January 14, 2020

Opinion – RSPBA Management Concerns: is the current Management Structure of the RSPBA out of date?

Editor’s note: pipes|drums has worked to report on the various activities of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, regularly raising issues and asking questions with the sole aim to understand the world’s largest pipe band association’s positions on various matters of concern to the piping and drumming world at large. With rare exceptions, our questions go unanswered or even acknowledged. It frustrates us, as our only interest is to ensure that the organization’s side of each issue is represented. Non-executive or administrative members of the organization have by and large been reluctant or, usually, unwilling to comment with attribution, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

We were pleased that respected RSPBA adjudicator and teacher Winston Pollock of Northern Ireland offered the following article outlining his thoughts on the state of the RSPBA, and its communications practices with its members. We believe that, like pipes|drums, Pollock’s sole objective is to act in good faith for the good of piping and drumming.

We hope that Winston Pollock’s willingness to speak out inspires others to express their own opinions and ask questions to get the information that they need, and we thank him for thinking of pipes|drums as a communications platform to reach the concerned piping and drumming world.


By Winston Pollock

Winston Pollock

A mix of fact and fiction inevitably leads to confusion. Perhaps the doubts that have surrounded the RSPBA headquarters’ refurbishment could have been avoided with transparent management of the project from the outset. It seems the project vision may have been a shade blurred at the beginning, which led to doubtful processes being used. Thus we await the completion of the task though are a tad uncertain as to when the “fall out” from the project will come to rest. Only on the 3rd of January, 2020, did we hear from John Hughes, RSPBA Chairman, who sought to inform us of changes to the Headquarters building which, in his words, has been “transformed.” Wonderful news one might say. Yet for many onlookers, who hold genuine concerns regarding the issue, there is a déjà vu feeling.

It is not surprising that for quite some time it seems the bandsmen and women, the grassroots of our association, often express the feeling of being short-changed by the RSPBA management and excluded from meaningful consultation on issues which have long term effect on all the members in the organization. Unfortunately, unless the transformation at the Washington Street base, commended enthusiastically by Mr. Hughes, is also applied to people management, then the fires of frustration that have been smouldering for a number of years could soon burst into flames.

Following the accidental fire at HQ there is no question that decisions were always going to be difficult, and perhaps even complex, regarding the future vision and planning for the HQ building. However, this did not need to include the distinct lack of information flowing from the “hub” or the apparent, muddled judgment and planning that appears to have beset the project from the outset.

Who was delegated to the task of carrying out the RSPBA Board’s plans regarding the refurbishment project, or was a steering group given the responsibility? This question remains something of a mystery but, unmistakenly, it seems the outcome of confusion and doubt is rather typical. Criticism is now severe and constant as a result. Clearly existing communication channels have not brought clarity on the matter to the membership. Instead it has been less than satisfactory, failing to assure the grassroots of the Association. Regrettably, this has been a recurring deficiency through the past two decades.

Too often the tendency has been for the issue to become foggier, or fudged if you prefer, with even less transparency than before thus fermenting unhelpful strife and ultimately utter frustration among the membership of our Association.

Furthermore, experience ought to steer leadership away from problematic strategies when issues such as the present one arise. Yet time and again a common RSPBA management error is the tendency to defend at all cost, even if it means defending the defenseless rather than clarifying the issues. Instead of putting people’s fears at ease with the essential facts, too often the tendency has been for the issue to become foggier, or fudged if you prefer, with even less transparency than before thus fermenting unhelpful strife and ultimately utter frustration among the membership of our Association. Unfortunately, as a result, the current unfolding saga may have the potential to become the biggest problem to arise in the history of the RSPBA.

Continuing to reflect on this and other concerns, my mind was drawn again to the Millennium Review Report, commissioned by the then National Council of RSPBA, where the RSPBA’s “Need to Change” (pages 10-12, Millennium Review Report) was recognized and clearly spelled out. What happened to it, you may ask? It “Failed!” No, on second thoughts, the opportunity to modernize management procedures and grasp a clear vision for the RSPBA, such as that outlined in the Review, passed by, and sadly it was not adopted.

Chaired by Alistair Aitken MBE, the Millennium Review Committee was rightly disappointed at the time. The effort given to producing such a positive and constructive report was wasted. Anyone who hasn’t read it should, as it is still relevant.

“In seeking to achieve the Objectives in the Business Plan framework (page 11, Millennium Review), we consider that all members of the RSPBA should operate within the provisions of an RSPBA Charter, aimed at providing the integrity, accountability, professionalism and openness of the Association as a cultural organisation in all it does.”

