Published on Monday 23rd November, 2015 by Celtic Trust
This is not a statement...
Social media is extremely useful but in that time-honoured phrase it often generates more heat than light, consisting, as it does, of multiple cross-cutting conversations which sometimes get conflated. Here we give the key points in full.
1 There was an online debate in the run-up to the AGM centring on Ian Livingston's role as a Tory member of the House of Lords.
2. The Celtic Trust took little part in the online debate but were voting against him as they have done for some years because he is against greater fan involvement and against the Living Wage. They encouraged others to do the same and touched on the parallel campaign and petition.
3. It appears, though, unbeknownst to many of us at that time, that there were also postings on social media which were anti-Semitic. In a rather odd move, some detail of this was posted yesterday on the Affiliation website from someone purporting to be Ian Livingston. We don’t know if it was or not.
4. There was a vote for Livingston’s re-election at the Celtic PLC AGM because he has already served for a sufficient number of years that he now needs to be re-elected annually.
5. When it came to that part of the agenda at the AGM on Friday 20th November 2015 a shareholder got up to speak and made a very clear statement of why he didn't want Livingston on the Board. He was (not in a formal sense) representing the views outlined in point 1 ie around the issue of cuts in tax credits.
6. Immediately after his statement the Chairman embarked on what can only be described as an emotional rant which verged on the bizarre - all the more so since he appeared to be reading from a prepared script (so not a slip of the tongue). His words have been reported verbatim but I draw your attention to the words 'This campaign verges on the criminally racist'. Note the word 'This'. He also said, although not widely reported, that there were groups who were using Celtic for their own political agenda and 'we know who they are' which was again inappropriate. His behaviour was unseemly, appeared out of control, and was entirely the antithesis of what would be expected from the Chairman of an AGM or any other formal meeting.
7. He did not carefully, or in any other way, distinguish between the legitimate views of shareholders and fans (as elucidated by the shareholder who spoke) and anti-Semitic postings which we should all condemn in the strongest terms - and we do.
8. On that basis, the Press who were ranged along the back row, entirely predictably, reported that the Chairman had called our fans racist. In fact, even without bias, it was reasonable to infer that this is precisely what he was doing.
9. When the Press did what they were always going to do, Celtic was approached by fan representatives and asked to limit (it couldn't be repaired) the damage by releasing a statement.
10. They did so but in a form of words which blamed the press for 'exaggerating' his comments and taking them 'out of context'. Those of us who were in attendance know that they did neither. His words have been reported verbatim and I have to assume, such is the length of the quotes and the uniformity across all the papers, that the press were given his speech in writing by Celtic. So the considered response of Celtic actually compounded the error. Had he offered a full apology at that point with no deflection of blame on to the nearest easy target (the press) we would not still be talking about it now.
11. The Celtic Trust met with a number of sister organisations and discussed what our response should be. Three of those organisations decided that we simply could not allow Mr Bankier's words, made in such a public way, go unchallenged, beyond the weekend. We are well aware of the dangers of doing so and therefore very rarely do it. Mr Bankier's error and his failure to apologise, made it necessary in our view and we stand by that.
13. Celtic's response on Sunday evening simply did not address any of this although they made an offer to meet which we shall take up.
14. The crux of the matter is this: did Mr Bankier think that the culprits were at the AGM? If he did not, which he now says he didn't, why did he raise the matter repeatedly and with such vehemence?
15. If he didn't think they were in the room then his only motivation for mentioning this, other than in the passing, was to offer some kind of defence for Mr Livingston and, in a cack-handed way, attempt to morally blackmail shareholders into voting for the re-election of Mr Livingston. Was he trying to infer that a vote against Livingston was a vote for anti-semitism (although he did not use that word)? This interpretation is perhaps supported by his 'I am disappointed in you' comment after the vote was taken, the majority voted no, and he was forced to call a poll to include the proxy votes.
16. The other question is, when did Mr Bankier become aware of these comments and why did he wait until the AGM to raise them? If he was using it to make a planned intervention at the AGM (remember he was reading from notes) with the purpose of influencing the vote then this is wholly reprehensible on a number of levels. It is an abuse of his position as Chair and, ironically, a minimising of the impact of racism and sectarianism.
17. On any view, whatever his intentions, he created a press furore which was damaging to the Club, insulted many fans and harangued shareholders for expressing their views at an AGM. This is not the first time he has handled the press in a less than impressive way. His performance was simply not acceptable on his one necessarily public outing of the year and he must, as we have indicated, consider his position. The issue is not longer anything to do with Mr Livingston - he has been re-elected. It is about Mr Bankier and whether he is fit for the job.
18. The Celtic Trust will continue this discussion with Celtic and do not plan to make any further comment in the meantime.
Part 2 of the AGM report will follow soon.
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