August 05, 2012

A comment on comments

Much talk over the last few weeks about social media comments, and the situation with the venerable Shotts & Dykehead. In case you’ve been locked up in Barlinnie, here’s the basic story:

  • A few members of the band apparently posted rather pointed comments on Facebook about the drumming judging at the British Pipe Band Championships.
  • The comments were seen by many, and were subsequently removed by those who posted them.
  • The band and/or the members allegedly were served warning by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association about their concern with what was posted.
  • The band or the members were allegedly threatened with suspension.
  • The band held a meeting, the result of which was the Pipe-Major resigning.
  • The band did not compete at the European Championships and don’t yet appear to have appointed a replacement leader.

What a sorry state of affairs that really didn’t need to happen. Yes, the comments need not have been posted. But it brings in to question the idea of what is and isn’t fair comment in the pipe band world. Here’s my take:

So, a judge’s decision might be questioned? So what? Provided it’s fair and not personally libelous then what on earth is the big deal? It might not be politically astute to do such a thing, but is it the stuff of suspension? No way.

Criticizing judging decisions in any form of competition is simply part of the fun. Certainly in the pipe band world, it’s nothing new. What is relatively new is that someone actually had the courage to put their name to their opinions, however strong they might be. This is far better than the back-biting trolls that incessantly whinge on platforms that allow unfiltered anonymous comments without any moderation. (Comments to pipes|drums articles and this blog are moderated.)

When you agree to judge a piping, drumming or pipe band contest you implicitly agree to subject yourself to criticism. If you’re not ready to accept that, then don’t do it. Suck it up, buttercup.

There is some similarly wrong precedent here. The great Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band in the 1970s worked to get a petition going against the judge John K. McAllister after what the band felt were continued judging injustices. The Scottish Pipe Band Association threatened to suspend the band for the rest of the year. The great Pipe-Major, Bob Hardie, then backed down, apologizing profusely, and the band was allowed to compete. It was an example of an association forgetting the interests of its competing members, which should always come first.

In the 2012 example, I have absolutely no reason to believe that the judge in question even knew about the alleged situation, much less read the comments posted on Facebook. This, by all accounts, was an apparent association decision to threaten severe action against the band or individuals. Provided the comments were not libelous, then threatening sanction – if that is what indeed happened – was wrong.

I don’t know of any association that has a rule that members can’t be critical of each other. Isn’t fair criticism what competition is about in the first place? If such a policy or rule were in effect, the whole scene, first, would not be fun, and second, would have about 10 good Samaritans left as members.

It was simply because a few people put their name to strong opinion on the record on a social media platform that this sad circumstance has happened. Again, not politically canny, but fair criticism is simply part of the judging gig, and associations need to be in tune with the real world.


  1. Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a societal issue really when you think about it. People these days cannot take a face-to-face showdown to be called out on their performance, their opinion, their disposition, etc. if it hurts their feelings…EVERYone’s a winner, right? I didn’t see the critical comments posted – but so what? Someone got their feelings that hurt because they wrote a sheet that others didn’t agree with?? GET OVER IT!! Suspension? Resignation?? RIDICULOUS!! We are involved in Pipe Bands because we love the music, the comraderie, and the contest! Maybe the judge/board involved need to reassess whether or not they have the necessary requirements to actually judge – because your judging is being critiqued – BY EVERYONE!! Nut up, folks – the P/M of Shotts shouldn’t have been sacked because of a F/B posting – that is just CRAZY!

  2. Ever see what happens when football managers criticise refereeing decisions? I see vast similarities here and the manager/team would get shafted!

  3. I agree with absolutely everything in this fantastic blog-post. To my mind, there was a pattern in results, and there was cause/scope for criticism. The association have largely brought about this current sadly situation by their over reaction, although I hope we will see “The Shotts” at the worlds in some form or another…

  4. It’s hard to say not knowing what was said on facebook (was it libelous?). Certainly the UK libel/online comment laws are far more rigourous than those elsewhere (like, say, Canada). Most organisations have codes of conduct for members. I don’t know if the RSPBA has such a thing but imagine at the very least there is an assumed code built on some kind of behavioural precident.

