Opposition unite behind plan to reppeal controversial football law

A joint statement has been issued by all opposition parties, supporting Labour MSP James Kelly's Bill to repeal the Scottish Government's Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Labour MSP James Kelly
Labour MSP James Kelly

Mr Kelly has secured cross-party support as the proposal formally begins its journey through parliament.

The Labour MSP proposes to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act arguing that the legislation is flawed and has damaged trust between police and fans.

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Critics of the Act say that there were sufficient laws in place to deal with offensive behaviour before the new act was passed.

Picture: TSPL

The joint statement has been issued by Mr Kelly, Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Douglas Ross, Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie and Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur.
The statement say: “As opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament we endorse the final proposal in James Kelly MSP’s Football Act (Repeal) Bill to repeal in total the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.
“The Act was rushed through the Scottish Parliament in 2011 against the will of all the opposition parties. It is an illiberal law that targets football fans and has proven to be unworkable in practice. It has caused division between football fans and police and confusion in the justice system.
“Following the vote in parliament last month, it is clear that a majority of MSPs in parliament support the repeal of the Football Act. It is now time for the government to support moves to repeal the Act as quickly as possible.
“We utterly condemn sectarian language, acts and behaviour. That is why we remain committed to working constructively with the government and others to tackle sectarianism and other forms of hate crime. We also support initiatives that promote a positive atmosphere around football grounds.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland continues to have a problem with abusive behaviour at football games which tarnishes our national game.

“A hardcore minority is souring the atmosphere for the majority of football supporters and critics of the OBFTC Act seem to think our only option is just to accept this contempt for fans and players.

“Not one viable alternative to dealing with the unacceptable scenes of violence and abuse we continue to see at matches has been put forward in the entire debate around this law.

“This is not just about sectarianism or language that can be challenged by education programmes - two-thirds of charges under the law in 2015/16 for threatening behaviour, including physical violence.

Picture: TSPL

“After two full football seasons of the Act being in place, an independent evaluation found that the clear majority of fans condemn abusive behaviour towards people’s religious beliefs.

“As we have repeatedly said, we are absolutely willing to talk about how the law could be improved but with no alternative to deal with those who use football to spread hatred and abuse, those opposing the Act are turning a blind eye to the sickening scenes we continue to see at games and telling us we have no right to expect fans to behave any better.”