quick to say they would be there to explore business opportunities for Edinburgh, not to watch the golf. And he stressed his disapproval of men-only golf clubs.
An Ipsos MORI poll on behalf of the Women’s Sport And Fitness Foundation found only 15 per cent of British adults agree clubs with male-only policies should be selected to host The Open. And 55 per cent of regular golfers say hosting major championships at single-sex clubs damages the reputation of the sport.
Three-times Open winner Nick Faldo has refused to criticise Muirfield’s membership policy, saying: “That’s for the club to decide.”
And 1999 winner Paul Lawrie said: “It does not concern me. I just play the golf course – I’m not here to meet the membership.”
Defending Open champion Ernie Els said the policy was “unfortunate” but argued players were right to compete.
He said: “The club’s been like this for many years. It’s been around for, I would imagine at least 150 years, and they have never thought about changing their policy.
“We play The Open Championship at this wonderful golf course and I’m not going to miss it for the world, whether or not it’s got, unfortunately, the policy it has.
“It is what it is. But we go to play The Open Championship and I’ll go play it in the Sahara Desert if I have to.”
Divided opinion on club’s stance
ALASDAIR RANKIN (SNP, City Centre)
“I’m going on Thursday – not to watch the golf but to talk about economic development opportunities. But I understand Alex’s position and Muirfield’s practice is one we don’t want to encourage – we are in the 21st century after all, not the 19th.”
PETER DE VINK (Ind, Midlothian East)
“I fully support the First Minister’s stance and was taken aback that Muirfield was allowed to host the open. If the club wishes to maintain the dinosaur tradition that is their business but they should not receive support from any self-respecting organisations and I am disappointed the R&A have not woken up to this issue.”
ERIC MILLIGAN (Lab, Sighthill/Gorgie)
“I have not been invited. I hardly ever agree with Alex Salmond but this may be the one issue where I do, It is now time for the Open to act as a matter of policy and only use golf clubs that confer equal membership on males and females.”
LUDOVIC BROUN-LINDSAY (Con, Haddington & Lammermuir)
“I have been invited to several events in association with the Open. Unfortunately for personal reasons I’m unable to go and the deputy provost will go instead. The business of private clubs, and the terms of their memberships, is for them. It is deeply regrettable the First Minister chooses to ignore/boycott an event of national and local importance to make a slightly cheap political point – but perhaps, if that is a measure of the man, we are better off without him.”
ANGELA BLACKLOCK (Lab, Leith Walk)
“I haven’t been invited and I’m not a golfer myself, but yes I would have gone.
“There are lots of clubs which are mixed – it’s not as if there’s a lack of opportunity for women to play golf.
“It’s up to the First Minister what he does, but I think he has annoyed quite a few golfers.”
NORMA AUSTIN HART (Lab, Liberton/Gilmerton)
“I have not received an invitation, but if I had I would have turned it down. I think it’s absolutely outrageous that there are still golf clubs in Scotland that do not allow women. We have this global golfing event which Scotland is a platform for and the message we send to the world is women are second-class citizens. I’m still stunned these organisations are allowed to do this – they couldn’t do it on grounds of race or religion but they can do it against women because they are private clubs.”
LINDSAY PATERSON (Con, Almond)
“I have not been invited and will not be attending due to work commitments. However I do not agree with the First Minister’s stance as I do not have an issue with there being male- or female-only sports clubs which are legally compliant. I very much welcome the economic benefits brought to the Lothians by the Open being held at Muirfield.”
(Lib Dem, Corstorphine/Murrayfield): “I haven’t been invited and in the unlikely event of an invitation would decline. I do think Muirfield should extend its membership to women.”
(Green, Southside/Newington): “I’m not invited but I support the First Minister’s stance.”
(Lab, Inverleith): “I have not been invited. I would have more respect for the FM if he was not sending a minister in his place.”
(Con, City Centre): “I’ve not been invited and wouldn’t attend because I don’t watch sport.
“On the segregated clubs angle, I’m quite uncomfortable that in Alex Salmond’s Scotland we all have to conform to one way of thinking and there is no room for diversity.”
(SNP, Dunbar & East Linton): “I’ve not had an invite, but I agree with the FM – it’s wrong to have anti-woman policies.”
(Lab, Dunbar & East Linton): “I would never be a member of a club that excluded anybody because of their sex, race or religion.
“However for Alex Salmond to try and get political advantage out of this prestigious international event is an absolute disgrace.
