IF you look closely at professionalism and how it has developed in Scottish rugby, it doesn’t take you long to conclude that too often there were too many vested interests in the running of the game in this country.

The trouble with vested interests is that the people possessing them never wear a vest that says “this is my interest”, so that plenty of times over the past 25 years it has not been possible to identify exactly which vested interest was saying or doing something.

Many people still think the lack of stable progress under professionalism has been all about the clubs v districts argument, and I’ll come to that later. Other people blame Murrayfield – literally so because the debts that accrued during the reconstruction of the stadium proved almost overwhelming, so much so that in 1998 the SRU’s debts stood at £18m – all dealt with now.

I am also prepared to concede that Scottish rugby was unlucky to encounter a downturn in the global economy and television revenues in the early Noughties that led to SRU chief executive Bill Watson’s cost-cutting exercise in 2003.


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The salient fact, however, is that in the professional era, Scotland have not won the Six Nations in its entire existence and last autumn the national side blew it in the World Cup again – the failure to get out of the group stage was a retrograde step and I have yet to see anybody falling on their sword for that failure.

Our two professional sides have occasionally flattered to deceive and, yes, Glasgow Warriors did win the PRO12 title in 2014-15, but given the amount of resources put into Edinburgh and Glasgow, they should have been winning more titles and trophies.

The fundamental problem in the professional game in Scotland is that vested interests won out.

You may not be surprised to learn that I think the biggest mistake was the failure of the committee blazers to fully back Jim Telfer and the late Fred McLeod – his funeral on Friday was a truly apposite memorial to a fine man – when they argued for Scotland to have four professional districts. The SRU should have stuck with the plan, borrowed heavily if needed, and should have done what the Irish did – create a solid provincial system.

The extraordinary general meeting of the SRU on February 8, 1996, was utterly crucial and an example of vested interests fighting it out – I think the problems of Scotland’s professional game stem back to that egm and its aftermath.

The meeting saw Gavin Hastings and Keith Robertson argue that professional clubs based on the existing clubs was the way ahead. McLeod pointed out that no single club in Scotland could match the likes of Toulouse and Begles-Bordeaux with their local playing base of 1000s, while Telfer passionately argued that Scotland needed a tier system with four districts at the top, clubs feeding upwards.

Brian Simmers of Glasgow Accies made a speech of forensic quality, basically saying the big clubs were looking after their own interest. The four districts plan duly won the day. Except that there was a problem in the background – Scottish rugby couldn’t afford the new set up and the four districts’ days were numbered from the get go.


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Not to put too fine a point on it, we just did not have resources that other nations had back in the late 1990s when the real problems of the Scottish game were clear – not enough money, not enough players, no real direction and looking abject until that miraculous Five Nations win in 1999. No real miracle about it, actually, we just had a squad full of very good players, real tigers in the pack and match winners in the backs such as Gregor Townsend, Glenn Metcalfe, Alan Tait, John Leslie, and Kenny Logan, all of them drilled brilliantly by Jim Telfer. And remember, we would have had a Grand Slam if Logan had kicked all his goals at Twickenham.

It lulled Scottish rugby into a sense of false security and made us all optimistic that Scotland could prosper in the Six Nations and the World Cup. But 20 almost trophy-less years later, we can look back on serial problems other than the national side’s failure – the various district mergers and de-mergers, the failed Welsh-Scottish League, the Celtic League, the Borders Reivers debacle, and we still don’t have a permanent home of its own for Edinburgh Rugby though one is on its way next Murrayfield. Oh, and remember how Glasgow Warriors very nearly moved to Stirling? It’s only latterly that Scotstoun has become their base.

There have been governance issues, repeated comings and goings at the very top of the Scottish game, and all sorts of problems – and there’s no point blaming the SRU for, after all, the Union is the clubs, isn’t it?

I am well aware there is a huge row going on at the moment within Scottish rugby over the latest governance report by Bill Gammell and Norman Murray.

I feel very strongly that given the transformation that is being proposed, the SRU’s board and council must stipulate that there should be much further discussion on the way ahead for the Union. It’s just too important to decide in a few months. And when the big decisions come to be made, all I ask is that everyone puts on their vest and declares their interest, and then remember that the biggest interest for all of us is a good, healthy future for the game in Scotland.