Scotland politics

Right-to-buy move for Scottish football backed by MSPs

Football match Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Fans would be given the first right of refusal if their club put up for sale or goes into administration

MSPs have backed plans to allow fans the right to buy their football clubs.

Members of the local government committee supported amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill to extend the right-to-buy to football fans.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who moved the amendments, told the committee that agreeing to the changes would turn the legislation into a landmark bill.

If passed by the full parliament, supporters' trusts would get "first refusal" when a club comes up for sale.

A supporters' trust with a registered interest in a football club would also have the right to buy shares in that club, including a controlling interest, at any point.

It is understood the Scottish FA and the Scottish Professional Football League are against the plans.

Nothing to fear

The bill was initially designed to allow community groups the right to purchase local land but could now be extended to football clubs.

Ms Johnstone said: "This is an extraordinary day for the future of Scottish football.

"We know how badly the game has been struggling, from Gretna to Hearts and Rangers, and we know fan ownership works.

"It's great that parliament has today united around the principle of a responsible fans' right to buy their clubs."

The Scottish Green MSP said that, if passed by the full Scottish Parliament, fans would have "nothing to fear from irresponsible owners like those who have undermined so many clubs".

She added: "We know there are plenty of good private owners of clubs, and this will not require fans to buy them out, but when they move on, fans will be in the right place to take over if they wish."

Ms Johnstone's amendments bring the principles of rural land reform laws, which help communities buy land, to supporters of football clubs.

Appointed valuer

The new legislation would mean that supporters' trusts would legally register an interest in a football club.

This would mean the owner of the club would be prohibited from "taking any action with a view to the transfer of ownership of that football club" until it had complied with the act.

The supporters' trust would then be given an opportunity to buy the club at a price assessed by an appointed valuer.

Local Government Minister Marco Biagi said the Scottish government wanted to give fans the right to buy their clubs using regulations which would be put in place after the bill was passed.

"Affirmative procedure for the development of the details, with the aim put in the bill, would allow consultation with the wider football community; it would allow consultation, as appropriate, with the parliament; and it would ensure that we don't just endorse the principle but we ensure that any legislation we introduce we get right," he said.

Scottish Labour's Ken Macintosh, who supported Ms Johnstone's amendments, said: "I believe it would be difficult for anyone in Scotland to stand up and defend the current state of Scottish football in terms of its accountability, its sustainability or simply its success.

"Football fans and local communities have not only lost out, they have been made to feel powerless, sometimes even taken advantage of or had their goodwill exploited."

"Fan ownership is not the only option but it should be one of the options open to all those who want to see Scottish football thrive."

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