MSPs expected to repeal football sectarianism act in vote

A controversial law aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football is expected to be repealed in a vote at Holyrood.

James Kelly MSP. Picture: PA Wire
James Kelly MSP. Picture: PA Wire

Labour MSP James Kelly’s Bill to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act is expected to be passed in its final stage at the Scottish Parliament.

The Act was introduced by the majority SNP government in the last parliament but all opposition parties want to ditch it.

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The legislation has faced criticism from legal experts, fans’ groups and equalities organisations who have argued it is unworkable and unfairly targets football fans.

The Scottish Government has said it will respect the will of Parliament but that repeal of the Act would mark a “sad day” for Scotland.

Speaking in advance of the debate and vote, Mr Kelly said the legislation had been “completely discredited”.

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He said: “The law was a simplistic attempt to solve a complex problem.

“Sectarianism is a problem in Scotland that goes back generations. It can’t be solved in 90 minutes on a Saturday. The way to fix it is in classrooms and community groups.

“Instead, spending on anti-sectarianism projects has plummeted. The SNP chased some headlines, passed a bad law and pretended that the problem was fixed. That’s not good enough and it’s time to get serious about this.”

Scottish Green MSPs have urged football clubs to consider the strict liability rules which apply elsewhere in Europe, under which clubs can be punished for the conduct of fans.

Justice spokesman John Finnie said: “It’s clearer than ever that the Act has not been an effective way to address sectarianism. Many of the activities it aimed to tackle are already covered by other legislation.

“Football clearly has a particular issue with sectarianism and clubs must look again at the strict liability model which applies elsewhere in Europe.

“If clubs face losing points over sectarian incidents, they are more likely to help deter fans from undermining their teams.”

Minister for Community Safety Annabelle Ewing added: “I continue to believe that the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication Act is foolhardy and sends out the wrong signal, particularly following a number of incidents over the course of this season where the shadow of sectarianism has again been cast over our national game.

“The Act is supported by a number of victims and equality groups and research published by Youthlink Scotland and ScotCen Social Research into sectarian language used on social media this week has again confirmed the direct link between sectarianism and football in this country.

“Repeal will compromise the ability of police and prosecutors to charge people for unacceptable behaviour and those supporting repeal have failed to recognise how removing legislation designed to protect vulnerable and minority communities will have a negative impact.”