Unionist politicians have used the demise of Rangers Football Club in order to attack Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond’s relationship with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Statements released on Saturday evening by Labour and Conservative MSPs called on Mr Salmond to “phone his pal” and tap up “his best buddy” after concerns were raised over future TV contracts following newco Rangers re-admission to SFL Division 3.
The statements from Labour MSP Michael McMahon and Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw were a reference to Mr Salmond’s recent acknowledgement that he had agreed to back Mr Murdoch’s company News Corp’s in its bid for control of BSkyB, as it meant benefitting the Scottish economy.
Michael McMahon, Labour MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill, said: “If Mr Murdoch is available to the First Minister and the First Minister believes that the deal could be in trouble, why shouldn’t he pick up the phone to his pal? He has picked up the phone on behalf of other people.”
Jackson Carlaw, Conservative deputy leader, said: “Alex Salmond likes tapping up his best buddy Rupert Murdoch on behalf of Scottish jobs. Well, perhaps he should be doing the same in this instance, to protect the thousands of people who are either directly or indirectly employed thanks to football in Scotland.”
According to the Scotland on Sunday newspaper: “The First Minister was told he should call in favours from Murdoch to safeguard Scottish clubs that rely on the cash provided by the broadcasting company, which is part-owned by the Australian mogul.”
A spokesman for the First Mnister said: “Once the football authorities finally decide on their course of action and show a willingness for reconstruction and reform, the Scottish Government stands ready to use influence to secure the best deals from sponsors.”
He added: “The First Minister is amused that Labour MSPs are now demanding that he has meetings with Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB. However the First Minister will always represent the Scottish interest.”
The SPL will hold its own emergency talks with Sky within the next 24 hours to seek clarity over the £16 million-per-season deal currently in place.
There have been concerns that the payments might be reduced with the former Glasgow giants missing from the SPL and no Old Firm league fixtures for at least three years.
However, a former executive producer of both Sky and Setanta’s Scottish football coverage, Colin Davidson, says he believes the broadcaster will stay with Scottish football but that the SPL will have to convince the broadcasting giant.
Speaking to the Sunday Herald, he said: “What Sky are facing now is a very different set of circumstances in the SPL. Without Rangers it is a diluted product for any broadcaster. They may well want to renegotiate the contract.
“All Sky have to do is listen. It will be up to the SPL to convince them to stay. What they won’t do is pay them more money than the product is worth. The deal is worth far more to the SPL than it is to Sky.
“If they renegotiate, I think the SPL has done well. I do think Sky will be loyal. They have, historically, been very loyal partners. When they enter into a partnership with any organisation they do their best to be as supportive as they positively can.”
Speculation over the TV contract follows claims that a last ditch effort aimed at preventing any new Rangers from having to start life in Division three are underway.
According to the Guardian newspaper, “Scotland’s football authorities are to enter a desperate race against time to oversee a league reconstruction model aimed at preventing Rangers from starting next season in the Third Division.”.
The move would see the creation of a so called SPL 2. The SPL is due to meet on Monday, when the concept of an “SPL 2” is set to be discussed.
The controversial plan follows claims by at least two SPL clubs of significant ramifications for the game following Friday’s SFL vote which saw the newco granted permisison to re-enter the Scottish league system in the third division.
Both Inverness and St Mirren have issued statements claiming Friday’s vote will lead to job losses and maybe even clubs going out of business. However, at least one other club, Dundee United, has said it does not support any moves to create an SPL 2.
Dundee United’s statement read: “For the avoidance of doubt, following yesterday’s vote, the club would not support any counter proposals for the formation of SPL 2 or regarding any other route for The Rangers Football Club to join the SPL.”
It added: “Now is the time for everyone to be united as one and we ask our supporters to stand alongside us as we face the challenges ahead.”
Third Division Clyde have even expressed a belief that the newco won’t be in the third division at the start of next season.
A statement on the club’s website read: “We reported prior to the vote that Sevco Scotland Ltd will not be playing in the Third Division in the coming season. Nothing heard altered that opinion, in fact, it strengthened it.
“We were asked to respect the confidentiality of those presenting as only that agreement would allow them to be as candid as they were.
“We cannot therefore share what was said, however Mr Green left the SFL member clubs in no doubt about what he had been told by the SFA.”
It added: “Sadly for our game, this saga is not over, teams cannot plan and that includes Rangers, who may yet be denied the opportunity to play football in SFL3 because it suits the interests of others.”
However it has also emerged that under fire SFA boss, Stewart Regan, was behind secret briefings to newco owner Charles Green prior to Friday’s SFL vote.
According to the Scottish Sun on Sunday, Mr Regan had predicted the newco would be allowed to enter Division One and had also indicated his view that Dundee should take the place of the Ibrox club in the SPL, despite the matter not scheduled for discussion until tomorrow – with both Dundee and Dunfermline vying for the vacancy.
In a leaked email, Mr Regan wrote of his confidence that Division One would be the league chosen by SFL clubs: “Could Rod Petrie please brief Charles Green confidentially on the discussions from a Scottish FA perspective so that there are ‘no surprises’ and there is a general acceptance of the plan plus all of the other conditions discussed e.g. transfer embargo, fines, repayment of football debt, waiving rights to legal challenge, acceptance of relegation and so on.”
The paper claims that Regan declared to other officials: “The Rangers Football Club will be relegated (sic) to the 1st Division of the SFL with immediate effect and will be replaced in the SPL by Dundee FC.”