Celtic fans plan rally to oppose Scotland’s anti-bigot legislation

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MINISTERS are facing public protests against their bid to crack down on sectarianism in football, with up to 600 fans planning to demonstrate in the centre of Glasgow.

The campaign group, Fans Against Criminalisation, will gather in George Square from noon on Saturday, 28 October.

Banners such as “kill the bill” will later be waved by Celtic supporters at their home match against Hibernian, calling for the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill to be scrapped.

The proposed legislation, which is designed to eradicate religious bigotry from the terraces, has been criticised for being too vague, while Old Firm supporters believe they are being unfairly targeted.

The Fans Against Criminalisation group has sprung out of the Celtic Supporters Association, although it says followers of other clubs are welcome to back it.

Banners have also been waved by Rangers fans at Ibrox with such slogans as: “SNP – weak on criminals, tough on fans”.

Joe O’Rourke, general secretary of the Celtic Supporters Association, said: “It’s not for me to tell other supporters how they feel about the proposed bill.

“But if they feel like we feel – that it’s unnecessary political posturing done on a whim – then by all means they should do something about it as well.

“If Hibs fans want to take part they would not be turned away, as long as they do it for the right reasons – we don’t want any disorder.”

He accused ministers of “condemning supporters for doing what they’ve been doing for hundreds of years”.

Under the proposed legislation, sectarian behaviour which incites disorder would lead to an arrest.

The Scottish Government has refused to give a definitive list of what songs, chants or banners that might include, because it believes it would quickly become out of date.

The anti-sectarianism charity, Nil By Mouth, has offered to provide training for police to provide a clear definition of sectarian behaviour.

Dave Scott, spokesman for the charity, said: “What we’ve always said is that this issue runs a lot wider than football, it runs across the whole of Scotland.

“We would be happy to work with any police force, across Scotland, to provide free of charge training to officers to help them feel confident in dealing with it. Some police officers are very switched on, some are not sure.

“Everyone seems to be shying away from providing a definition of what sectarianism is.

“As a starting point, we would say to police forces: here are the sectarian terms, here are the things you need to look for, here are the words people use.”

Glasgow City Council says campaign groups should notify them before holding protests in George Square.

A council spokeswoman said: “We have not received any notification from Fans Against Criminalisation to hold a demonstration.

“Our park management rules, which cover George Square, states that any group wishing to protest or demonstrate needs prior written consent from our land and environmental services department.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Bigoted and sectarian behaviour of all kinds is totally unacceptable in modern Scotland, and the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill gives the police and prosecutors the tools they have asked for in tackling such hate by filling clear gaps in the current law.”