Campaigners “quietly confident” about demise of Offensive Behaviour at Football law


James Kelly MSP launches Bill in the Scottish Parliament to scrap controversial ‘anti-sectarianism’ Act

CAMPAIGNERS against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) have said they are “quietly confident” that a new Bill designed to overturn the controversial legislation will be successful.

The OBFA was introduced in 2012 by the Scottish Government as an anti-sectarianism measure. Critics of the legislation say it has demonised football fans and is draconian and unworkable. It outlaws songs and speech deemed ‘offensive’ during football matches.

A Bill by Labour MSP James Kelly lodged in the Scottish Parliament on Monday (1 August) has now entered 12 weeks of consultation.

A spokesperson for Fans Against Criminalisation, the campaign group established to oppose the OBFA, told CommonSpace that it couldn’t take a positive outcome for granted and that it would be encouraging its members to take part in the consultation process.

He said: “We’ve got 12 weeks. We’ve been making these arguments for a long time, but now this is our supporter’s opportunity to have their say through the parliament website.

“We are especially interested in people speaking out who have perhaps been targeted under OBFA or affected by it, it’s their time to speak out.”

However, the spokesperson cautioned opponents of the Act against complacency.

“We are quietly confident, but aren’t counting our chickens yet by any means,” he said.

“We are quietly confident, but aren’t counting our chickens yet by any means.” Fans Against Criminalisation

“There isn’t exactly a massive majority [in parliament] against OBFA. So we need to keep making the arguments we’ve been making about it all along, about why it’s unworkable and why it should be repealed,” he added.

Kelly, an MSP for Glasgow, is confident of securing support for the Bill from the Scottish Parliament’s four opposition parties; the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens.

Kelly told CommonSpace that he would fight for as much cross party support as he could get.

He said: “I’m pleased that there are already parties lining up to support this. But I’ve got to win the support of MSPs, and I’m taking nothing for granted.”

Kelly has launched a new website called Scrap the Act, which will host updates on the consultation period as well as updates on general campaigning activity to overturn the OBFA.

The OBFA has led to a string of confrontations between Police Scotland officers and football fans. Major incidents have included the kettleing of several hundred Celtic fans by officers in March 2013, and an alleged incident of police using abusive language towards young fans in November 2015.

Opinion: Why we're well on the way to waving goodbye to the Offensive Behaviour Act

A spokesperson for the SNP said that opponents were in danger of ending the OBFA without having any alternative measure for combating sectarianism in place.

He said: “The Scottish Government has made it clear that we are willing to discuss how any legitimate concerns about the Act can be addressed. We have invited stakeholders to submit evidence about how it could be improved, but to date no one has done so.

“Repealing the Act in the absence of a viable alternative is not an option.

“The Act sends out a clear message that Scotland will not tolerate any form of prejudice, discrimination or hate crime – including hatred based on race, nationality, sexual orientation or sectarianism – and it gives police and prosecutors an additional tool to tackle this behaviour.”

The final vote on Kelly’s Bill to repeal the OBFA could take place as late as early 2017.

Picture courtesy of Fans Against Criminalisation

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