SCOTTISH RUGBY’s working party on governance yesterday released a report which, as expected, adhered closely to the amendment by Heriot’s which received substantial support from delegates at a special general meeting in January.
The report, the product of five meetings of the working party, will now be subject to debate and possible amendment at a second sgm, scheduled for Sunday, 10 April.
The working party had an independent chairman in Bill Dunlop, a sheriff in Strathclyde and a member of the SRU appeals panel. Selected to include representatives of various strands within the game, it also comprised: George Blackie (SRU senior vice- president), Peter Brown (SRU non-executive director), Archie Ferguson (Glasgow District), David Johnston (independent, former Scotland assistant coach), Ian McGeechan (SRU director of rugby), Fred McLeod (SRU acting chairman and chief executive), Jock Millican (Premiership clubs), Allan Munro (non-executive director), and Charles Shaw (National League clubs).
Given the limited time available to it, the working party confined its deliberations to the top level of the game, but suggested a need for separate examinations of the way other structures such as districts work.
At that top level, the report explained, the belief was, in common with the Heriot’s amendment, that Scottish Rugby should be run by "one decision-making board accountable to the clubs via a new Scottish Rugby Council.
"We believe that effective governance can only be secured if one body is given the authority to run the business of the SRU subject only to its accountability to the major stakeholders in the Scottish game," the report continued. "These stakeholders are principally the clubs, but also include other interested groups."
The clubs will be represented on the new council, which will replace the general committee, by three representatives - one for Premiership Division 1, one for Premiership 2 and 3, and another for the National League. There will be representatives from all five districts: two each from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and one apiece from the Borders, the North and the Midlands.
Another four council members will come from a quartet of different interest groups within the game - women’s rugby, schools rugby, referees and players.
The working party summed up its main recommendations as follows:
"Replacing the existing executive board with the Scottish Rugby Board". Although the new board is similarly named to the old, the working party has also included a number of recommendations which it hopes will help avoid conflict.
"The establishment of an elected Scottish Rugby Council to replace the general committee, with an emphasis on a demonstrably open election procedure.
"The Scottish Rugby Board will comprise four executive directors, four members of the Scottish Rugby Council and four non-executive directors.
"The tenure of office on the SRB for non-executives and council members would be limited to the potential of two terms of three years." The same limit will apply to members of the SRC.
"The offices of junior and senior vice-president will be abolished and the role of president will become much more ceremonial and ambassadorial and less administrative and executive." The president should be a member of the council.
"In no circumstances should any member be eligible to serve more than six consecutive years unless the member is elected president or co-opted by council to represent council on an international body, such as IRB, Six Nations, ERC or the like. A co-opted member should not have a vote."
The working party also suggests that all current members of the general committee should be eligible for election to the first council. That includes anyone who has already served for six years or more on the committee.
Although the espousal of a reformed structure may be regarded as an implicit criticism of the general committee, the report also acknowledged that the trouble which engulfed the SRU in January - when the chairman David Mackay, was forced out, and chief executive Phil Anderton resigned - stemmed from a perception that the executive had become detached from the grassroots.
"Much of the recent unrest among clubs and others stems from a feeling that they have not been allowed to participate in or been properly consulted about important decisions. Whether that is true or not it is what is felt.
"We believe also that the existing division of powers has led to endless conflict. In order to address these issues a single body should be established whose constituent elements include a substantial representation from the council. This will both secure participation, responsiveness, transparency and freedom of information and provide the necessary checks and balances on rugby policy issues in particular."
The general committee issued a statement which welcomed the working party’s recommendations, but said some amendments might be tabled prior to the sgm next month. The committee also announced it had "severely censured" one of its members, the referees’ representative Ray Megson, following the leak of a confidential document.
The working party’s lengthy statement contains a fair number of caveats and qualifications. It is expected to be adopted without too many alterations next month, but it remains to be seen how its nicely-worded forecast of the checks and balances between board and council work out in practice.
Given a spirit of co-operation at the top of the sport in Scotland, the new proposed structure should work fairly and smoothly - but that spirit has often appeared to be in short supply over the past decade or more. Even the most neatly worded legalese can leave room for mischief-making if the will is there.