This event will have a major economic impact for the Lothians and the wider Scottish economy and his comments will not help us promote Scotland.”
(SNP, Leith): “I’m not invited to Muirfield but I absolutely support Alex Salmond’s stance against sex discrimination in sports clubs. The rules of golf were written on Leith Links in the 18th century but Muirfield shouldn’t feel obligated to uphold the social attitudes of that time. I hope they see sense and ditch their men-only policy. There will be a list of women from Leith ready to join the club when they do.”
(Lab, Forth): “I’m not attending – golf has never agreed with me. These establishments should be inclusive to all.”
(Con, Corstorphine/Murrayfield): “I may be attending depending on work and family commitments.
“I think the First Minister is wrong. During the Open the club is open to all and the economic benefit for the Lothians is massive and he is personally putting this in danger for future years. I understand other Scottish Government ministers are attending – why are they going if it is wrong?”
(Lab, Craigentinny/Duddingston): “I am not invited to Muirfeild and yes I do support Alex Salmond’s position because I strongly believe that male-only golf clubs are a thing of the past and there is no place for discrimination in modern society.
(SNP, Leith Walk): “No I am not attending the Open and yes I support the First Minister’s stance on this – I believe the club’s position on women golfers is outdated and there really is no place for it in our modern Scotland.
(Green, Leith): “I’ve not been invited and wouldn’t go. Alex Salmond is right –
male-only institutions are archaic and belong in the Victorian age.”
(SNP, Craigentinny/Duddingston, below): “I’ve not been invited and probably wouldn’t go. In this day and age it’s time all-male clubs opened their doors to all.”
(Lab, Liberton/Gilmerton): “I’m not invited. I would not go to an all-male golf club – I totally disapprove. In this day and age, it’s a nonsense. It’s one thing I do agree with Alex Salmond on.”
(Con, Meadows/Morningside): “I would go if I was invited. It’s for the FM to make his own judgement whether he goes, but he did go to St George’s Sandwich which is also a male-only club.”
(SNP, Musselburgh West): “In total agreement with the FM. I like a leader with guts, someone able to take on vested interest. So when he uses his influence to challenge the snobby, blackballing, misogynistic rules of an ancient class-
and gender-based elite he has my fullest approval.”
(Con, Dunvar & East Linton): “I haven’t been invited but would probably attend if I was. A shame the FM isn’t going but it’s a matter for him.”
(Con, Forth): “I would politely decline – I’m not interested in golf. It’s up to Alex Salmond to decide if he goes.”
(Lab, Portobello/ Craigmillar): “I’ve not been invited but I’m open to offers. Yes I would go because I’m a lover of golf and I’d love the opportunity to see such a marvellous tournament.
“I would not join a club that had such old-fashioned rules in place, but the Open is a sporting event in its own right and many of those attending would also have the same principles.”
(Green, Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart): “I have never been invited and I agree with Alex Salmond’s stance. Sport should be about access for everyone and clubs that exclude half the population are an embarrassment in 21st century Scotland.”
(Con, Colinton/Fairmilehead): “I hope to attend, work and weather permitting. The Open is a huge financial asset for the Lothians and during the week of the Championship, the course and the club are open to all. Lady golfers can pay to play at Muirfield throughout the year.”
“I am a member of Dunbar Golf Club and we have the opportunity to marshal at the Open. At Dunbar we have a large female membership with equal status, so no problems there.
“The First Minister’s comments and actions are for him but I tend to sympathise with them. I will be attending the venue if I get the chance to marshal.”
(Lab, Haddington and Lammermuir): “I will be attending the Open to help promote East Lothian all over the world as Scotland’s golf coast. I look forward to meeting and welcoming all who show an interest in what we are doing here; it is a pity that the First Minister will not be among them.”
(Lab, Portobello/Craigmillar): “I have neither been invited nor will be attending. In Edinburgh, we introduced a stipulation that unless golf and other sports clubs exercise an equal opportunities policy, they wouldn’t get full rates relief.
“If the First Minister is making a principled stance, not opportunist political posturing then I would say good on him!”
(SNP, Musselburgh West): “I have not been invited and have no plans to attend. I think the FM’s stance will help draw attention to organisations which in the 21st century are still run according to 19th century thoughts and values.”
(SNP, Musselburgh East & Carberry): “The First Minister is right to highlight this issue and signal that the time for such discrimination in 2013 should be at an end. I hope that in the near future we will see all golfers, regardless of gender, able to apply for membership.”