    If the comment in question was some mild comment like, “didn’t agree with the strange results today!”, then to me that’s okay. But the harsh comments that erode the dignity, respect and some basic decorum, like, “_name of judge here_ is a runt for his results”, or something like that. That’s different. It’s sometimes fine line. I don’t believe judges or anyone should “suck it up” (and who want’s to be a judge?). Where’s the dignity in that? Where’s the dignity in allowing that? We need to raise it all up a notch, not yield to the Internet world’s public free-for-all of nameless nincompoops. And if someone wants to make a public statement of opinion with signed real name, then to me, these are the people that need to do that buttercup thing and suck it up. Sometimes that brings positive things. Sometimes it doesn’t. Whether its courage or misguided emotion, we need to be accountable for our words – especially if they’re potentially hurtful, wrong-headed or libelous.

    If we let or tacitly encourage unfettered crap to fly and continually sucked up buttercups or whatever we’d be cows, or worse.

    Respect, dignity. There’s a motto for us.

  5. It’s not easy to comment specifically when you don’t know the actual content of the posts on Facebook. But if judges or associations are going to be taking action on Facebook posts, there’s something wrong imho. People need to be able to say what they think. Also you’d thnk judges and the Association might be interested in the feedback, good and bad, so as to keep in touch with the members and assess what they’re feeling,. Also to take a look at the judging in question to scutinise whether or not there WAS some discrepancy, and if so, have a serious think about what might make the judging fairer next time, or even reassess the judge. I think the Association that threatens its members, if that’s what happened, is not showing respect to its members. Preferably everybody would act in a professional, dignified and civil way, but feelings can of course get heated. Heck, if I was a judge and somebody posted stuff about my judging, I’d be grateful for the chance to have a think about it, and see if there was something I could do better. And if I felt I’d been right in my judgement, be happy to explain why. But as I say, when you don’t have access to the actual full facts, it’s hard to be specific.

  6. None of us like to be called eejits but it happens – and we need those reminders at time, to steer wrong paths aright. As a teacher for decades I was horrified when the first web forums arose with “rate yr teacher” stuff. Not a representative sample of course, as the disenfranchised and frustrated, unsuccessful ones went on a rant at times. But a useful perspective and reminder of the ‘other half’.
    A couple of years spent in the Community College allowed every student to rate the course and instructor. A bit tough the first time through but tonic to receive those computer summaries and comments, once one realized that what instructors giveth, (dish out) they should also taketh (be open to criticism AND improvement of delivery). We are all accountable these days in an increasingly interwoven world. Ideally such reminders would be gentle but we all know that people, and ambitious ones particularly, don’t always get it the first time. Pride comes before such falls.

  7. I did see the comments before they were pulled by the writer. They were heart-felt, heated, direct and clearly an honest belief, but not to any degree greater then we as bandsmen/women don’t hear and speak ourselves ALL THE TIME. And, uniquely, it was not an anonymous posting. The RSPBA is the Band’s organization and there to make for a level playing field for all bands and all grades. I get the distinct feeling here that the tail is waging the dog. What is going on within the band itself is a uniquely private band matter, but given the prestige of the band and its members, I would hope and pray that it can be resolved and they can go on to add to their illustrious history.

    Kent Argubright

  8. As with this thread/topic, things get posted on the internet so that opinions, beliefs or plain rants can be aired and, hopefully, garner some sympathy/support. These comments may range from being accurate to very incorrect. What other possible reason is there for comments to be put up on the world’s greatest forum – the internet? I though the Beer Tent was the forum for such whinging – face to face dealings and actual discussion, not a headline comment that sets off a chain reaction of comments for and against. Feeling harshly done by is a fact of life in pipe bands. Anyone who is yet to accept this fact is either naive, deluded or plain stupid, or all three at once. Shall we just say it’s ok to ‘go public’ every time you feel aggrieved? The RSPBA is more than just a member-centric association these days. It has some big time stakeholders and major events to run. It’s image is more to the fore as a result, and this must be protected. The one thing that seems to have been forgotten here is that a PM lost his job on account of a few ‘rank and file’ players not being able to keep their egos in check. That is a disgrace.

  9. Ultimately, what this type of incident accomplishes is to create fear in the minds of members of pipe bands and pipe band organizations; “Be careful what you say, where you say it, and to whom you say it to…or else!”. This is not healthy by any stretch of the imagination.

  10. There is not a sport in the world that doesn’t have rules relating to conduct of players towards officials, same goes with all competitions etc.. I don’t understand the drama here. Call me crazy but this is all looking like a case of who rather than what…All the media attention here seems to be about who this involved not what was said. …..Just my take but part of competition is accepting the decisions of the officials…..I am not taking sides here but the drama is not about the judging it’s about the social network spill…. Everyone can question the decisions of judges and every competitor does from time to time. Question peoples integrity they will get upset….same goes everywhere…. Incident happened, decision ,made, judgement passed, move on……



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