In an election year it is pleasing to see that sometimes parties put aside their political differences to act together. There is broad consensus in UK politics that even in a time where the public purse is under severe pressure there are certain things should be funded by the state and there is little serious effort to undermine this consensus. So, while there may be disputes about how much is involved no one seriously challenges the notion that public money should be used to fund health provision, education, defence, supporters buying shares in football clubs, the police, fire services etc.
Hang on a minute you may say, buying shares in football clubs? Eh?
Well, last week in what you would imagine was a unique contemporary example of Labour, SNP, Conservatives working together MSPs representing each party sat on the Scottish Parliament’s Local government and regeneration committee and considered a series of amendments proposed by a Scottish Green party MSP. The amendments involve altering company law as it applies to Scottish Football clubs by giving supporters trusts a right of first refusal in any proposed transfer of shares. I will consider in a later blog post whether this is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament (clue: good luck with that…), and how practicable this is (clue: lifting provision from the legislation for the community right to buy land where the land is definitely located in Scotland and so subject to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament might not readily translate to stop the sale of shares In a company which is not incorporated in Scotland and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament) but today let’s consider section 62P of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) bill (the full bill is here as a pdf). The provision was part of the package proposed by Green, Alison Johnstone MSP, backed by Ken Macintosh MSP who was at one point Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, and won unanimous support from the SNP, Labour, and Conservative members of the committee (the official report of the meeting is here). The Liberal Democrats were not represented on the committee. who knows what they’d have done if they’d been there.
So, what does section 62P say?
Application for funding
(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Scottish Ministers may make payments to a supporters’ trust applying to the Scottish Ministers for funding in order to make an offer to buy a football club in exercise of the right conferred by this Part of this Act.
(2) Any supporters’ trust applying for funding must have—
(a) obtained the approval of the supporters’ trust to proceed to buy the football club,
(b) obtained the consent of the Scottish Ministers to proceed to buy the football club,
(c) met any other conditions as the Scottish Ministers may so prescribe.
(3) Any application for funding must be made in such form and manner and by such date as the Scottish Ministers may prescribe, and the applicant in question shall provide such particulars and information relating to the application as the Scottish Ministers may reasonably require.
(4) The applicant shall furnish to the Scottish Ministers such further information and evidence in relation to the application as the Scottish Ministers reasonably may require in order to allow proper consideration of the application.
(5) A person may submit more than one application under this paragraph.
(6) The Scottish Ministers shall inform an applicant in writing whether the application is approved or not and if it is not approved shall give reasons in writing for not approving it
Now, this does not say that the Scottish ministers will definitely fund the purchase. But it is fairly clear that the government can be approached for funding to buy the shares. The notion that a group can be given money by the state to buy shares in a football club, seems bizarre. A failīng football club verging on insolvency, and the owner of the shares can get a pay out indirectly from the state to let the fans acquire the shareholding. Did no one think that this was at all problematic? On a day when Alex Salmond bemoans the MP who seem unaware of the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments legislation (he suggests they haven’t even read it)what are we to make of this section being passed by a committee with all party support, and not even a word to suggest that state money being used to buy shares in a football club might be a bit odd? Do we assume the legislators all approve of this, and that state funding for the acquisition of shares in football teams is a matter of political consensus? or that they didn’t read the provisions? or perhaps that they didn’t understand them?
Of course, I may have misjudged the public mood. Maybe siphoning money away from health or schools or the police or the fire service to let shares be acquired, with Scottish government money, in Rangers, or Celtic, or Hearts, or Hibs, or Dundee, or Morton, or St Mirren, or Alloa Athletic (and so on) is exactly what the public want. Either way surely a legislature scrutinising legislation, exercising the special expertise the Holyrood committee structure was meant to give, should be asking the questions, testing the provisions, considering their implications, bottoming out what the policy underlying the proposed rules actually means. Is that too much to ask?