Labour MSP's Bill Aims To Scrap Football Sectarianism Legislation

29 November 2016, 05:23 | Updated: 29 November 2016, 05:24

Labour is to lodge proposals at Holyrood to scrap legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism in football.

James Kelly MSP will put forward his formal proposal for a Members' Bill to repeal the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

The proposal needs the support of 18 MSPs across three political parties in order to progress through the parliament.

Earlier this month, MSPs voted by 64 to 63 in favour of a Tory motion calling for the repeal of the controversial laws in a symbolic defeat for the Scottish Government.

Opposition parties united to condemn the legislation, which criminalised offensive and threatening behaviour, including sectarian behaviour related to football matches and any communications containing threats or incitement to religious hatred.

It came into force in 2012 after the SNP used its majority in the last Scottish Parliament to pass the Act.

Mr Kelly said: ''The SNP government was unbelievably arrogant to bulldoze this Football Act through the Scottish Parliament in the first place. Every other party opposed it and now parties can come together to repeal it.

''The SNP doesn't have a majority in parliament, it has already lost a vote on the future of the Football Act and it would be a symbolic gesture if SNP MSPs were amongst the first to support my proposal.

''If the SNP recognises that it got it wrong, parliament could unanimously repeal this law and focus on tackling sectarianism where it really matters - in our classrooms and communities.''

Douglas Ross MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, said: ''It's time this act was scrapped. It's unnecessary, fans hate it and it's been proved unworkable in Scotland's courtrooms.

''The SNP railroaded this through when every other party was against it and the legal profession raised serious concerns about it.

''Now it doesn't have that same majority, the Scottish Government is being presented with the opportunity to do the right thing and repeal this unpopular and needless legislation.''

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.

''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.''