December 23, 2023

Opinion: The future of 75-plus years of UK pipe band activity stands in the balance

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Contributed by Scott Currie

Three p.m. on the last business day before Christmas is the ideal time for anyone dumping bad news, or even worse, no news at all if the December 22nd CYA Facebook post from the RSPBA’s Board of Directors is anything by which to judge.

Not only is the timing frustrating, but it’s made worse by no individual putting their name to accept responsibility for it. It’s not like we haven’t been here before; the same tactic was deployed this time last year.

Cutting through the repeatedly regurgitated razzamatazz in recent announcements of purported tireless hard work on the part of its directors, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association is, in its current hands and situation, in the most perilous crisis in its history that could ultimately result in its demise.

This is a chilling prospect that wasn’t on any piper or drummer’s wish list this Christmas, yet we are forced to watch it play out in real-time in a manner so farcical that even Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation couldn’t possibly aspire to. It’s such a pitiful sight to behold from what was once the paragon of pipe band activity, but it’s also become so tiresome and demoralizing for the thousands of pipers and drummers who are perpetually receiving ever diminishing returns for their efforts, yet held to their bands settling membership dues without any concessions.

Over the last four to five years, everything possible to erode has been eroded: finances, transparency, events, goodwill, time, patience and, most importantly, trust.

Anyone with business acumen understands that operating an exclusive all-your-eggs-in-one-basket approach to your revenue stream is a certain one-way ticket to disaster.

At this stage, all that they seem capable of delivering is hope in the form of things possibly getting better if the very people who broke the organization can buy enough time to fix it by appeasing the increasingly dissatisfied masses by publishing enough vacuous holding statements to reach the next AGM unscathed. It’s stuck on a constant dysfunctional cycle of rinse and repeat.

Contrary to the Chairman’s own recently asserted belief that the local authority funding model is, in his words, “not fit for purpose,” it is apparent that it is the RSPBA’s own funding model and poor leadership that aren’t equipped. Anyone with business acumen understands that operating an exclusive all-your-eggs-in-one-basket approach to your revenue stream is a certain one-way ticket to disaster.

The only answer is diversification, and doing so after the fact is akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It’s astounding that this notion appears only to have become clear now that the local authority gravy train the association has so desperately clung to, despite losing a major championship last season, has firmly ground to a halt.

With that, the future of 75-plus years of UK pipe band activity now stands in the balance.

The pipe band movement, as we all know it, is facing unprecedented existential danger. This situation needs to end once and for all.

I would like to give the RSPBA a Christmas gift of something to contemplate over the Christmas and New Year period while pipers and drummers who depend on pipe band activity contemplate whether their lives’ work and, in some cases, their piping and drumming-related professions, have a future in the form a genuine earnest question that offers them a way out:

If, between now and the AGM, an alternative group of fit and proper professional people qualified to operate a charity of this nature can be assembled to form a board with a mandate that meets the approval of the members, in essence, but not exclusively; to operate competently, collaboratively and in complete transparency with charitable benevolence to the membership serving as its core priority, will each and everyone holding office put the players, adjudicators, stewards, employees, volunteers and the public at large ahead of your own interests, and honourably resign your posts en bloc and pledge never to pursue re-election for the common good of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association and the global pipe band community?

This is an opportunity for all to finally do the right thing and get out of their own and the members’ way. It would be the organization’s cleanest, quickest, least divisive, and least destructive path forward. I hope they will make the obvious decision in the best interests of not only themselves but the association and its members. They will be respected for recognizing their failures and standing aside.

For the love of all things holy, please give the members the greatest Christmas gift they could ever have this year, a capable leadership who can do the job by working competently and effectively, not “tirelessly.”

Merry Christmas to one and all, and wishing everyone concerned with pipe bands a bigger, better and brighter future next year and beyond.

Scott Currie has enjoyed a long competitive playing career with the bass sections of Grade 1 bands such as Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia and the Spirit of Scotland. He is a member of neither a band nor a pipe band association. He lives in Coatbridge, Scotland, and owns and runs Scott Currie Music, offering instruments and supplies to pipers, drummers and many other musicians. He is a frequent contributor to pipes|drums (see links below).

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