David Johnston assesses the Gammell report: ‘This quixotic proposal’

One of the 70 plus people interviewed during the review has his say on why clubs should not vote for what has been proposed

Sir Bill Gammell, along with Norman Murray, has come up with a radical new vision for the governance of Scottish Rugby. Image: Craig Watson
Sir Bill Gammell, along with Norman Murray, has come up with a radical new vision for the governance of Scottish Rugby. Image: Craig Watson

THIS review is almost Orwellian, quixotic, mental … To refuse, as Messrs Gammell and Murray steadfastly do, to challenge the performance of those currently in charge of the business, being exactly those who were responsible for the failings which forced their review in the first place, could easily be considered to be an insult to the Union of Scottish Rugby Clubs. It is also so blatantly weighted in favour of those same parties as to be considered an insult to the Clubs’ intelligence.

The review has been described as an attempted power grab. Looking at the detail and the process, it seems to me to be not so much a power grab as a proposal for voluntary neutering, whereby Gammell and Murray come up with the plan, which hands everything to the Board and Executive, and the Board then tell the ‘security guards’ in the Council that ‘this has to happen in the next five minutes’. Instead of saying: ‘Hang on, why the rush? Do you really propose no more Council, no elections etc etc?’ What do the Council do? They immediately throw open all the windows and doors, and usher in the Board and Executive to take away the crown jewels. As I say, mental.

Reviewing the initial reaction, in some ways this is playing out a bit like the General Election. It’s being portrayed as being all about trust and who are perceived to be good guys and who are not. And it’s hard to find any good ones! Governance should not be down to individuals nor should it degenerate into ‘us’ versus ‘them’. It has to stand the test of time. Gammell and Murray try to say that their scheme will, but largely ignoring of the original cause of the review and coming up with totally lopsided conclusions makes this a very strange proposal indeed.

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Some say that the Union of clubs, through the Council and their Forums, have been an absolute pain in the whatever by blocking all sorts of stuff the executive would like to do – though I struggle to think of any examples.

Let’s say however, that they have been.

Why shouldn’t they? They own the business. The Council and Forums being totally obstructive or totally asleep is not, however, good for the business or the sport and that must be addressed.

No sane person would give the Council total control but that is the position in the current bylaws. If you own a business, as the Clubs do, it is  your prerogative if you want to drive it into a wall. But this is a governing body so that cannot be allowed to happen. We need to change.

On the other hand, some say the current Board and Executive are doing a fantastic job – despite the many recent examples to the contrary.

Let’s say however, that they are stars.

Giving them absolute control over who joins them in the future – they control the finances for the Super6 clubs and so through these clubs can secure the five votes necessary to nominate whichever face they want to choose as being  right in their eyes to fit any vacant role – is still not a sound idea, for as with any virtual dictatorship, abuses occur and the people suffer.

Good governance doesn’t need yes men and women offering themselves up to join the party but a balance of thinkers and doers, agitators and steady hands. Normally this comes via open election, a concept cemented in to sports governing bodies worldwide, but to be dispensed with at Murrayfield. Gammell and Murray think this will ‘liberate’ the Board and Executive, presumably from those pesky clubs, and allow them free rein to plot world domination with the Private Equity millions on the way.

No sane person can say that the past three years have been an unblemished success for the Board and Executive and yet Gammell and Murray and their supporters would have us forget all this, apparently on the assumption that the Board and Executive are really good guys, and a structure designed to give them total power will make then less prone to error. No, I dont follow that either.

It seems to me to be rather naively deluded to invite Scotland’s rugby clubs to ignore the evidence of the very recent past and to expect them to simply move on in the hope that the leopards will change their spots.

If this review does go through then this is the end of the Scottish Rugby Union. Clubs will have as much say as I have as a minor shareholder in Standard Life Aberdeen PLC. Next to none. And with ominous parallels to Agenda 3, I fear we are already a long way along that track of ‘you asked for it’ and ‘it’s gonna happen’. The CEO was quoted in regard to Typhoon Hagibis as saying “We’re being driven down a tramline around scheduling … that doesn’t need to be there”. Why the indecent haste to force this review through?

