Sir Bill Gammell – who has co-authored a wide-ranging review into the business and governance structures of Scottish Rugby which will be distributed to clubs this morning – acknowledges that what he is proposing is “radical” but has urged clubs to take a leap of faith. 

The former Scotland international and millionaire businessman has been working on this overhaul of the game alongside his long-standing business associate Norman Murray for the last six months, and has now come up with a proposal which includes abolition of the concept of meaningful elected representation in the game’s governing body.

Under the proposals, the SRU Council (elected by member clubs to oversee the work of the ‘SRU Limited’ Board) and the SRU Trust (which holds the assets of the organisation on behalf of the clubs) will be dissolved, with their roles and responsibilities as the constitutional backstop of the game being transferred to the Board of a new company limited by guarantee.

This Board will be 10 to 12 people strong and consist of an ‘independent’ chair, six ‘independent’ non-executive directors (three with suitable rugby experience), three executive directors and up to two further ‘independent’ appointees as required.

Crucially, none of these individuals will be elected by the membership, rather they will be hand-picked by a ‘Nominations Committee’ made up of existing Board members. At least initially, the Board of ‘New SRU’ will be heavily populated by current members of the ‘SRU Limited’ Board.

Below the ‘New SRU’ (a holding company) will sit ‘SRU Limited’ (the trading arm of the business), and below that will be two management boards – one for the professional game [Professional Performance Board – PPB] and one for the amateur club game [Rugby Development Board – RDB].

Both bodies will constitute committees reporting to the SRU executive team, which will in turn report to the 'Existing SRU Limited' and the ‘New SRU’ Boards.

This sounds promising, but then we discover that while clubs have the opportunity to ‘nominate’ candidates, the actual appointments will be made by an RDB Nominations Committee which will comprise the Chair of the RDB (appointed by the main Nominations Committee), the SRU Director of Domestic Rugby (appointed by the SRU Executive) and two of the 'New SRU' independent directors (also appointed by the main Nomination Committee). It will, therefore, be hand-picked by the main Board/Executive.

The proposal is certain to cause deep anxiety throughout the Scottish club game about the prospect of it being a power grab by certain members of the current ‘SRU Limited’ Board, who are set to dominate – at least initially – the ‘New SRU’ Board.

This all comes at the end of a torrid couple of years for the SRU, during which time the Board has lurched from one governance and/or PR disaster to the next, including –

  • The loss of an unfair dismissal case brought by former Director of Domestic Rugby Keith Russell
  • The widespread dismay at the liberal use of non-disclosure agreements for departing staff
  • The subsequent whitewash orchestrated by SRU Chairman Colin Grassie and Board member Lesley Thomson QC of the issues raised by the Russell-affair
  • The eviction of Murrayfield Wanderers from their traditional home on the Murrayfield campus
  • The heavy-handed tactics used to force through the controversial Super6/Agenda 3 overhaul of the club game
  • The dismissive attitude of the top table to member clubs at an SGM in March
  • The fine and reprimand issued against SRU Chief Executive Mark Dodson for bringing the game into disrepute.

It is generally felt that most – if not all of these issues – were a consequence of a chief executive and a few close allies being able to overrun a toothless Council which found itself tied in knots by strictly enforced confidentiality and collective responsibility rules.

Now, rather than strengthen the power of the Council (or a suitable replacement), Gammell and Murray recommend dispensing with it altogether.

“I can't comment on the past,” said Gammell. “All I can do is try and create the future. The guys on the Council and the Board have bought into the idea that you need the appropriate skillsets in the appropriate places to hold accountability. And the accountability should come from properly qualified people in the right places to hold the right people to account.”

In fact, while the Council may well have agreed for the need for change, it seems that they have not endorsed this proposal – rather they have endorsed the principle of it being distributed (without recommendation) for the clubs to make up their own minds. 

For the proposals to be adopted they must achieve a two-thirds majority at a Special General Meeting of the SRU planned for February or March, then a second SGM in May will seek to ratify the detailed documentation of the new constitution and approve the transfer of the shareholding to ‘New SRU’.