Scrapping Offensive Behaviour Football act '˜would be historic'

Scrapping a law aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football would be a historic moment for devolution, an MSP has said.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2012. Picture: Stephen Mansfield/TSPL
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2012. Picture: Stephen Mansfield/TSPL

Opposition parties have united behind a bid by Labour’s James Kelly to repeal the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

Marking the lodging of his Member’s Bill at the Scottish Parliament, Mr Kelly said the SNP had treated Holyrood with “contempt”.

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The Act came into force in 2012 after the SNP used its majority in the last Parliament to pass it despite a lack of support from other parties.

After losing that majority at the 2016 Holyrood election, the nationalists suffered a symbolic defeat last year when Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs backed a motion calling for its repeal.

Mr Kelly said: “Repealing the SNP Football Act will be a historic and important moment for devolution.

“The law sums up how arrogant the SNP has become in government - and the contempt ministers have for Parliament.

“Lawyers, academics, football fans and every opposition party opposed the law as it made its way through Parliament. The SNP dismissed those concerns and simply used a parliamentary majority to bulldoze the Act through.

“And it has since ignored the views of the Scottish Parliament on this issue.

“Repealing the Act will show that the days of the SNP treating the Scottish Parliament and the views of the Scottish people with contempt are long over.”

Tory MSP Oliver Mundell said: “The SNP should have scrapped this unnecessary and unpopular law before it got to this stage.

“Given the widespread criticism of the legislation, this repeal should have been going through on Government time and not left to opposition parties.

“The Scottish Conservatives voted against this when it was introduced, and will do so again when it comes to Parliament in future.”

Lib Dem Liam McArthur said: “With the repeal Bill now being formally lodged, the final whistle is in sight for this unpopular and unnecessary Act.

“This minority SNP Government must recognise the game has changed and join opposition parties in voting to repeal this legislation.”

Parliament officials will next week agree a timetable for debating the Member’s Bill, with the first vote likely to happen before the end of the year.

Community Safety and Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing said: “This Government stands on the side of the many tens of thousands of football supporters who want to enjoy watching our national game with family and friends in an atmosphere that is not tainted by offensive, abusive and prejudicial behaviour.

“Threatening and offensive behaviour associated with football continues to be a problem in Scotland and a key job of Government is to provide police and prosecutors with the powers to tackle it.

“They used the Act 377 times in 2016/17 alone to deal with actions that the vast majority of football fans, and the wider public, consider unacceptable and repealing it in the absence of a viable alternative demonstrates contempt for those targeted.”