That this has come so far so quickly is final confirmation if we required it that the current Board and Council are not fit for purpose. Private Equity money is not driving this. England, Wales and Ireland have pre Dunlop structures and they are not moving heaven and earth to kick out elected representation. Wales have changed their Board very recently, and they have EIGHT elected club reps on a Board of 12, including the Chair.

And no one can or will explain what this review gives the Board and Executive that they did not get at the 2016 SGM when the corporate structure was also changed to deal with third party inward investment.

Many of us who were interviewed came away with good expectations. There were some good ideas bounced around, but we did not know just how subjective population of the various Boards was to be. It’s all in the detail, which is why, incidentally, clubs should not go anywhere near an SGM to approve anything at all, without seeing the proposed articles of association for the new guarantee company. This type of parent entity could be a good idea, but they need to publish the legal advice and they need to stop all the nonsense about the Trust being a Great Wall for the clubs to negotiate. The Trustees do what the Council tell them. If they don’t, the Council elect themselves as Trustees and remove the objectors.

One of the big justifications heard by those of us interviewed was the number of meetings the CEO and COO had to attend annually.  50+ was the number bandied about.  However, this reasoning has been very much toned down to this: “In any given year certain members of the SRU management and secretariat could be required to attend more than 50 regularly scheduled meetings of the various bodies with the existing SRU structure.”

So, probably not the CEO and COO then, though no schedule or attendance records have been produced. Yet this rather petty rationale seems to be a major plank on which the review is based. Even if true, the staff at Murrayfield are employed to serve the member clubs and to do that properly must involve more meetings than you would expect to find in other businesses.

The authors say that their scheme gives the clubs a voice. Wow! At the moment the clubs through the Council choose to allow the Board to run Scottish rugby. The Council and Clubs own Scottish rugby and all of its assets. Yet it is proposed that they give up this power for a voice, and a very faint one at that.

As I say, the proposal is almost Orwellian. Where once there was election there is now selection. Selection by the Board who presided over Russell and NDAs, and gave the CEO a contract extension in the middle of these debacles. They know best …

What to do?

The clubs should stop this in its tracks. Here are suggested responses they could give to the various parties –

To Messrs Gammell and Murray:

Thank you for your efforts. This is not however Cairn and it is not Manchester United. We note your “radical, pioneering, progressive and liberating” ideas which, however, destroy our democratic structures.

Thanks, but no thanks.

To the Council:

If you really have endorsed the principles in this review, which destroy the Scottish Rugby Union, you have demonstrated that you are not fit for purpose. Turkeys voting for Christmas is not normally a concern, but this would be a total dereliction of duty to those who elected you. One wonders, given the severity of the changes, about the responsibility you have to your constituents. What legal advice did you take?

You should all consider your positions.

To the Board:

Stop digging. This review is embarrassing. Look at the Nolan Principles.  Look at the decisions taken ahead of the review’s completion. Your Chair, well into his nine year term, in breach of even this review’s recommendations, whilst you shamelessly infer in the most recent Annual Report that this is the norm. The independent non-executive Directors are appointed for terms of up to three years at a time and would normally be expected to serve for a minimum of two terms. Look at the failure to call reviews where the answer is known to be unpalatable. Look at the excessive secrecy and lack of transparency in the organisation. You even tried to keep the remit of this review secret! Look at our standing in World and European rugby. Look at your standing with your members/shareholders.

You should all consider your positions

And here is a message to the Clubs:

Messrs Gammell and Murray have done you a service. They have come up with a template which could be used for the benefit of the clubs, not to wantonly destroy the democratic principles on which your Union is based. Instead of voting for virtual dictatorship, instruct Dunlop or his chosen successor to collect a group together to  review and amend his structure or to use the Gammell/Murray template to sort the malaise which produced this monstrosity of a proposal. Do not rush in to this. There is absolutely no need to hurry.

