The wealthy new owner of Rangers FC, Craig Whyte, has launched a robust fight back against the football club’s critics on sectarianism - making clear that it will “not be made the whipping boys for society’s failings”.
In a lengthy piece in The Herald yesterday, by its UK political editor Michael Settle, it was reported that ahead of next week’s meeting of the Scottish Government’s joint action group on sectarianism, chaired by First Minister Alex Salmond, the Rangers chairman has tasked Jack Irvine, executive chairman of Media House International, to spearhead a “more aggressive” response to Rangers’ critics within and outwith the political world.
Irvine is quoted as saying: “What we won’t be is knocked around by knee-jerk politicians and by others across the city. We’re drawing a line in the sand. Sectarianism is a problem but not the sole problem of Rangers Football Club.”
Settle wrote that the decision to be more assertive was made following a meeting between Whyte and members of the all-party Rangers Group at Westminster, which includes chairman John Robertson, the Labour MP for Glasgow North West; Peter Robinson, the Northern Irish First Minister; Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Advocate General; and Eleanor Laing, the Tory backbencher.
According to Settle’s story, Irvine, a former editor of The Scottish Sun, said Rangers’ views were clear: that it fully supported Salmond’s and the SNP Government to rid Scottish society of bigotry and that it applauded his decision not to rush through new legislation.
Irvine added: “However, we are clear in our own minds that there are elements both in Glasgow and abroad, who are desperate to lay the blame for Scotland’s ills at the doors of Ibrox.
“I would have thought these politically motivated critics might use their energies to analyse the chief problems in our society such as poor education, unemployment, drugs and youth crime.
“All respectable Rangers supporters, and that is the vast majority, condemn bigotry and sectarianism but we will not be the whipping boys for society’s failings.
“For too long, Rangers have taken it in the neck. It’s a new owner, new management, new rules. Craig wants a more robust challenge to ill-informed critics. He does not intend for Rangers to be pushed around.”
Without mentioning names, Irvine added: “I have a message for those who would denigrate Rangers: if you stop telling lies about us, we’ll stop telling the truth about you.”
Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, who is the all-party Rangers Group secretary, supported Irvine’s sentiments, commenting: “We should be on the offensive not the defensive. Our record is there to speak for itself. This has to be taken forward on the basis of fairness to all.”
In April, Rangers was fined £71,294 by Uefa for sectarian chanting, and it will not have any of its fans at the first away match of next season after charges of inappropriate chanting were brought in both legs of a Europa League tie against PSV Eindhoven. It has been estimated Rangers could lose more than £2 million in lost gate receipts.
The issue of sectarianism climaxed earlier this year when Neil Lennon, the Celtic FC manager, became the victim of a hate campaign and was attacked during a game away to Hearts in Edinburgh.
A 26-year-old man was subsequently charged with breach of the peace and assault, both aggravated by religious prejudice.
In May, the high-profile Glasgow lawyer and former Rangers board member, Donald Findlay QC, was targeted when a suspicious package, thought to be a knife, was sent to Cowdenbeath FC, where he is now chairman.
Meanwhile, two men are to face trial after suspected bombs were posted to Mr Lennon as well as other leading supporters of the club.
In a sidebar to Settle's story, The Herald carried a fulsome 10-paragraph profile on Irvine and his PR and crisis management communications company.
While Media House handles various elements of the Rangers PR output, the PR firm advising Craig Whyte on his personal and corporate business affairs is Glasgow-based Hay-McKerron Associates.
As they explain on their own website: “Gordon Hay and Ian McKerron are two of Scotland's most experienced former Fleet Street journalists who have known each other for more than 30 years. As journalists, both in Scotland and in London, they have worked with and against each other for most of that time.”
“Between them they have held senior positions on The Scotsman, the Scottish Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Mirror, Daily Record, Sunday Mirror, Today, the Press and Journal and Aberdeen Evening Express. As freelancers, they also worked for every national newspaper in the UK, including the Daily Telegraph and The Times.
“That is one of the key reasons behind their success. Not only do they know the Press - they have played major roles in the Press.”
Among the clients on the firm’s books are: Reform Scotland, Scottish Voice, Hazledene Group, Morrison Construction, Campaign For Fiscal Responsibility, Energetic Networked Energy and The Merger Action Group.
Hay, the son of a policeman, was born in Banffshire, and McKerron in Aberdeen. His late father owned a newsagents’ business in the Granite City.
They are close friends of Media House’s executive director, Ramsay Smith, whose firm handled some aspects of Rangers’ PR operation under previous owner, Sir David Murray.
According to his official biography on the Media House website ..."Smith brought more than 25 years' experience in British newspapers with him when he joined the senior management of Media House.
"As editor of the Scottish Daily Mail, he led the newspaper through one of the most successful periods in its history and relaunched the Mail on Sunday in Scotland.
"He was also executive editor of The Scotsman, held executive positions in Mirror Group newspapers and enjoyed an extremely rewarding period in Fleet Street as a senior journalist with the Daily Mirror, covering many major international assignments. He is also co-author of the best-selling non-fiction book, Lambs to the Slaughter.
"Since joining Media House as executive director, Ramsay has specialised in advising major corporate clients on media relations, public affairs and crisis management."
The Drum understands that Craig Whyte has no intention of being as readily available to the media as Sir David Murray who was noted for his approachability by the media and never failed to return calls to journalists on Rangers FC business.