This week has seen an explosion of moral hypocrisy in Scottish football; a moral hypocrisy which sadly has become rather common place in the last five or so years. The catalyst for the latest explosion was HMRC winning its appeal against oldco. Predictably, this ruling has brought fresh calls from various media pundits and high-profile fans to strip Rangers of titles won during years in which EBT’s were used.
The call for title stripping is both morally and legally absurd, and is supported by the weakest of arguments. On the legal side, nothing in the latest appeal had any bearing upon previous rulings regarding sporting advantage, as anyone who has kept up with the facts and doesn’t have a pre-established agenda against the club will admit. The moral argument is also completely flawed, as I will show here.
Some, like Jim Spence, Alex Thomson and Graham Spiers, have argued as follows. Despite being legal at the time of use, because EBT’s took advantage of a loophole Rangers exploited Scottish football for their own benefit, and also exploited the taxpayer. Thus, morally speaking, they “cheated” (Spence, Spiers) and won titles “fraudulently” (Thomson).
However, this argument is an extremely bad one for the following reason. Many clubs, in Scotland and elsewhere, have taken advantage of various tax loopholes. So the conclusion generalizes: if Rangers are guilty for the aforementioned reasons, so are the other clubs. Thus, by parity of reasoning, every club which has ever exploited tax loopholes should be title stripped.
I suspect that Spiers, Thomson, Spence et al. would reject this. But they have given us no principle reason to do so – if Rangers should be title stripped, then so should Celtic, who used EBT’s in 2004-05, and another loophole involving film companies between 2001-2006. So should Arsenal, who used EBT’s between 2001-2006. When the target is Rangers, principle goes out the window – title stripping is discussed with regards to this club by these individuals because they treat it as a special case – a club which they hate. I have seen no arguments by any of these individuals to refute this point. At base, then, we have journalists quick to moralize on one instance (Rangers) but choose to ignore violations of the same moral principle when it comes to other clubs (Celtic, Arsenal, etc). That is clear moral hypocrisy.
To highlight this, I want to look more closely at Celtic’s own tax avoidance scheme. In the early 2000’s, the British government, in an attempt to incentivize domestic film production, provided tax breaks to film companies. Many Celtic players and staff, including CEO Peter Lawwell, director Eric Riley, Neil Lennon, Johan Mjallby and John Hartson established film companies; companies where they would subsequently put money earned from their Celtic contracts. Why did they do this? Simple, because they would avoid taxation on that income (roughly, by spurious ‘investment’ in film technologies). The following displays the various companies, and their beneficiaries:
- Bobby Petta - The Film Develpment Partnership II LLP - Feb '04
- Chris Sutton - WRP Dryvac LLP - Aug '04
- John Hartson - The Mamjam Technology Platform Partnership LLP - Apr '03
- Neil Lennon - The Mamjam Technology Platform Partnership LLP - Apr '03
- John Harston - The Casedirector Technology Partnership LLP - Apr '03
- Neil Lennon - The Casedirector Technology Partnership LLP - Apr '03
- Neil Lennon - Ingenious Film Partners 2 LLP - Apr '03
- Momo Sylla - Inside Track 1 LLP - Dec '03
- Momo Sylla - Ingenious Film Partners LLP - Mar '05
- Eric Riley - Inside Track 3 LLP - Jul '03
- Johan Mjallby - Malvern Media LLP - Dec '02
- Johan Mjallby - Jubilee Film Partnership LLP - Mar '05
- Martin O'Neill - Inside Track 2 LLP - Dec '03
- Martin O'Neill - Inside Track 3 LLP - Dec '03
- Peter Lawwell - Inside Track 3 LLP - Dec '03
- Alan Thompson - Owen Film Partnership LLP - Apr '06
- Alan Thompson - The Film Development Partnership II - Sep '03
- Alan Thompson - D IV LLP - Sep '03
- Stan Varga - The Gala Film Partners LLP - Feb '04
- Stan Varga - Innvotec 3 LLP - Mar '05
- Stan Varga - Innvotec 6 LLP - Mar '05
- Stan Varga - The Invicta Film Partnership No 23 LLP - Mar '06
- Craig Bellamy - Cherwell Films LLP - Mar '05
- Craig Bellamy - Orwell Films LLP - Mar '05
For my purposes, the technical details about how this tax-avoidance scheme works are irrelevant; what matters is the fact that employees of Celtic FC used a loophole to avoid filling the HMRC coffers. This is indisputable. For more on the technical details, see:
So why, if morality and doing the right thing are so important to Spiers, Thomson, Spence and a host of other bloggers, journalists, etc., then why are these individuals, and their employer, Celtic FC, not being chastised and denigrated as “tax cheats”? For there is no principled reason for the moral argument, as I have called it, to be applied in the case of Rangers but not Celtic (and others). The reason, as you have guessed it, is moral hypocrisy – Rangers are to be held to a different moral standard than Celtic; presumably because these individuals are partial to the latter.
Thus, as my analysis demonstrates, the moral argument against Rangers is just bigotry in disguise; a convenient excuse to further kick around a club which has been, since 2012, subjected to all sorts of illegal punishments. This is demagoguery at its worst: faulty arguments and poorly constructed justifications such as these are part of the press-gang tactics being used by various factions in Scotland to cow the SFA into further, unjustified punishment of Rangers. It happened in 2012, and is potentially happening as we speak.