The fight against sectarianism in Scotland is being undermined, Labour has claimed, after it emerged the funding pot for frontline projects to tackle the problem suffered a £10 million cut.
But the claims were dismissed by community safety minister Annabelle Ewing who insisted “record sums” are being spent tackling the problem.
MSPs are this week expected to back repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act amid claims that it singles out football supporters. Labour now says support for grassroots initiatives aimed at changing attitudes has also slipped.
The Scottish Government’s draft budget shows that the safer communities budget has been down on the 2014-15 budget every year, equivalent to a £10m real-terms cut.
Labour MSP James Kelly branded the cut “appalling.”
He said it “speaks volumes about the SNP’s approach to tackling sectarianism”.
The MSP said: “Instead of working with fans and investing in projects that actually change views, they have cut money from vital charities and services while at the same time doggedly pursuing the Football Act at every turn.”
“The Football Act has horrendously backfired because it is entirely the wrong approach. Fans have lost all trust in the police and attention has been diverted away from methods which actually tackle sectarianism, like through education.
Experts told the justice committee that education is a more effective tool for targeting bigotry in society than police action, and that the relationship between fans and police has broken down, with some developing tactics to avoiding avoid prosecution. Mr Kelly’s bill was backed by the justice committee last week, and is expected to pass its first full parliamentary hurdle later this week, with every opposition party expected to back repealing the Football Act.
Organisations like Glasgow-based Nil by Mouth have been at the forefront of “hearts and minds” initiatives aimed at changing attitudes.
Ms Ewing: “The SNP government has spent record sums on tackling sectarianism, with more than £14m invested since 2007 – more than Labour spent when they were in office.
“James Kelly should instead explain to the public why he wants to legalise sectarian and offensive behaviour, and create a potentially serious gap in the law when it comes to prosecuting threatening online behaviour.”