DEPARTING Celtic chairman John Reid has blasted the Scottish Government over its new anti-sectarian legislation, warning that it could end up “a complete mess”.
The former Labour home secretary has drawn parallels between current plans to outlaw sectarian songs and chanting during football matches and the heavily criticised Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991.
The legislation was introduced by the then-Conservative government in response to a spate of attacks by aggressive and uncontrolled dogs, but was lambasted as a piece of rushed law-making and an over-reaction to the public mood.
The SNP is trying to introduce an Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill, with jail terms of up to five years and unlimited fines, in an attempt to crack down on sectarian-related offences.
Referring to the dangerous dogs legislation, Reid said: “Everybody thought, ‘We better bring a law in here’, and it ends in a complete mess. I don’t want to see it [anti- sectarian laws] end in a mess, I genuinely don’t. And I think Alex [Salmond] would be wise, rather than say ‘Oh, I know, but we’ll put it into law and review it as it happens’, [to recognise] that is bad law.”
Reid warned that any legislation banning sectarian singing and chanting while watching football matches could have repercussions well beyond a football stadium: “If you are in a hotel the night before a game and you are not going to the game, there are things that you can do which will not be illegal. But if you are there at the hotel with the purposes of going to the game, it will be illegal.
“If you leave the country and happen to be watching the football match and you say certain things, then it might be a criminal offence when you get back to this country.”
Reid, who served both as secretary of state for Scotland and home secretary under Tony Blair and stepped down as Celtic chairman on Friday after four years, claimed that people were coming to a view that the new legislation was not wanted or needed.
He said: “The First Minister was very sensible. He said ‘Let’s take a few months to look at it,’ and the more people are looking at it, the more they are saying this isn’t needed for the purpose for what it is intended, and, secondly, with this all-encompassing thing, we are going to get into all sorts of difficulties.”
Reid also warned that the government had to be careful of encroaching on people’s right to free speech as they risked coming “into contact with the European Convention on Human Rights”.
However, a Scottish Government spokesperson said that the legislation had been asked for by police and prosecutors: “Bigoted and sectarian behaviour of all kinds is totally unacceptable in modern Scotland, and the Offensive Behaviour at Football (Scotland) Bill gives the police and prosecutors the tools they have asked for in tackling such hate by filling clear gaps in the current law, as evidenced by the Lord Advocate.
“The well-behaved majority of all clubs – who are the vast majority – have nothing to fear from a bill which will make Scottish football and society better.”