Leader comment: Deserved red card for football act

James Kelly MSP has campaigned hard to scrap the Football Act
James Kelly MSP has campaigned hard to scrap the Football Act
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The fact that the Scottish Government has suffered a defeat over the controversial so-called “football act” is a sign that it was a misguided intention in the first place.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) has been controversial since it was introduced by the SNP in 2012, with all other parties opposing it at the time. Last night’s vote of 64 to 63 is not only symbolic for the SNP minority government, but is a clear indication that these laws should be on their way out.

There is no doubt that the problem of sectarianism needs to be tackled, but by rushing through legislation in this way was a knee jerk reaction. The government felt the need to be seen to take decisive action in response to a very serious flash point, but the response was not well thought out or considered. It was grandstanding on the part of Alex Salmond, and it backfired.

The legal profession has condemned the legislation as “unworkable and badly drafted” and warned that it unfairly targets football fans, the majority of whom are law abiding.

A report earlier this year revealed that there were only 79 convictions in 2014/15 under the legislation - making up only one per cent of “breach of the peace” convictions.

The Scottish Government has said it is “absolutely committed” to stamping out sectarianism and warned last night that the vote “sends completely the wrong message” about how serious Holyrood is in doing so.

What they need to consider is that the problem has to be tackled at grassroots level, by making fans change their attitudes and behaviour, rather than by introducing laws which are not fit for purpose.