THE SRU Council held an emergency meeting on Sunday morning to discuss concerns that the ‘guidance note’ for the motions which will be voted on at this Thursday’s AGM did not properly reflect their views – despite the note purporting to be “the position of the Council and Board of Scottish Rugby”.
There are two motions. The first, proposed by Currie RFC, seeks to reassert the authority of the elected Council to oversee the management of the Union. The second, proposed by Glasgow Hawks, seeks to increase transparency in Scottish Rugby’s decision-making processes.
While the note, which was issued last Thursday night, does state at the bottom of the fourth paragraph that the position of the Council and Board on both motions is neutral, the remainder of the three-page document does not give that impression.
It contains a series of unsubstantiated warnings of bad things which might happen if the motions are successful, like: “splitting/fragmentation of delegated powers could create uncertainty”, member clubs “may be more exposed to potential liabilities than at present if decision-making responsibilities were to alter”, it “may ultimately lead to a deviation in future from the governance principles previously established by the Dunlop Report”, and publication of redacted minutes “could affect the way in which a meeting is conducted or reported”.
There is no analysis in the note of any potential benefits the motions might bring to the running of Scottish Rugby.
As an outcome of Sunday’s emergency meeting, Ian Barr, the SRU President and Chairman of the Council, sent a letter to all member clubs on Monday afternoon to clarify that the Council had not had sight of the guidance note ahead of its release. He explained that the Council had been briefed on the points raised when the motions were first submitted back in May and reiterated that they had decided to take a neutral stance.
It boils down to there being a big difference between getting briefed on something, and that being presented as the agreed position.
If the Council did not see the note before release, and it follows that the Board – which contains four Council members, including the President, plus Vice-President Colin Rigby as an observer – did not see it either, then how could it be said that “the Council and Board considers the following may be helpful for consideration by member clubs prior to casting their votes”?
All of which begs the questions: Who wrote the note and attached it to the motions? On what authority did they do so? And to what end?
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The proposers of the motion will hope that the confusion surrounding the guidance note serves to reinforce the points they have raised with regard to remedying Scottish Rugby’s vexed relationship with member clubs.
However, there is concern that the integrity of the vote has been compromised, with many clubs likely to have discussed the motions and mandated attendees over the weekend before Barr’s clarification letter arrived just three days before the meeting.
It is not the first time in recent years that Murrayfield’s handling of Motions at an SGM has raised concern. The March 2019 meeting to deal with the issue of where to place the ‘club XVs’ of Super6 teams was a stormy affair which left many club delegates feeling they had been railroaded by the threat to pull the motion altogether if any of the amendments which had been proposed were voted through.
Barr’s letter on Monday also addressed the SGM motion which has been proposed by Biggar, seeking support for the promotion of clubs which had already achieved unassailable positions in their respective leagues by the time the 2019-20 season was declared null and void, with additional paperwork provided to help explain/rationalise the decision to declare the season null and void.
But Biggar remain frustrated by what they regard as the obstinacy of the Murrayfield legal department in stonewalling their efforts to seek a negotiated solution, which they say has driven them down the SGM route.
After seven months of being told that the results of the club survey on how to resolve the league season were confidential, a partial sample was published as part of the guidance note to their motion last Thursday, detailing the feedback from the clubs in the Premiership and National Leagues but not the regional leagues. This has reinforced long-held concerns about the reliability of the club survey.
“The information is either confidential or it is not,” said Biggar secretary Mike Booth. “Why has some – but not all – of it suddenly become freely available for the Board to use in their recommendation to vote against our motion?”
Biggar were 19 points clear of Heriot’s Blues at the top of the National One table with just three games [worth a maximum of 15 league points] left to play when Covid brought the season to a halt. They had already been presented with the league title and were beginning to plan for life in the Premiership the following season. Dalkeith were in a similar boat in East League Three.
“None of the additional paperwork we now have really changes anything, only reinforces the undue haste and flawed processes which were used to come to this decision,” added Booth. “We did ask many moons ago that the decision be set aside whilst the consultation was done again, and would have abided by any decision properly taken, but it was not taken seriously by those with the power to do that.
“Can I again reiterate that we [Biggar and Dalkeith] have no other agenda than to receive our rightfully won promotions and be able to celebrate the winning of our respective competitions. The war of words and the process which we have engaged in was forced upon us by the legal department of the SRU. I believe they thought we would just go away given enough brick walls to run into.”
The big question here is: why has the Murrayfield establishment chosen to dig their collective heels in over this? Because with all the other challenges they face at the moment, surely the Board, Council and SRU administration could do without this extra aggravation.
The SGM will take place immediately after the AGM. Both meetings will be hosted via video conference, with voting conducted electronically.
Clubs have been invited to submit questions prior to the AGM and delegates will be able to send messages to the Chair during the meeting, with all questions and answers to be posted on Scottish Rugby’s website afterwards.