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Scottish League Cup Semi-finals

– in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd October 2018.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with ScotRail and Police Scotland regarding arrangements for the league cup semi-finals. (S5T-01252)

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Although the scheduling of matches is a matter for the football authorities, we recognise that there is anger, particularly among supporters who will be travelling from Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and ScotRail were not consulted ahead of the Scottish Professional Football League announcement, although we have discussed the issue with all key organisations, including ScotRail and Police Scotland.

We are actively engaging with all relevant partners to consider all key issues of concern. That dialogue will continue and I hope that the appropriate outcome will be reached.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

This should be a fantastic opportunity for families across the country to get to these showpieces of Scottish football, but fans and the clubs involved say that the planning has been botched. Families are thinking twice about going—they are concerned about the logistics of getting there and home again—while ScotRail says that the logistical challenges should not be underestimated.

Although we hope that people will act responsibly, there is real concern about the risk of 100,000 fans from four rival teams congregating in the same area on the same day and overnight. The Scottish Police Federation has described it as “idiotic”. Does the minister agree that change is necessary and that the date should be moved, at least?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The member makes a number of important points, many of which SPFL should have considered before making its decision. Police Scotland has significant expertise in successfully policing high-profile matches. Discussions are continuing, and I understand that Police Scotland has asked the SPFL to review its plans and has sought assurance about public safety. I know that that move will be welcomed by many fans.

Police Scotland will review any further information and discuss any issues with the SPFL. It is vital that public order and safety remain paramount in any decision.

I would also ask the SPFL to ensure that it considers the fans and the interests of Scottish football in any final decision.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I do not recall ScotRail taking an event’s organisation to task so publicly before. It did not hold back. The SPFL is well aware, from previous events, of the logistical challenges that an early kick-off presents, particularly for Sunday morning services from Aberdeen.

North-east fans have been given a thoroughly raw deal, because no train can get Aberdonians to Glasgow before kick-off. I thank the Aberdeen

Evening Express for leading the campaign for a fair deal for fans.

Does the minister agree that event organisers have a responsibility to accommodate the needs of people from the whole of Scotland and not just those from the central belt? Has he considered what the Government can do to encourage such an approach in the future?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The member makes a good point. As I said in my first answer, the SPFL had no dialogue with ScotRail before making its decision. I have asked the SPFL to ensure that, in the future, appropriate dialogue takes place with all the appropriate agencies before such decisions are made.

The Presiding Officer:

We seem to have a huge amount of interest in the subject. Despite my appeal for brevity, I am not sure that we will get through everyone.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I was encouraged by the minister’s initial response that dialogue continues and that he hopes that an appropriate outcome will be forthcoming. He also mentioned a review by Police Scotland. Does the dialogue include the proposition from the Government that the SPFL should scrap its plan to have two semi-finals at the same venue on the same day, revisit the decision and do something that serves the interests of football fans not just in the north-east but across Scotland?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Decisions about when fixtures take place are ultimately for the SPFL, but it must take into account advice from Police Scotland, Transport Scotland and ScotRail. The SPFL needs to take account of the fans and to consider what is in Scottish football’s best interests.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I have written to the SPFL about its lack of consideration for families, who will be expected to travel back to Edinburgh from Glasgow at 10 pm on a Sunday night—and the position could be worse if the game goes to extra time or penalties. Given the 7.45 pm kick-off time, does the minister share my concern that Hearts fans in my constituency will be lucky to get home by midnight?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I am mindful of the time, so I say that I am sure that the SPFL is listening to everything that is being said. The member’s points are well made.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

My questions are less for the SPFL and more for the minister. What discussions has the Government had with Transport Scotland and ScotRail to ensure that supply will meet demand on the day? What discussions have Police Scotland, the British Transport Police and the Government had to ensure adequate police numbers and an increased presence in the community to reassure any concerned residents or businesses?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

As I said, the Scottish Government continues to liaise with all key stakeholders.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

It has been pointed out that the first train from Aberdeen to Glasgow on Sunday 28 October will arrive 14 minutes after the 12 pm match starts. What levers can the Scottish Government use to remind the football authorities that they have a role to play in reducing carbon emissions and the number of car journeys; that they have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their fans as well as that of their players; and that, without fans, there would be no clubs and no television deals—the deals that seem to drive everything? I ask members to sign my motion if they have not done so and to support the

Evening Express campaign.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The member makes her points well and I am sure that the SPFL is listening.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

I had hoped to take my two girls to watch Hearts going into the final, but the change of time makes that impossible because of their age. Does the minister agree that, if we are trying to attract younger people to watch and take part in football, the decision is a retrograde step? The SPFL should rethink the situation and move one game to a more appropriate time.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

To ensure that everyone can contribute, I say that the member makes good points, which I hope that the SPFL is listening to.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The SPFL’s decision, which was taken in secret and behind closed doors, treats supporters and the public with contempt. The simple solution is to move one game to the Monday evening or the following weekend. Will the Government use its good offices to co-ordinate support for an alternative date and urge the SPFL to reverse its disastrous decision?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

As I said earlier, the Government continues to engage with stakeholders. Police Scotland has specifically asked the SPFL to review its plans and to provide assurances about public safety. It will be for Police Scotland to review that information and discuss how to take it forward in the best interests of public safety, which has to be Police Scotland’s primary focus. I return to my point, which many members in the chamber have made, that the SPFL has a responsibility to its fans and to Scottish football.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

Bearing in mind that the fixtures are set for Halloween weekend—one of the busiest weekends of the year for the emergency services—which will mean that police and staff of other essential services will get hardly any time off, does the minister agree that efforts should be made to ensure that, where possible, those working in essential services get at least one day a week off from their work?

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

Given that the SPFL did not even think to contact ScotRail or have discussions with any bus operators, and that the Scottish Police Federation is strongly opposed to the two games going ahead on the same day, does the minister agree that such disregard of football fans, public services and my constituents further highlights the need to improve the governance of Scottish football? Will the Scottish Government give some thought to how that could be achieved?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

James Dornan’s passion for football and for the need to improve governance of the national game is well documented. Following my recent appointment, I held a formal meeting with the Scottish Football Association’s chief executive Ian Maxwell and the SPFL’s chief executive Neil Doncaster to discuss such issues. Governance can be strengthened and the voice of the supporter can be heard more loudly.

The Presiding Officer:

I thank the minister and members for following up on my remarks. I did not expect to have such success so early on, and I am very pleased.