Trust address to the AGM 2007

Published on Wednesday 31st October, 2007 by Celtic Trust

Jeanette Findlay, Celtic Trust, opposing resolution 3, for the election of John Reid to the Board of Celtic PLC. Can I begin by wishing Brian Quinn the very best on his retirement and thank him for his contribution to Celtic over the past seven years. Following the announcement from the Board that John Reid was to be invited to join the Board, with the anticipation that he would become the Chairman, the Trust took general soundings on this issue among the Celtic support and more particularly its own members. This culminated in a members’ meeting where the issue was discussed over a lengthy period before the vote to oppose this resolution was taken. I would like now to outline our main reasons for taking this view: and I want to begin by addressing some general concerns about the process for selecting a board member, particularly one who, we are told, is to become the Chairman. The Trust has argued for a number of years now that the governance of Celtic PLC would be improved by having among it board members someone who is able to represent the views of the fans and who is accountable to them. The Board, and the current Chairman, have disagreed with us, but during these discussions, the argument put forward by our opponents is that board membership is open to people who can bring something to the board in terms of skills or experience and that such a person must not be identified with a particular interest, that is, she or he must be genuinely independent. Brian Quinn has, on at least one occasion, suggested that if we want someone elected to the Board that we put their name forward. However, who among the shareholders here, knew that such a search was ongoing? Who knew that names were already being considered? Who knew what the search criteria were? We certainly didn’t. So at the very least the process lacks transparency. The Trust has recently been assured by Peter Lawell and Robert Howat that the process undertaken was exactly what would be expected in any PLC; that it was just the norm. Our view is that Celtic is not ‘any PLC’ and that maybe, we should be considering these things is a different way. The fact that Celtic is not just ‘any PLC’ or indeed, for most of us, just another football club, works both ways. On the one hand the current custodians of the club are able to enjoy, and indeed rely on, a level of customer loyalty which goes far beyond anything any other PLC might enjoy, and which persists under all circumstances and almost independently of how well or badly this PLC is run. In recognition of this, we believe that those who run the club should incorporate the views of its stakeholders in a far more coherent and consistent way than it currently does; for some of us that might mean having a directly elected representative of the fans on the board, but, at the very least it should mean that the board somehow reflects among its members what this club means. So among the criteria it might look at should be: · Support for the club · Someone who is successful in their field, be it business or public service · Someone who has no association with business or political controversy · Someone who is well known for charitable or social activism in order to reflect the charitable origins of Celtic from Brother Walfrid onwards · Someone who is independent of the other shareholders so that they can best represent all shareholders and all non-shareholding supporters I hesitate to say it but you might even consider broadening the ethnic or gender base of the board which consists, in its entirety, of white men. Instead, and judging only from the outcome of the process, since we have no knowledge of the process itself (even that it was happening), you have looked no further than the same narrow pool of businessmen and politicians that populate all football clubs. We believe that there must be out there someone who could brings talent, skills and energy to the board, who would more accurately reflect the broader mass of the support, but who is not one of the great and the good among whom you have conducted this search. One simple step, and one which we urge you to take in the future, would be to hold some discussions with the wider supporter base and its organisations about the type of person or indeed the names of potential candidates that could then be considered. I now come to the question of John Reid himself. He clearly meets at least one of the criteria I outlined earlier in that he is, without doubt, a Celtic supporter of many years standing. However, it would be difficult to argue that he meets any other criteria that could not have been equally met, or met to a greater extent, by many other people who do not carry with them the problems that John Reid’s candidacy carries. John Reid, leaving aside his reputation arising from his other Ministerial roles, is closely and irretrievably identified with a war which is widely held to be both illegal and immoral, which was based on lies, and which has brought devastation not only to the thousands of innocent Iraqis but has resulted in the death of many young soldiers from this country. For better or worse, his name, like that of Tony Blair and George Bush, will forever be identified with that political and humanitarian disaster. That alone, would be enough to make him entirely unsuitable to be the public face of a social and cultural institution like Celtic with its historical connection to the plight of an oppressed people. We are told that John Reid brings with him international contacts which will be helpful to the way the Board wishes to develop Celtic as a business. Are you actually telling us, that there is no other candidate who could match this characteristic but who would not, at the same time, be a hate figure for many both at home and abroad? That simply cannot be true. Even if you disagree with those who view John Reid as one of the main exponents of an illegal war, why bring this level of controversy to our club? It makes no sense: unless, of course, he has been chosen for some other reason. This brings me to my final point. There is a view that this candidacy is supported by Dermot Desmond and that John Reid cannot be seen as being entirely independent from him. Again, Peter Lawell and Robert Howat have recently told the Trust that there is no foundation to this view and that this was a scurrilous story put about by sections of the press. In truth, we are not in a position to refute that. What we can say is that this suspicion is so strong among many Celtic supporters and observers, and that, taken together with the matters I have just outlined, means that he will attract controversy wherever he goes and wherever he speaks on behalf of Celtic. What can we possibly gain from this? What unique benefit can John Reid, and John Reid alone, possibly bring which will outweigh that? I strongly urge the board to think again about this candidate and I urge the shareholders represented here to vote against this resolution.

 
 

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