When the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg revealed that postal votes painted a grim picture for Labour during the most recent general election, she prompted the Electoral Commission to release a statement which warned that “it may be an offence to communicate any information obtained at postal vote opening sessions, including about votes cast, before a poll has closed”. They appealed to anyone with knowledge of any insider trading in advance of voting to report it to the police.
Serious stuff, but it shows how strong the desire remains to protect democracy in this country. The SPFL apparently have no such qualms.
Just 48 hours after a 120-page document on their resolution to end the Championship, League One and League Two seasons and divvy up the prize fund had been doled out to member clubs, the runaround lights started flashing and, still in semi-darkness, metaphorically speaking, those involved were asked to pick their spot; either for or against,
The request was that, if possible, votes should be cast before 5pm on Friday. Given the urgency of clubs’ financial position, there was an attempt to get the voting slips in by then. But company law means that those involved actually had 28 days to arrive at their conclusion. With that in mind, it would seem ridiculous that anything but a full quota of votes, or a definitive victory one way or the other would be signalled prematurely.
Scottish football, though,has a fabulously-predictable propensity for the ridiculous.
The SPFL – a body not known for its swift thought or actions or an insatiable desire to propel its business into the public domain – released a statement before 6pm on Friday to say that it had already held a board meeting to consider the responses to the resolution and went on to reveal that, having received a significant percentage of the votes required in the Premiership and Leagues One and Two, there was still one Championship side who could veto the proposal. Stating the vote was poised at 7-2 in favour, it was clear that one club now held all the power.
It was also clear, in that minute, that the body which is supposed to serve the clubs and look out for the good of the Scottish leagues had failed in it’s duty. Straying from its secret squirrel modus operandi, it was chucking yet another club under the bus.
Put aside the SPFL’s desire to push through a resolution that sees it fail clubs who will be unfairly relegated, when their points tallies, games in hand and scheduled fixtures would still offer each and every one of them the opportunity to escape. Forget that others will be denied promotion via play-offs and the pyramid system and that the consequences for these clubs of such an inequitable solution could be dire.
Also,for a second (and only a second), park the fact that it was effectively placing a gun to the head of cash-strapped clubs by entwining the premature conclusion of the league season with prize-fund payouts, when, as a members’ organisation, few believe that a rule change would not allow for the latter to be extricated from the former, giving it time to find a fairer solution to the current crisis.
But, regardless of your views on the resolution, it is the handling of the process that has been, at best, irresponsible, at worst utterly Machiavellian.
Why else would the SPFL release the voting numbers before the polls were closed? Why else would it then go to ground, only reappearing briefly to hit back when the actions of chief executive Neil Doncaster and legal adviser Rod McKenzie, pictured inset, were called into question yesterday?
Quick to defend themselves, they happily hung others out to dry by revealing that one club now has all the power. It invited a backlash, with the Twitterati originally and, as it turns out, unfairly hitting out at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who have come out of this mess as honourably as anyone. But the real identity of club “X” eventually got out and the entire football community turned its sights on Dundee.
With their anonymity stolen from them and everyone now watching which way they finally sway, Dundee have been set up as the scapegoats.
Let’s be honest, given the promises made and their subsequent admission that self-interest saw them stall their vote once they realised their bargaining power, the image of the Dens Park side as a cloaked, cackling, moustache-twiddling baddie may be unavoidable now. But, the truth is, like every other club, they have the right to jump either way.
But, thanks to the SPFL’s absence of care and disregard for democracy, the public have now seen the voting slip, signed by managing director John Nelms, and they have heard the tale about it being submitted by secretary Eric Drysdale only to discover that the SPFL had somehow not received it.
If, after a weekend listening to inducements, Dundee stick to their guns, those who have wasted time wooing them are not going to be happy. But if they change their mind they will be cast as backstabbers and, while they will get their share of the prize fund, the club will have a reputation worth little. This is a test of their character and how highly people can value their word.
And when this is all over, they will only have the SPFL to thank if their relationships with others is strained.
Did the SPFL reveal the voting numbers knowing that a bit of digging would quickly expose Dundee and leave them in this tricky spot? Did they accede to pressure from key players in the Scottish game to effectively out the team whose vote so conveniently wasn’t cast, despite being submitted? Or where they just careless?
Whatever the case, should Dundee now change their mind, the outcome cannot be considered just.
There is a reason polling stations synchronise opening times, a reason why postal votes are not counted until the last booth is shut. The SPFL didn’t just expose Dundee on Friday, they undermined democracy and cast doubt on the credibility of the result. For that, they deserve all the criticism coming their way.