Allow me to congratulate old Rangers on their last hurrah.
If you were to believe most of the media or the old Rangers fans you could be forgiven for thinking this was the defunct club’s greatest victory since winning the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup in 1972.
But what exactly have they won?
A trophy? No.
A place in the Champions League? No.
A watch? No.
They have won a reduction in the amount of tax owed to HMRC.
Well, three cheers for that. Everyone likes a victory over the taxman, don’t they?
Let’s be honest now.
Have any of you skilled tradesman out there ever done a homer?
How many of you have an ISA?
Who’s rejoiced when a cheque from the Inland Revenue drops through your letterbox for overpaid tax?
So, in a nutshell, it’s a victory for the little guy over the government, is it not?
Well, as Dalglish might say, mibbes aye mibbes naw.
We’re not talking about a small, local business struggling to get by from month to month, are we?
Again, some might say yes, others will argue no.
In terms of social and cultural factors old Rangers were a major Scottish institution, supposedly respected around the world, and heralded by their fans as the greatest club in the world.
Of course, all fans believe their club to be the greatest club in the world, for differing reasons; some with more of a rightful claim than others.
Old Rangers fans pointed to the number of trophies their club had won and, rightfully, highlighted no other club could equal their tally.
That’ll be that then.
Well, no, not really. Would Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona or Real Madrid swop their history for that of old Rangers?
Of course not. And to suggest otherwise is delusional beyond reason.
Here are a couple of historical examples:
Renton declared themselves world champions in 1888 after defeating FA Cup holders West Bromwich Albion.
Scotland declared themselves world champions after defeating World Cup winners England in 1967.
David Icke declared himself son of God.
As much as I love those first two, and will argue Renton’s case with anyone, I accept there is room for debate.
Self-declarations can be fun, but ultimately hold no real weight in the wider world.
Remember that old Burns saying, ‘To see oursels as others see us’.
But, just for fun, let us assume old Rangers were the most successful team in the world. Or, if that’s too much for some, let’s assume old Rangers were the most successful team in Scotland.
Yes, I know that can be disputed too, but let’s run with it for now.
Well, this most successful team, this proud Scottish institution, this pillar of society, decided to adopt an aggressive tax-avoidance strategy that sailed close to the wind in terms of legality.
So close to the wind it took a majority decision from some of the country’s best legal minds to rule their strategy legal.
Such was the nature of these tax-avoidance schemes David Murray offered HMRC £10 million to settle rather than pay the full amount.
HMRC refused David’s offer, believing their case strong enough to potentially win more then £10 million.
Remember, we’re not talking about a local painter and decorator wallpapering your hall for a few quid cash in hand.
We’re talking about tax avoidance on an industrial scale.
Of course, old Rangers and their fans will claim, rightfully, that most of this avoidance was legal. Some may even claim that it was all legal and above board.
But they weren’t all legal and above board, were they?
Old Rangers conceded various EBTs were not administered properly and tax was indeed due on those.
So, rather than an out and out victory, as claimed by the media and old Rangers fans, it’s more a case of Rangers still being guilty of tax evasion, but not on the scale HMRC said they were.
I ask you, how can admitting tax evasion on any scale be classed as a victory?
But the new amount due is nowhere near the amount HMRC claimed, or so we’re led to believe, as the exact amount hasn’t yet been published. Surely that’s a victory?
Call me old-fashioned, but I thought a victory would’ve meant there was no tax to pay. Total vindication would be a victory. But there was no total vindication. What came out of the tribunal was an insight into the way old Rangers tried everything they could to conceal what they were up to.
Of course, there will be those who still shout about everything being in the Annual Accounts, but as some of them know, if not all, the devil is in the detail, and the detail isn’t in the Annual Accounts.
Throughout the FTT and before it’s obvious David Murray, no matter what he said in public, didn’t truly believe he would win the big tax case.
This is why he offered HMRC £10 million to settle the case years before.
This is also why he refused to accept the tax liability of the big tax case when trying to sell the club.
This is also why he ended up selling a club with over £100 million assets for £1.
For years he refused to cooperate with HMRC and withheld evidence.
Some evidence was only discovered when the City of London Police raided Ibrox.
City of London Police? Raided Ibrox?
What on earth has been going on over the years down Edmiston Drive?
Still, they somehow managed to wriggle free of around £100 million of tax debt.
So what will they do with that £100 million they’ve saved?
Build a new team?
Pay for essential maintenance to Ibrox?
Pay off all those other creditors that forced the old club into liquidation?
No, you’re quite correct; they won’t do any of the above.
It didn’t matter whether the final tax bill was £2 million or £40 million or £140 million. Old Rangers still don’t have any money.
So, the victory, as some see it, was, paradoxically, nothing more than a moral victory.
Yes, I know. How can a club using an immoral, aggressive tax-avoidance strategy claim any sort of moral victory?
That, my friend, is the old Rangers way.
And, such is their myopia, many fans and commentators are now shouting for the SPL Tribunal into double contracts/undisclosed payments to be cancelled.
Like those above who pointed out that EBTs were included in the Annual Accounts, some realise the two issues are not in fact related, but they won’t let the truth get in the way of their agenda to see old Rangers totally cleared of every wrongdoing.
However, the FTT and SPL Tribunal are, unfortunately for old Rangers, mutually exclusive.
It might even turn out that in order to ‘get off’ on one case old Rangers had to sacrifice the other.
Included in the findings of the FTT, on page 39, is this little piece of potentially explosive information.
‘On any view, Mr Thomson argued, Rangers could have sought a ruling from the SFA or SPL about disclosure of side-letters but, clearly, they had chosen not to do so. There was a conscious decision to conceal their existence, and that extended even to the Club’s auditors.’
So, not only did old Rangers try and hide information from HMRC for many years, they also deliberately withheld information from the footballing authorities.
Again, call me old-fashioned, but if you believe you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t go out your way to hide your honest endeavours.
But, for now anyway, old Rangers fans can walk down the street with heads held high, safe in the knowledge that their old club didn’t steal as much tax as everyone thought.
It’s like someone breaking into your house and stealing your laptop but leaving your iPad, TV, car, etc. If only there were more kind-hearted thieves the world would be a much better place.
Old Rangers fans might also try and claim some kind of high moral ground but will find they’re on a slippery slope. After all, as we have seen, David Murray and those around him tried everything they could to deflect and hinder HMRC.
Outwith the big tax case the old club still owed far more than they could ever afford to pay.
Many hundreds of small local businesses are still out of pocket to the tune of millions of pounds.
But neither old Rangers or their fans care about such matters.
They have, in effect, got away with it one last time.
So let them have their last hurrah. For, in effect, they are cheering about how they ‘legally’ in most cases, managed to dodge paying tax of millions of pounds.
What a fine upstanding model club they were. Probably the most successful tax-dodging/avoiding club in Scottish, if not the world’s, history.