Paul Quigley from Fans Against Criminalisation says portrayals of the campaign are misrepresentative and the battle against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is actually a civil liberties issue
FANS Against Criminalisation was formed in 2011 in order to oppose the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Scotland (2012) Act and has since battled this legislation while simultaneously doing all that we can to support those affected by this Act.
Martin Hannan recently penned an article for The National in which he defended the Act and took a swipe at our campaign, specifically stating that those who defend sectarianism ought to grow up (click here to read more).
The point that Mr Hannan missed so emphatically (and perhaps deliberately) was that at no point have we sought to defend sectarianism. The Act itself and the argument surrounding it has nothing to do with sectarianism either – racist and sectarian offences were already illegal under previous legislation.
The Act itself and the argument surrounding it has nothing to do with sectarianism – racist and sectarian offences were already illegal under previous legislation.
One wonders how often we are expected to repeat that most basic statement of fact. The issue that we have is with the discriminatory nature of the act (as it only applies to football fans) and the absurd and dangerous notion of policing offensiveness.
These issues are fairly simple. Is it right, in a modern democracy, to take a single section of the population and make them liable to prosecution and possibly imprisonment for potentially offending someone?
It is also worth bearing in mind that this ‘victim’ does not actually have to exist, be in attendance or earshot of the ‘offender’ or to ever know about the circumstances of the ‘offence’.
If it could be argued that your actions at a football match may theoretically offend someone, somewhere, then you could be looking at a guilty verdict. Keep that in mind the next time you curse a poor refereeing decision or feel like goading the opposition when your team goes a goal up.
To humour Mr Hannan and all others who cannot help but link the societal problem of sectarianism to football, it is worth noting that despite acres of newsprint and more hot air from politicians than could fill the Provan Road gas tanks, there is, in fact, no statistical evidence to suggest that sectarian offences take place mainly in football grounds.
Is it right, in a modern democracy, to take a single section of the population and make them liable to prosecution and possibly imprisonment for potentially offending someone?
The statistics actually say precisely the opposite. In the last two years prior to the Act being introduced, the percentage of charges of breach of the peace with religious aggravation (the relevant charge prior to the Act coming into force) which took place within a football stadium was 7.4 per cent and 12.93 per cent.
The only thing we seem to agree with Mr Hannan on is that a full and frank review of this controversial and unworkable law is clearly in the public interest.
The Scottish Government feels that it has fulfilled its obligation to review this Act by publishing the Stirling Report – an academic evaluation of how effectively the Act has been implemented – despite Stirling University itself stating this was not intended to be an overall review of the success of the Act.
While the government has held this review as proof that the Act is working, it has conveniently glossed over the details which very clearly state the opposite. The review revealed that younger fans have been disproportionately targeted, it revealed that court cases on average drag on for far longer than normal trials, it revealed that some sheriffs are worried about the human rights implications of the Act and it also revealed that violence at football matches is actually on the rise as a result of police resources being diverted to police offensiveness.
In the whole period of its existence, the Act has had a relatively low conviction rate. In 2013/14 the conviction rate was just 53 per cent, and yet still the Scottish Government claims it is working.
That is as clear cut evidence as you are likely to find that this Act must be reviewed and ultimately abolished.
Despite acres of newsprint and more hot air from politicians than could fill the Provan Road gas tanks, there’s no statistical evidence to suggest that sectarian offences take place mainly in football grounds.
Martin Hannan failed to address many of these points before suggesting campaigners ‘grow up’. It is extremely regrettable that we as an organisation were not afforded the right to reply on this issue by The National.
Let us make it perfectly clear to Mr Hannan, however, that we would very much like to live in a ‘grown-up’ democracy, but this Act and the attempts to prevent serious debate on it seem to demonstrate that we don’t.
For the avoidance of doubt, we oppose this Act in its entirety and are happy to offer support to fans of any club charged under it, as we have done. This is not about sectarianism, it is not about Celtic and Rangers, it is not about the practice of singing songs about the history of the conflict between Britain and Ireland and it is, most certainly, not about immaturity.
It is about an unworkable, unfair, illiberal piece of legislation which attacks young football supporters in an ill-fated and ill-targeted attempt to eradicate sectarianism by a government which neither understands football nor, it would appear, understands sectarianism.
Picture courtesy of the Celtic Network