SPFL: A model democracy

Date: 16th May 2020

The latest from SFSA writer Donald Stewart and his views on the democratic system at the SPFL, or lack of it:

I might be out of step. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I am banking on it never being the last time.


Every time I hear the phrase, it is a member’s organisation when anyone refers to the SPFL, I chuckle.

Describing the bastion of blazers and baloney as something akin to the local golf club or the darts league where one member one vote means something is truly, to me, laughable. Whilst a global pandemic rages, the 42 clubs are tearing themselves apart because they cannot overturn by simple majority, the way they do business.

This is because they simply created an undemocratic system that put power in the hands of cabals; groups of self-interested parties bound together at different times for different reasons. Not one cabal, not two and not always the same members but the system does the opposite of democracy – it creates a tyranny.

Democracy requires an influence, systems of checks and balances. To be effective there needs to be balance, even jeopardy. People need to feel the sweat on the back of their necks as the possibility of losing hinges upon the quality of their argument and not the massive challenge of convincing eight out of ten of your merits.

Democracy is all about putting power into the hands of a majority view. Whether it be first past the post or some kind of proportional representation the key word in all systems of democracy is fairness.

In the SFA it would appear that we have the balance of fairness based on money. Your importance is defined by league placing. League placing brings rich pickings. Rich pickings brings similar league placings. League placings bring… and so the merry go round goes round … and the rich get …

The orthodoxy suggests that handing the likes of Elgin City the same power as the likes of Hibernian is unfair because the effect of a vote will proportionately affect the bigger clubs more; the wee clubs don’t get it, the wee clubs never get it.

The thesis by those with big budgets furthermore suggests that by making it all even and normal, like in a real democracy where simple majorities rule, we would jeopardise so much – like commercial deals … like the economic efficiency of the system … like sporting integrity…

They argue, how would the chairman of Brechin City know as much about football and its running as the Chairman of Aberdeen?


Remember when there was a certain big Glasgow Club needing to be put back in the league and the chair of Brechin pointed out that he ran a football club with no debt, whilst Aberdeen…

The current system of needing 75 or 80% votes in any league for change means that if a decent or half decent idea surfaces it is dead in the water because nothing unless there is a crisis can gain 80% approval. 80%.

That has as much to do with democracy as the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea; which has less to do with people than it has to do with democracy. But if you keep repeating the lie…

That this goes unchallenged is, however, understandable.

The people who voted for the rules are the very people who should now see how stupid they are.

But rather than question how we should look as we come out of a pandemic. Instead of working out how to deal with the most serious crisis facing Scottish football we have Dunfermline cat calling Inverness, Morton call for change, Stranraer howl with indignation, Hearts contemplate legal action and Rangers rallying no mutiny; we may be left with a shell.

The one positive negative may be that the pandemic will solve the issue of relegation and the size of the SPFL as both Kelty Hearts and Cove Rangers may be taking the place of liquidated clubs amongst the 42 as some are unlikely to survive.

So, what of a new and shiny structure that allows change by a simple majority?

Never going to happen. Why? Because the darts league and the golf club, those symbols of democracy don’t hold such large cash sums, don’t hold such prestigious competitions, don’t attract such vast sums in sponsorship or provide TV opportunities through multi Million pound deals…

The current system is rotten because it means that 3 or 4 clubs from any league can conspire to vote anything down. As there are three places for direct promotion, nine further play off possibilities as well as three relegation places and three further play off uncertainties, there is simply no way you can muster change as these have built in jeopardy to block change; there will always be self-interest.

On top of that, the BIG TWO, have sway. And so they should. They are the big two. But not in a democracy, they should simply be one of the gang.

It is therefore time, I think, to give up the People Democratic Republic of SPFL land and start to build a democracy or a shareholder company where we see honesty. If we don’t then we shall see that in perpetuity, the league standings will be dictated annually by a grant given by the SPFL to keep those clubs in those league places in those league places until the end of time – with an occasional swap as an upstart gets an unfair investment from outside.

But will they put that simple majority idea on the table?

I think they should but as I said – I am out of step… but if they do I bet you it won’t get voted through…

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