With Scots heading to the polls today, football may not be uppermost in our minds. Our decisions about which box to mark our cross in will be complex, weighing up a broad range of issues. But one manifesto pledge should be highlighted as it directly affects the future of our game.
When the SNP announced their manifesto last month, it included a promise to establish a fund to help fans take their clubs into supporter ownership if they’re re-elected today. They will create a ‘Fan Bank’ to empower communities and groups, and strengthen local decision-making by supporting communities to acquire a share or control of their local sports club. This was the culmination of years of hard work by many inside and outside the world of Scottish football and politics – Supporters Direct began developing this concept during the early 2000s, continuing over the next decade before being awarded funding by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to write a feasibility study into a Community Sport Fund in 2016 which was published and shared with the Scottish Government.
It was disappointing to see other organisations attempting to claim credit for this idea, but this does not detract from the satisfaction of seeing something that was thought of as radical at the time being brought into the mainstream of policy development. Scottish football has made massive strides over the last decade to demonstrate that not only is supporter ownership possible, it can help our clubs chart a sustainable path at the highest levels of our game. Motherwell have thrived in the Premiership, becoming debt-free for the first time in 40 years; St Mirren have grown their stake in the club in partnership with the social care charity Kibble, and are on course to secure a majority shareholding later this year; the Foundation of Hearts have hit every milestone they set themselves back in 2014 and are ready to complete their transition into fan ownership this summer as they return to the Premiership; and just last week Morton Club Together agreed the terms of their supporter buy-out.
Each of these clubs have managed to do this without government support, while fans of other clubs look on with keen interest. For those yet to take this step, and previously unsure whether it was possible for their club, the Fans Bank is fantastic news, and Supporters Direct Scotland remain ready to assist them on their journey.