The unprecedented connection between the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party and the country’s football league has been highlighted, after Douglas Ross arranged a meeting with clubs for this Friday to discuss how he can assist with the impact of the pandemic. Less than 48 hours later Ross will be an assistant referee as Rangers host Ross County in the Scottish Premiership.
In a letter circulated to all members of the Scottish Professional Football League and seen by the Guardian, the Stenhousemuir chairman, Iain McMenemy, said he had been “contacted by the office of Douglas Ross MP indicating that he would like to hold a video call with clubs to discuss the impact on clubs if fans are not allowed into stadiums”.
McMenemy said: “Having discussed with the SPFL and Scottish FA, I have agreed to facilitate the meeting in order to give clubs the opportunity to directly inform a prominent elected member of the issues that clubs are having to deal with, and hear from him with regards to any help that he may be able to provide to clubs.”
McMenemy added that he would “encourage fellow clubs to take part if at all possible, as we are often asking for our views to be heard, so now that an MP has reached out offering us this opportunity, I think it is in our interests to take this up”.
Ross was appointed as the Tory leader in Scotland in August. He is a long-time specialist assistant referee – appointed by the Scottish FA – in the country and has filled that role during top-flight matches in the opening weeks of this season. “It’s just a virtual roundtable that I’m having with clubs because I’ve been contacted by a number of them about how football at lower leagues can restart in the pandemic,” Ross told the Guardian.
The MP for Moray denied any suggestion of this intervention representing a conflict of interest for a Scottish FA match official. “Not at all, because I’m meeting them as leader of the Scottish Conservatives and the main opposition party in Scotland,” he said. “It’s to discuss how we can help clubs in Scotland get through a really difficult period, in the same way that I’ve met with a cross-section of groups and individuals since I became leader. It’s just a continuation of the discussions that I’m having across Scotland.
“I understand that [his status as a referee] makes it interesting for some but I wasn’t stopped from having a meeting with the teachers’ union just because I happen to be the brother of a secondary school teacher in Scotland. I’m not stopped from having meetings with the police because my wife is a sergeant with Police Scotland. Every politician has interests and connections. I am the leader of the Scottish Conservatives and I think it’s right to discuss a range of issues with a range of stakeholders. This is just one of a series of meetings.”
A spokesman for the Scottish FA said: “We were made aware that a meeting had been arranged via a member club, which is their prerogative.” It is understood the chief executives of the Scottish FA and SPFL were invited to Friday evening’s discussion but declined.
The Scottish Championship and Leagues One and Two begin on the weekend starting Friday 16 October. With no immediate prospect of spectators in grounds, Premiership clubs held a meeting on Wednesday and largely discussed how the Scottish government could be pushed towards some form of assistance.