I'm a Liberal Democrat but - more importantly some would argue - I'm also a football fan. I'm an Albion Rovers supporter but a big fan of the game more generally and I'm an irregular visitor to such centres of culture as Cappielow, Firhill, Broadwood and Somerset Park. I wouldn't (by choice, anyway!) be anywhere else on a Saturday afternoon than at a football match. I love the game in Scotland, with its unique sub-culture and tradition. It's a completely different (and more authentic) experience watching a game in Scotland compared to, for example, south of the border - at least in my opinion.
I'm also a supporter of the national team. I manage to attend the odd game every so often. While supporting the Scotland team is perhaps evidence of sado-masochistic tendencies, I believe that the fortunes (and otherwise) of the Scotland side actually play a significant role in shaping our national identity. And while our prospects of qualifying for a mojor tournament look rather slim at the moment, at least Scotland fans can always have a good laugh at England's misfortunes.
But there's something very ugly been happening in Scottish football in recent years. No, I'm not talking about Craig Levein's Harry Potter look. And I'm not referring to the referees' strike either, although I have sympathy with their rationale for taking action.
Over the last few years there has been a noticeable increase in ticket touting in Scotland. On sites such as eBay, there are regularly Old Firm and SPL tickets for sale, often at prices well above the face value. This is also true in relation to Scottish Cup matches, with tickets fetching twice or three times their original price. More recently, tickets for the Scotland v Spain game were fetching four figure sums on online auction sites, until some principled fans took it into their own hands to sabotage the auctions by placing fake bids - as reported in the Daily Record.
While on one level this was a victory for "people power" against the touts, this isn't a lasting solution to the problems of touting. Just last week, Rangers v Manchester United tickets were being sold to willing buyers for over £100 each. What is required is legislation to prohibit the resale of tickets - or at the very least to ban resale fo tickets at a level higher than their original face value. The SFA might argue that "there's never been a great market for black market tickets" and that "the only way to [stop touting] is by refusing to pay", but this simply isnt true. Wherever there's a high demand, people will be willing to pay and it's this demand that touts exploit. The Scotland v Spain fixture was a gold mine for them.
I have written to my own MSP in relation to this issue, as well as the Minister (Shona Robison) and the sports spokespersons of each of the parties represented in Holyrood. Trish Godman, Patrick Harvie and Bill Butler were supportive of my proposals for legislative action to combat touting, while Tavish Scott was sympathetic but felt this was an issue for the UK government. Ms Godman agreed that “the legislation currently applying to England and Wales should also apply to Scotland” while Mr Scott asserted that “the introduction of legislation to ban the resale of tickets for events at above their face value is certainly worth considering...[but] this would be best done at a UK level...thankfully we do not have the levels of football hooliganism which would justify us following the route used in England”. Shona Robison has to date declined to reply.
I have also been in contact with eBay and the SFA. The SFA were predictably diplomatic in their response, but conceded that as long as “it’s not illegal here in Scotland...some sellers are wise to the system...making it impossible for us to trace [them]” and therefore take action. What the SFA does not admit is that, even if those reselling tickets can be traced, they are powerless to actually prevent the resale under current legislation. It is interesting to note that the SFA have “had discussions with the Scottish Government regarding the prohibition of this practice”. Clearly, the aims and principles of the Scottish Football Association are being severely compromised by its inability to be able to act decisively to prevent ticket touting and would be aided by some overdue legislation.
The irony is that UK law prohibits the resale of football tickets, but this only applies to fixtures in England and Wales. There is surely no reasonable justification for similar legislation not being applied to Scotland, especially after the Spain match provided the media with the opportunity to successfully expose the depth of the problem.
Sport is a devolved matter as are law and home affairs and therefore I have to disagree with Tavish Scott that this is a matter for the UK government. It is not; it is a problem that the Scottish government must get to grips with. Interestingly, the Scottish Government set a precedent by introducing legislation preventing tickets for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games being sold at a price higher than their face value - so why not extend this to cover other sports, or even tickets for concerts and events such as T in the Park?
My own belief is that the Scottish government is able and equipped to take overdue action. However, irrespective of which government should be responsible for dealing with the matter, my concern is that touting must be challenged. Please consider signing my petition, calling on the Scottish government to take action, featured on the Scottish Parliament website.
This is a serious issue, not least because touting undermines the SFA's principle of "football for all". The Sunday Post will this weekend be running a story on this issue, drawing attention to my own campaign for a legislative solution. Please help support the campaign and send a clear message to Shona Robison and the government.