Sir Bill Gammell and Norman Murray recommend radical change in SRU governance



About David Johnston 6 Articles
David Johnston played 27 times in the centre for Scotland out of Watsonians RFC, including all four matches during the 1984 Grand Slam season. He also coached the Myreside club, progressing through the ranks to Scotland A and ultimately the full national team between 1995 and 1998. He is a (now retired) lawyer and was an independent panellist on the Dunlop panel, which drew up the current SRU constitution after the previous governance structure imploded in 2005.


  1. Board should remember as they drink the water who built the well. Look how they have treated Murrayfield Wanderers. One of the founding members. who will be next. Money for teams in Washington,money for teams in Nice!!

  2. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog!
    You employ someone (or group of people) to manage you business to the best of their ability but it appears that they have had the agenda of taking over your business for their own gain? They controll who has a say, ensuring anyone that may have a different idea is immediately sent to coventry via the non-disclosure route or they selectively have a review that is almost certain to be in their own favour. If it is good and well, If not it is kept a secret within and disposed of in the cicular filing cabinet aka the bin!
    Those who represent the clubs must act on behalf of all those who have held similar positions or been members over the years to kick this review straight into touch at the first opportunity!

  3. A really constructive article
    All clubs must NEVER give up their hold on THEIR Union as they at present they own the Union and long may it continue.
    On reading the review what comes across loud and clear it is a total POWER TAKE OVER which in my opinion should never be allowed to happen ,the stakeholders i.e the club’s have to stand up and be counted in order to hold on to THEIR Union.

    I agree that there should be a separate group to run Pro rugby and Domestic rugby run by the correct rugby people and not by Independant people .

  4. David, great article. I thought I had stepped into an alternative reality when I read Finley Calders article in the Herald yesterday. How can any level headed person endorse this report. Orwellian indeed. Having read report they are asking the clubs to put themselves into the hands of a board who at best have been inept in the handling of Scottish Rugby. Total power into the hands of a single entity who are not exactly rugby people.. The clubs are the owners of Scottish rugby. I could go on more but I am still reeling at what they think is best for Scottish rugby. We may need reform but this cannot be allowed to be rushed through.

  5. At a time when significant external funding may become available to the SRU, now is not the time for an executive team who has been shown at best to have bad judgement be allowed to have uncontrolled decision making authority.

    This proposed structure is not fit for purpose but WHEN rejected the clubs have a responsibility to take co-ordinates action in a clear and unified manner.

    Let’s be clear. The shareholders in the SRU have lost faith in the executives. The CEO should not have had his contract extended especially when his actions we under legal review and this report now confirms significant reform is required but with a democratic not authoritative process.

  6. Great article (some typos in the sub-heading).

    The conclusions lead me to believe that the SRU is suffering somewhat from Groupthink in its higher echelons.

    I appreciate the amateur and professional games diverging, and the challenges this poses for governance, but think the clubs need a greater voice while they are trying to grow participation numbers.

    Maybe something like Junior rugby, like they have in football, could be a solution for the next few years (I think, ironically, that junior football has outlived its usefulness in football which now has far greater participation numbers and professional players. A pyramid structure would work there now, even if it would probably mean “stronger but fewer” clubs).

  7. Before reading David Johnston’s excellent critique I had tried to read & understand the G&M report & found myself left with an impression that I did not trust the conclusions.
    I now understand more & my earlier gut instincts were totally valid.
    The clubs should send a message to the executive management reminding them who, effectively, employs them & tell them to stick the report in the round filing basket below their desks.
    The executive management team have over-stepped their authority with this takeover bid & should be given formal warnings.

  8. Excellent article. I hope the clubs act together. I worry they will be picked off by a more organised executive team. Rugby in Scotland must develop from the base up. The professional game should act to inspire us – but rugby will only thrive if we increase participation.

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