Rangers v HMRC - A Pyrrhic victory

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Yesterday’s news that HMRC’s latest appeal to the Upper Tax Tribunal with respect to the Revenue’s pursuit of the Rangers (oldco) for claimed tax avoidance failed had many of our fans in buoyant mood last night. Unfortunately, as much as the outcome is welcome, there should be little satisfaction for football supporters in Scotland with the ruling. Not if sporting integrity is indeed what such people cherish above all.

According to common definition, a pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to defeat. I think that explains this perceived ‘win’ pretty well when it comes to Rangers in particular. After all, while we may now consider the EBT scheme used by Murray International Holdings as legal, the harm done to the club during the years of investigation has come at the huge detriment of Rangers and its passionate supporters. For example, Sir David Murray has made it clear he believes the oldco would not have been sold to Craig Whyte if HMRC had recognised the uncertain nature of their claim. This, in turn, would mean the oldco never needed to enter administration nor suffer from Whyte’s mismanagement resulting in the club eventually being forced to resume life in the old Division Three. Does this chain of events really point to a club ‘cheating’ or have Scottish football’s authorities been culpable in this farce?

First of all, I don’t think there have been many winners out of Rangers’ problems. Yes some other clubs will consider their position strengthened but other than Celtic, who has really gained out of this for the long term? In fact, it’s doubtful the more sensible of Celtic fans will take much pride in any title wins gained since Rangers left the top division. Sure, the millions earned from a free run at Champions League money for at least four years isn’t to be dismissed but with a half-empty Parkhead and a lack of top players interested in taking part in a one-horse race means there’s not much genuine excitement to be had in the East End of Glasgow. Why else do so many Celtic fans spend their time obsessing over Rangers? On the other hand, it can’t be doubted that other supporters may be enjoying the absence of Rangers more – with Aberdeen, Dundee Utd and St Johnstone enjoying particularly successful (relatively speaking) seasons of late. However, do these fans and clubs really think this will continue if and when Rangers returns to the top flight? In fact it’s more probable their success will be temporary and of those non-Rangers fans that highlighted sporting integrity, I’m unsure how they’ll feel about a phantom tax debt that almost killed one of their rivals for a few seasons of superiority.

Nevertheless, as much as we may enjoy the discomfort of those hypocrites who wanted Rangers (and its fans) to apologise for what appears to be increasingly criminal-looking actions of one man, our support should now concentrate on who is culpable for our current position. At the top of the tree, and despite his smug protestations, Sir David Murray is primarily at fault. This self-proclaimed captain of industry continues to insist he was ‘duped’ by Craig Whyte. Are we really to believe one of Scotland’s most erstwhile successful businessman didn’t have the resources to realise Whyte was a chancer? I certainly don’t and I’ll certainly forever hold Murray and his banking associates forever responsible for their cowardly actions in selling to a man who had previously been banned for seven years as a director. The custodian who almost killed the club – that should be Murray’s Rangers legacy.

In saying that, no matter what Murray did or didn’t know about the purchaser, Craig Whyte must also answer for his actions. Not only did Whyte apparently deceive Ticketus and our fans, he deliberately withheld monies due to HMRC for tax and national insurance. That is unforgivable and we can only hope he will answer for his alleged crimes in court. The same goes for anyone else involved in what seems to be a pre-meditated sequence of events to drive Rangers to the brink of ruin via fraudulent activity. With that in mind, Rangers fans are now quite rightly asking what the Scottish footballing and political authorities could have done to address this at the time. Just how hard did the SFA and (then) SPL work to save Scotland’s foremost sporting institution from hitting the rocks? Where were the politicians when Craig Whyte steered the ship towards such dangers? One thing is for sure, issues such as the five-way-agreement will long linger in the memory of every Rangers supporter. The clamour for punishment and ‘contrition’ from other clubs and the media has forever damaged the landscape of our national sport. Shame on those who bought into the hyperbole and flawed media analysis: the same people noticeable by their absence in light of the most recent judgement or, worse, still repeating their dubiously sourced information.

Clearly, sporting integrity has been an oft-used phrase in recent years within Scottish football. From low quality media commentators looking to increase their profile, to spiteful football administrators, directors and managers; this moral fallacy arguably does not and never will exist. Quite simply the problems Rangers faced were used to ship up the questionable business models of other clubs and indeed the organisations that run the game. Integrity is all about honesty and there are too many aspects of the Rangers tax case saga that lack such fortitude. Scottish football isn’t a bastion of virtue – it never has been and certainly won’t be as long as the people responsible for attempting to swindle our club out of fairly and legally won trophies hold onto positions of power.

Of course no-one is suggesting Rangers – now or in the past – is whiter than white either but all the last few years has shown is that we’re far from the Establishment club some wish to suggest. We can only hope – all of us – that lessons have been learned from what has happened to Rangers and any other club which has been led towards ruin by less than honourable owners. In that respect, we all have a responsibility to ensuring the future security of our national sport. Anything less and the whole sham has been for nothing. Perhaps HMRC can be first to admit their institutional failures and refrain from a further appeal? Perhaps the SFA/SPFL will acknowledge their lack of leadership and promise a full investigation? Perhaps the Scottish and UK governments will announce a public enquiry into the actions of state-owned banks, publicly funded broadcasters and tax departments? Perhaps some media commentators will admit their coverage has been less than balanced? I’d certainly hope the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund is used to carefully explore what recourse our fans have against any of the above?

In conclusion, as some have already suggested, it’s impossible to ask Rangers and their fans to simple move on from yesterday’s judgement. Yes we’re not perfect ourselves and we absolutely must concentrate on the problems that face our club now as well as learn from our own mistakes. However, neither should we forget nor forgive those people who have acted in a wholly negative fashion towards our club. We should not and will not surrender to our enemies. We have suffered more than most but we will be back. And not without winning some proper battles along the way.

Rangers then – Rangers now – Rangers forever.