On 23 January the Scottish Green Party put forward plans to give football fans a right to acquire their clubs in certain circumstances. Alison Johnstone (a list MSP for the Lothians) has produced a document entitled “Putting the fans in control” that sets out how this might work, the proposal taking the form of an amendment to the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.
With Scotland’s love of fitba, this appealed to the press and was duly reported. With my twin loves of fitba and law (documented in a prior blog), this appealed to me. Here are a few of my eclectic thoughts on this move towards greater fan ownership.
Aren’t there more important things in life than sport?
Of course there are. In fact, you might get a bit philosophical here and point out that freedom of speech won’t feed your children (to paraphrase a human rights song by the Manic Street Preachers), or that you can’t eat empowerment. You would of course be right. But that does not mean that you cannot make small improvements just because you are unable to make mega improvements. Now that this proposal has been made, the elected legislature’s role is to decide if this is indeed an improvement to be taken forward.
Why fitba? There are other sports too you know.
Of course there are. But fitba was the only sport stigmatised by the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. If you can stigmatise fitba fans for the special role their chosen sport plays in society, why can’t you empower them?
But it’s my ba. I don’t want to play!
In many circumstances, this would be an understandable exclamation from the owner of the football in the school playground. “It’s mine, you can’t have it,” is a perfectly acceptable and in fact expected reaction from a person who does not want something they own interfered with. But the European Convention of Human Rights is framed in such a way that it can be interefered with in certain circumstances (when it is in the public interest).
Is this proposal in the public interest?
I can’t answer that, but you might get some interesting views from fans of Rangers, Dunfermline, Gretna, Hearts and indeed Third Lanark (if you can find any); not to mention fans from England or even further afield.
So how will it work?
This is where it gets interesting. There is a pun there, as will be tortuously revealed in due course. In the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, “communities of place” are given a right to buy land. This proposal is moving towards empowering “communities of interest.” Owners of football clubs (and indeed anything else) can quite legitmately expect due process and some certainty before expropriation happens. With a community of place, it is normally easy to know whom you are dealing with. That might not be as clear with a community of interest. So there may be a role for Scottish Ministers or another body to approve the fan groups that are to be bestowed with this power before they can take a fan-buyout forward. Without such a process, it would be very difficult for an owner to know which body represents the fans’ interests.
But won’t fans just make a mess of it?
To quote a parody of Kenny Dalgleish, maybes aye, maybes naw. But maybe they should have a chance.
So what now?
Beyond that, there is much speculation as to how or whether it would work. Which seems like a logical place to end this rather speculative blog. Further developments will be watched by this fitba fan, and others like him, with interest.