Vote to scrap football law a 'sad day for Scotland', MSPs told

25 January 2018, 18:59 | Updated: 25 January 2018, 19:00

Holyrood

The Scottish Government has pledged to respect the will of Parliament after MSPs voted in favour of repealing controversial legislation aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football.

Community safety minister Annabelle Ewing said the 65 to 61 vote in Holyrood marked a "sad day for Scotland", adding all parties must now work together in order to mitigate the impact of the decision.

She spoke out after opposition MSPs joined together to approve the general principles of a member's bill from Labour's James Kelly to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

After the decision, he said: "Parliament has now made the clear decision to back the repeal of the Football Act.

"It is discredited legislation which has failed to make any progress in tackling sectarianism while at the same time dividing fans and the police."

Mr Kelly added that the Scottish Government must now "work to unify parties, anti-sectarian organisations, faith groups and education leaders, and start taking the problem of sectarianism seriously".

The SNP had used its majority in the last parliament to introduce the Act in the face of opposition from all other parties - and since being implemented it has faced criticism from football fans and the legal profession.

Ms Ewing said while the result of the vote "is clearly disappointing, we must respect the will of Parliament".

She stated: "It's important now that all parties build consensus on the next steps required to mitigate the impact of this decision on vulnerable communities.

"This is not just a critical time for minority groups. The vast majority of well-behaved football fans who, through no fault of their own, become targets of vitriol and abuse will also be concerned about the message today's vote sends to people who wish to threaten, attack and abuse.

"We will explore all options at our disposal to protect people as best we can from hate crime, as well as continue with our education work which is helping to prevent it happening in the first place.

"While it's a sad day for Scotland, we are resolute in our determination to combat bigotry, homophobia, racism and offensive behaviour targeting people for simply being who they are. It's not acceptable and we want the people of Scotland to know we have their back."

During the debate, Mr Kelly highlighted how offences involving religious aggravation have increased from 696 the year before the act was brought in to 719, only 7% of which were football fans.

"The act has completely failed in terms of tackling sectarianism. What we need is a completely new approach."

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: "The 2012 Act is bad law. On its progress through Parliament the initial bill was met with criticism and disapproval from all opposition parties who believed the legislation was unfair, unworkable and inconsistent.

"Almost five years later, it is clear the consensus remains."

Lib Dem Liam McArthur said the original legislation was "unjustified, illiberal and dubious in terms of human rights".