Published: May 28, 2019

Opinion: Clean Break – a call for change – Part 1


It is evident that there is a complete breakdown in the relationship between the powers that be in Washington Street and the membership at large, who nowadays tend to quietly get on with making what is left of our game work and keep their heads down out of fear of repercussions for speaking out of turn. That’s if you could ever call it a relationship. I would describe it as a “them and us” relationship at best. “Them” being the RSPBA, and “us” being the players, the players’ families and supporters, and the public who attend and plough their time and earnings into pipe band competition events.

Rather than open their arms to the membership to work together to make things better, the authorities only seem to adopt courses of action that make matters worse with increasing frequency that, in most cases, results in further alienation and unnecessary negative outcomes.

“Rather than open their arms to the membership to work together
to make things better, the authorities only seem to adopt courses of action
that make matters worse with increasing frequency that, in most cases,
results in further alienation and unnecessary negative outcomes.”

It’s never been more clear than the present that urgent reform is needed to turn things around for the sake of future generations of young pipers and drummers who deserve to enjoy their hobby as much as those who preceded them, but I fear we’ve almost run out of time for that.

How can you reform an organization that:

  • Has taken in approximately £1,000,000 earned on the backs of tens of thousands of collective hours of performances and gives nothing in return.
  • Consistently refuses to listen to the people it is supposed to represent.
  • Appears to ignore the outcomes of democratic processes it instigates.
  • Permits perceived or real conflicts of interests that contribute to questionable results.
  • Refuses to cooperate with reputable related media outlets.
  • Selectively suppresses dissent so savagely that many or even most players feel they no longer have a voice.
  • Creates public spats with pipe band enthusiasts who agree or disagree with them, who are simply doing their bit to promote and share our art form using the social media platforms that the RSPBA itself refuses to move with the times to embrace.

Taking things to their ultimate conclusion, how can you possibly clear out the old guard and revitalize with fresh blood when the RSPBA’s annual general meeting is held a matter of six weeks before the competition season is due to start?

The simple answer is, you can’t. It’s almost as if it is set-up to fail in the event of an organized challenge to the status quo.

And they do it year after year. Why? Because there is no alternative. And they know it.

If they apparently won’t listen and won’t change, then perhaps the time has come to start looking at creating alternatives.

It is clear that the RSPBA in its current format is not delivering and is no longer fit for purpose.

There are many obvious reasons.

First, it’s not a club. The RSPBA is a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital governed by the Companies Act 2006. By its nature, a company operates as a commercial entity with a board of directors, it’s not an association in the same context as it was set up to operate when it was first formed as such in 1930.




  1. Very interesting and well put together article from Scott who has very bravely put his head above the parapet to say many things that have needed saying for many years. One or two comments I would like to make in relation to the article as follows: Scott is well aware that the problems within the managerial structure of the Rspba are nothing new and have gone on for decades with absolutely no sign of any change. The problem is that a coup is required to remove these people, and replace them with those who have the pipe band movement at its heart, and in particular the most valuable asset of the organisation, the players. Therin lies the problem, the power lies with those who contribute least. Who is going to be brave enough to stage that coup and risk everything? No one, and you know why, because the very people who could and should back them, the players, will slink off into the night for fear of opening their mouth. The Rspba are mostly pretty pathetic and clueless but they are not responsible for all the ills within the organisation. I agree with Scott’s comments on capping players, this is not the easy solution that many think it is. Piping and drumming is a hobby with in the main, no financial inducement, therefore people will come and go around bands as they please. Loyalty is basically a dirty word now. That sense of community is mostly gone. A really exceptional player/players in a wee country band will be spotted, tapped up and will nowadays throw loyalty out the window and join the massed ranks of the larger grade 1 bands, thus helping to wreck their own band, contributing to a general depression within that band, in losing their best player/players, and sooner or later it goes bust. Do the grade 1 pipe majors who ruthlessly pick at the bones of a pipe band corpse like a vulture, not realise where this will end, or do they not really care. Those large bands standing in a huge circle while practicing tomorrow in Lurgan do not generate the awe and wonder that they once did, and for many it is just a profoundly depressing spectacle because we all know that this is helping to disintegrate the entire pipe band movement. Do the various pipe majors, some of whom who are lauded like greek gods, ever give that as much as a passing thought? Nah, thought not. So Scott you are bang on with your criticism of the organisation with its desperate need for reform, no question, but I feel that what also merits serious discussion is the elephant the room, that being the self inflicted destruction of the pipe band movement by those who claim to love it the most, the players.


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