Even though 63% favoured implementing the Millennium Report recommendations back then, it is to the eternal shame of the 37% clique, which vetoed the proposals, that a more professional management structure has not been in place over the past 20 years. Progress has been stifled, it may be claimed even hijacked at times, by some people at different levels in the internal committee structure of the RSPBA. It is well known in all walks of life that where weak management exists, disparate, self-agenda driven individuals or small groupings will flourish. Band representatives who voted against the Millennium Report recommendations were at the least misguided by the latter.

An element in the Association that has clearly been in need of restructuring, particularly in recent years, is adjudication. It hasn’t happened. A blind eye, it seems, has been turned to the definite conflict of interest perpetrated by some people within the Adjudication Management /Panel who have interests primarily in the commercial world yet, at the same time, are permitted to hold influential positions within the Adjudication Panel. Surely this is a recipe for unwanted bias in the competitive arena, and a certain trigger of apathy among those bands conveniently placed out of harm’s reach of favoured ones.

Once again, the Board of Directors must be held responsible. Alas, they have been very slow to act or review procedures for such issues. A proper, independent and robust review procedure for adjudication matters is a must, one in which all bands could have confidence. Considering how the role duplication, described earlier, has constantly eroded trust in our Association leadership among the grassroots then it is hardly surprising that the disconnect between RSPBA management and the membership is now greater than ever before. In reality, working relationships between the bands and the RSPBA/and or Branches might be said to be at their worst in practice since the formation of the association.

A further, more recent example, where the Board of Directors exercised poor management discernment and practice, occurred at the 2017 RSPBA annual general meeting.

Democracy on that occasion was trampled underfoot; sadly, again typical of RSPBA responses in recent times.

Looking back to the 2017 RSPBA AGM, the Northern Ireland Branch experienced a very negative kind of ‘professionalism and openness’ when eight notices of motion, each passed by a majority or unopposed at the RSPBANI AGM in November 2016, were binned at RSPBA level and failed to reach the floor for debate at the 2017 AGM in Glasgow. Northern Ireland’s voice on the motions were silenced in a most authoritarian manner and, as yet, to my knowledge, no explanation has been forthcoming as to why this was the case. Had the notices of motion been debated, all may well have failed, but the Northern Ireland bands that put them forward initially would have had little to complain about. Instead, democracy on that occasion was trampled underfoot; sadly, again typical of RSPBA responses in recent times. This was a complete lack of duty of governance by the Board of Directors.

“One of the tests of leadership is to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold Glasgow. Is it any wonder that members throughout our Association continue to grow ever more frustrated?

However, do not doubt, Northern Ireland’s voice will be heard again on all current issues at the 2020 AGM in Glasgow. Also, it is to be hoped this time that all our brothers and sisters in Scotland, England and Wales will be standing shoulder to shoulder in the demand for openness and genuine accountability. The quiet majority may yet have its say and I am certain the words of two of our past members of significance, the late Ed McVeigh and late John Crozier (RSPBANI) will ring in our ears, “The place to have your say is the annual general meeting in Glasgow. Vote by your conscience!”

A genuine re-connection with the membership and their vision is long overdue. The base of the triangle is what matters most. Without it there is no need for those who temporarily are placed at the peak of the management triangle.

A genuine re-connection with the membership and their vision is long overdue. The base of the triangle is what matters most. Without it there is no need for those who temporarily are placed at the peak of the management triangle. Board of Directors, Adjudicators’ Management Committee and Music Board take note. In the short term it will help to have even more information from the centre, not only about the HQ refurbishment, but the future working and well-being of our Association. A sticking plaster (Band-Aid) will not do. It is possible that a change of management structures and policies of RSPBA, in order to adequately meet the demands of the 21st century, will have to be secured before the membership are satisfied.

Mistakes will be understood, deliberate fudge will not be ignored. Rather, it will merely exacerbate an already fraught situation. Indeed, Samuel Butler’s claim, “There are no mistakes so great as that of being always right,” is worth close consideration in the interim.

Winston Pollock is probably best known today as a certified adjudicator with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association for from 1982 until 2016, when he resigned after being suspended by the organization for looking into a video camera that was recording a competition. He started his piping career at the age of eight, first playing with Tamlaght O’Crilly, the Northern Ireland village where he was born, and later Quinn Memorial, East Belfast, Monkstown-Mossley, and Grade 1 McNeillstown. Before retiring, he was a primary school teacher, and has taught piping since the 1960s. Pollock has also served in numerous other roles with the RSPBA since the mid-1960s, including as Principal of the RSPBA Northern Ireland branch school.

What do you think? Provided they are fair comments, stick to the topic, and refrain from personal attacks, we welcome your opinion. We encourage you to use our comments system so that your thoughts will be preserved for the future.



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  1. Isn’t the board of the RSPBA elected by its members? Or am I missing something? If not, the path is clear. Find someone who’s willing to put in the time and effort and elect them… Sometimes it sounds like the RSPBA is an organization unwilling to change or listen. If that’s the case, do something about it. With new board of directors things are bound to change.



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