Offensive behaviour laws could be “quickly” overturned following symbolic vote


Scottish Parliament votes against offensive behaviour at football legislation by slimmest of margins

AN EXPERT on the legal workings of the Scottish Parliament has predicted that a Private Members bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) could pass “quickly” through the parliament, following a majority vote against the legislation.

A parliamentary motion lodged by the Scottish Conservatives calling for the repeal of the OBFA, which was introduced in 2012 in a bid to tackle offensive behaviour and communication related to football, united opposition parties yesterday (2 November) to pass by just 64 votes to 63.

Dr Nick McKerrel, a lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University and an expert on the legal development of the Scottish Parliament and civil liberties, told CommonSpace that though only indicative, the motion would open the way for the Private Members bill for repeal of the OBFA being pursued by Scottish Labour MSP John Kelly.

“With a majority Kelly could navigate the law through the stages of the law making process in Holyrood fairly quickly,” McKerrel said.

McKerrel also said that the difficulties faced by the SNP over the legislation, which has met with hostility among some football fans and campaigners who say it criminalises fans, have their origins in attempts to “rush” legislation through the parliament, first in 2011, and then again successfully in 2012.

He said: “The unanimity amongst all other parties is pretty unusual and reflects the long term difficulty with this legislation. 

“Criminal laws drafted in haste by politicians which give ill-defined powers to police forces are rarely a success.”

However, McKerrel also played down the wider political significance of the SNP, a minority administration since the 2016 Scottish Elections, losing the vote to a united opposition of Tories, Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens.

“There is no particular weight in a single vote and as a minority government in 2007 – 2011 and from this summer the SNP administration has had some high profile defeats on these sort of votes,” he said.

Background read: Opposition unite to defeat Offensive Behaviour Act in symbolic parliament vote

“For example in the immediate aftermath of the decision to release Al-Megrahi – the convicted Lockerbie bomber.”

During the debate in the Scottish Parliament, Annabelle Ewing, Scottish Government minister for community safety and legal affairs defended the OFBA as necessary to tackle abusive behaviour around football matches.

She said: "The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was introduced in 2012 to rid Scottish football of this abusive behaviour – to differentiate between supporting your team and descending into threatening and abusive targeting of the opposition.

“There is a stubborn minority who still believe that it is acceptable to be abusive, offensive and violent at football,” she added.

A poll in May by Panelbase found that a majority of Scottish football fans support the OBFA.

A spokesperson for the Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) group, which campaigns against the OBFA told CommonSpace that the SNP should accept that the legislation has failed and no longer oppose moves to repeal it.

“The results of today’s vote at Holyrood and of the 3 month long consultation, both held in regards to James Kelly’s bill to repeal the OBFA have clearly demonstrated this it is the express will of the Scottish people and of the Scottish Parliament that this illiberal and dangerous legislation is shown the red card once and for all,” the group said.

“FAC now call upon the SNP to accept that this act has failed against every possible measure and to commit to no longer opposing the bill for an outright repeal.”

Picture courtesy of Fans Against Criminalisation

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