Labour bid to scrap Offensive Behaviour at Football Act

Picture: John Devlin

Picture: John Devlin

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Labour will today launch an official bid to scrap legislation that outlawed offensive singing at football matches.

A Labour MSP aiming to scrap “unfair” anti-sectarian laws believes he has a good chance of success now the SNP has lost its majority at Holyrood.

The SNP arrogantly bulldozed this piece of legislation through. Opposition parties, supporters groups, legal experts and academics opposed it.

James Kelly

Glasgow MSP James Kelly has formally launched a proposal for a Bill to repeal the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

The legislation was “bulldozed” through the Scottish Parliament but has “needlessly criminalised football fans and done nothing to tackle sectarianism”, he claimed.

The Act, which came into force in 2012, criminalises behaviour which is “threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting”.

In 2015-16, 287 charges were brought under the part of the law which deals with fans singing sectarian songs or chanting sectarian slogans at or around matches - a rise of 49% from the previous year.

The Scottish Government has insisted that “repealing the Act in the absence of a viable alternative is not an option” for ministers.

Insight: If the act goes, who tackles offensive behaviour?

But Mr Kelly, who has set up a new, non-political website for fans and others to have their say, said: “I think the Act is unfair, it targets football fans, it’s caused division between police and supporters and it’s caused a lot of confusion, particularly amongst judges who have criticised the Act.

“I’ve spoken to innocent football fans who have never in their lives had any dealings with the police, who find themselves getting filmed going into grounds, getting frisked going into grounds.

“They just want to go and enjoy the game and they find that police are filming them and frisking them, therefore they are being singled out for attention unfairly.”

Mr Kelly stressed “any abuse or aggressive behaviour around football grounds is totally unacceptable and needs to be stamped out”.

But he insisted the way to do so is to “reinforce existing legislation around breach of the peace and assaults for example”, arguing it would be “more effective, to use that and to repeal this legislation that has caused so much controversy and confusion”.

With the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens having spoken out in the past against the legislation, Mr Kelly said he is “looking forward to having positive discussions with MSPs from other parties” about his proposed Bill.

He added: “I think that now that the SNP don’t have a majority, this is an unfair piece of legislation and I think it is right that it should be repealed. I think there is a good chance there will be support for that in the Parliament.”

Mr Kelly continued: “The Football Act is now in injury time. With the SNP losing their majority in Parliament we can now repeal a law that has needlessly criminalised football fans and done nothing to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.

“I want to get the views of as many people as possible so everyone gets their say. That is why I have set up scraptheact.com.

“The SNP arrogantly bulldozed this bad law through the Scottish Parliament ignoring the concerns of others. That should not happen again.

“This is an opportunity for the SNP to show some humility, and realise they got it wrong five years ago.”

But a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Act sends out a clear message that Scotland will not tolerate any form of prejudice, discrimination or hate crime, and it gives police and prosecutors an additional tool to tackle this behaviour.

“The Scottish Government has made it clear that we are willing to discuss how any legitimate concerns about the Act can be addressed.

“We have invited stakeholders to submit evidence about how the Act could be improved, but to date no-one has done so. Repealing the Act in the absence of a viable alternative is not an option.”

Anti-sectarianism football act ‘unfairly targets young men’

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