AFTER some growing unease about the amount of time he is devoting to the cause of saving a football club that is not based in his constituency, Federation of Hearts chairman and Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray yesterday presented his case for the defence.
The politician estimated the amount of time he spends on business which relates to the club as only four hours per week.
Murray yesterday said he has only had one visitor to his constituency office on Minto Street in Edinburgh to complain about the time he is committing to FoH, who were last week named preferred bidders by BDO, Hearts’ administrators. Murray’s involvement as a figurehead has been invaluable – not just because of the profile he is able to command, but also because of his background in business. He is Labour’s Shadow Minister for employee relations, postal and consumer affairs.
However, not everyone is happy with Murray’s association with the task of saving Hearts, further details of which were revealed at Tynecastle on Monday when the politician fronted a press conference that explained many of the ins and outs of how the supporters’ group intended to finance their bid to purchase the club. A statement said “the process is far from complete and is likely to take a significant time working to achieve”.
A letter to The Scotsman from someone claiming to be an Edinburgh South constituent has called on Murray to step aside from his role as chairman and “re-direct his full attention to the job we elected him to do”. The letter also claims there is a petition being prepared that is to be delivered to Murray’s office. However, the MP was eager to set his detractors straight yesterday. He pointed out that he was only speaking to The Scotsman after he had completed his parliamentary duties for the day. With the exception of the two big press conferences, I have been doing this in my own time,” he said. “I answer the odd email and take the odd phone call – I genuinely am doing this in my own time.”
“Another thing I would say is that some people go swimming, collect stamps or go train spotting in their spare time, I am spending my spare time on Hearts. I don’t see what the problem is.
“What people won’t report is the dozen and dozens of letters and emails I have had from constituents thanking me for getting involved and representing their views. Because although Tynecastle is not in the constituency a lot of the fanbase is.”
He estimated that his involvement takes up about four hours a week. “Unless I have the audacity to watch a match – but that is in my own time too,” he said.
“I do regularly 70 to 80 hour weeks so four hours is tiny in comparison. I still receive and answer some 700 emails a day and do more than 175 open surgeries a year. My commitment and life is to my constituency first and foremost.”
Murray will be present at Saturday’s game against Aberdeen which is being sponsored by FoH. He will address the supporters during the half-time interval at Tynecastle in an attempt to promote the FoH bid to take control of the club.
While admitting that his original prediction that FoH’s bid would take only three months to push through was a “a little on the optimistic side”, Murray denied that his involvement is impacting on his parliamentary commitments and says he has the support of his fellow MPs at Westminster.
Murray stressed he is committed to fulfilling the aims set out when he emerged as the fans’ figurehead in April. Full supporter control of the club is the objective and he is due to speak about the fan-owned model in a debate on Radio 4 this weekend – and in his own time. “If I am at Westminster the [FoH] meetings take place either late on a Thursday evening and or a Friday evening, and if I am not at Westminster they take place on a Tuesday,” he said. “We have probably three meetings a month – we don’t have them every week.
“The only time where I have taken time during my working day if I am being completely honest was two media calls we have done – once when we put a bid in and once when we were given preferred bidder status. They took about an hour and a half.
“All the other political parties have supported me in this, so I don’t think it is a political thing,” Murray added. The politician acknowledged, however, that he had personally faced down one unhappy visitor to his constituency office.
“He was a Hibs fan who wanted to talk about Hearts,” he recalled. “I said I am sorry I cannot talk about Hearts this is my parliamentary office and that is something I am doing in my own time. Then he explained that he was a constituent so I was happy to talk to him. He went away satisfied with my explanation. He said he was glad to have come in and chat to me.”
“I have helped out dozens of businesses locally, including high-profile ones,” Murray added. “I would do the same if any business was asking me to give them assistance to save jobs and save the business. It is just because it is the emotional cocktail of football that creates the problem – but it is still a business that employs a lot of people.”