Published: May 28, 2019

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


How are the directors appointed? It should be by vote of the membership, but do we really have a say in their appointment or dismissal? What due diligence has been carried out on their business acumen and ability to serve as directors of a company with £1,000,000 in the bank that the members’ dedication, skill, performances earned for them? I don’t know. Why aren’t director vacancies advertised and the posts filled after an application, vetting and interview process? Are directors truly accountable to the membership? Who knows?

Let’s touch on that £1,000,000 in the bank. Since 2011, publicly accessible records reveal that the RSPBA appears to have been accumulating an average of approximately £76,500 per year.

Now, seriously, if I were sitting in that Chairman’s seat with a philanthropically-minded board around me, there is a catalogue of pipe band-related activity, education, enhancement, reward, and support projects I could think of off the top of my head that I’d gladly dedicate generous portions of that money towards before blowing it exclusively on a state-of-the-art white elephant office complex renovation that no players asked for, that few will ever set foot inside.

Very little if any of this cash has been used to reduce financial burdens on bands, reduce entry fees and bus coach parking, enhancing prize money for bands and solo drumming competitors, offering scholarships, creating benevolent support schemes, small grants or supporting Highland games, which are dying at an alarming rate.

Instead, it was announced at the recent RSPBA AGM that the available cash plus more investment was earmarked for a single vanity project to refurbish the Washington Street headquarters, an outdated city centre building that only a small number of staff work at and very few bands if any will benefit from. £1,000,000 thrown at property when the core business of the RSPBA isn’t real estate beggars belief when the corporate property market is being driven by the emergence of affordable co-working space, business centre and storage solutions.

Companies aren’t signing up to decades-long leases, never mind seven-figure building renovations, because the future is so unpredictable. The business model of the RSPBA is to be running pipe band events. Their administrative functions could easily be handled anywhere and the Washington Street building sold, something they are surely aware of. Yet the cash that they intend to spend has accumulated because of everything you do at your and your band’s expense, and the lifestyle and logistical sacrifices you make to participate in your hobby of piping and drumming. Without your efforts, there is no cash. So, does any of this seem remotely fair or prudent to you?

“The cash that they intend to spend has accumulated because of everything
you do at your and your band’s expense, and the lifestyle and logistical sacrifices
you make to participate in your hobby of piping and drumming.
Without your efforts, there is no cash.”

They don’t listen to their members. I won’t mention the petition I handed over in 2008, signed by 688 members, opposing the abolition of bass section prizes that was completely ignored. That’s in the past, and now march-pasts finish in the dark without those awards that supposedly made these ceremonies last too long.

But just look at the recent mess made of a consultation exercise with Grade 1 bands over the format of the two-day World Pipe Band Championships event. To provide some background, there is serious discontent among competitors to the effect that the format is unnecessarily burdensome, is unfair and does not produce tangible placings for the bands who fail to qualify. It also sees bands eliminated from participating in the big day on the Saturday, and a costless piecemeal token of 20 tickets offered to each knocked-out band to make up for their disappointment.

It’s an insult.




  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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