‘Anti-bigotry law like living under tinpot dictatorship’
CONTROVERSIAL laws to crack down on sectarianism in football are the stuff of a “tinpot dictatorship”, opposition MSPs have told ministers.
In a debate at Holyrood yesterday, they said they could not support the Scottish Government because it had “failed to make the case” for the legislation.
Labour back-bencher Neil Findlay derided a recent “comedy” evidence session from justice minister Roseanna Cunningham, who appeared to indicate that singing God Save the Queen or making the sign of the cross could, in some cases, lead to fans being arrested.
Mr Findlay said: “This is like some tinpot dictatorship where the national anthem could be outlawed and carrying out a symbolic Christian act could have you in the pokey. When the law is beyond satire, the law is an ass.”
Fellow Labour MSP Michael McMahon called the bill “the most illiberal legislation ever put before this parliament”.
He said: “When the First Minister claims that he wants to stop people reliving 1690 and 1916 on our streets, I ask him to reflect on this glib statement and ask himself how prepared would he be to consign William Wallace in 1297 or Robert the Bruce in 1314 to the dustbin of history and set his culture and heritage aside because it may give offence to someone.”
Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and independent MSPs released a joint statement last night, saying they had come together to “send the strongest message possible” to the government, asking it not to use its majority to “force through” the “flawed legislation”.
They warned the SNP administration that its Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill “lacks clarity, would lead to confusion, be difficult to enforce if implemented and cannot be supported”.
The bill, which passed to its second stage after receiving narrow backing from the justice committee, will create two offences relating to behaviour deemed to “incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred” in and around football grounds and on the internet.
Those convicted could spend up to five years in prison and be banned from football grounds. Following criticism, the government agreed to allow amendments to the legislation, designed to clarify the offences.
Ms Cunningham defended the bill, saying: “As a parliament we did agree the principles of this bill, which means accepting that there is a problem infecting Scottish football and wider society that must be tackled.
“The task for us now is not to question whether action is necessary but rather to set out what we need to do and how we need to do it to deliver on the commitment made to Scotland in June.”
She was backed by SNP backbenchers including Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf, who accused Labour and others of opposing the legislation “for opposition’s sake”. He said: “We know some of the singing that goes on is vile, it’s toxic and has the potential to cause public disorder.”
MSPs voted 53-64 against a Labour amendment that said the government has failed to make the case for the bill.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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