Living Wage in Scottish Football

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2016.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

As I said at the committee meeting, I think that our definitions of “ambitious” are probably at variance.

I make it clear that, in the broader sense, the question before us is not simply about the individual standard of living of those working people who are employed by Scotland’s top football clubs. It is not even simply about their individual standard of wellbeing. It is, at its very root, about the kind of society that we want to live in.

It is not just a material question; it is an ethical question too. In our top football clubs, the lowest-paid workers especially not only endure the lowest hourly rate of pay but, because they are for the most part on part-time hours, have the lowest weekly rate of pay too. Also, because they are often seasonal workers, they have the lowest annual wage as well.

That reminds me of something that Tom Mann, the socialist pioneer and trade union agitator, said in response to the moralising of Thomas Carlyle to the working class. He said that the corollary of the biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, is “Thou shalt not be stolen from”. These workers in our top football clubs are being stolen from. That is not just an injustice; it is daylight—and sometimes floodlit—robbery, and we need to bring it to an end.

I say to those clubs and their supporters that this is not just about in-work poverty; it is about in-retirement poverty, too. Large inequalities in wages at work amplify into massive inequalities in household resources in retirement, too.

Finally, it is worth recalling that when Jimmy Maxton, John Wheatley, Jennie Lee and the Independent Labour Party first championed the living wage in the 1920s, while it sprang first and foremost from the harsh daily reality of working-class experience, it also had a theoretical underpinning, based on the economist J A Hobson’s analysis that economic depression and mass unemployment were themselves a direct result of inequality. There was underconsumption and abject poverty on the one hand, with conspicuous consumption and wealth enough to export capital on the other.

I do not begrudge our top footballers high rewards in their often short playing careers, but if ever there was a case of conspicuous consumption in the midst of abject poverty, it would be at our top football clubs. Let us support the motion this afternoon, and join together with the trades unions, supporters’ groups and the Poverty Alliance to step up the pressure on all our football clubs to pay the living wage in the season ahead.