Paul Quigley: Why we’re well on the way to waving goodbye to the Offensive Behaviour Act

06/06/2016
angela

Paul Quigley from Fans Against Criminalisation says political momentum against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is building and the campaign could be on the verge of victory

THE dust of the election has settled as the Scottish Parliament now eases into the new session. The SNP has claimed a third straight victory in the Scottish elections, however its loss of an absolute majority is clearly a blow to the party regardless of how anyone may choose to dress this up. 

Nicola Sturgeon and her cohorts still hold the majority of the cards in the halls of power in Edinburgh, however the government may find things slightly more difficult this time around when it comes to pursuing its legislative agenda. It could well make for intriguing political drama over the next five years, and one of the earliest dramatic episodes may refer back to a plot line from last season – the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

Labour’s James Kelly MSP has now reiterated his promise to deliver a Members' Bill to parliament which will seek to have it repealed, and we at Fans Against Criminalisation have received commitments from each opposition party that they will support him in doing so. 

Labour’s James Kelly MSP has now reiterated his promise to deliver a Members' Bill to parliament which will seek to have it repealed, and we at Fans Against Criminalisation have received commitments from each opposition party that they will support him in doing so. 

It has to be remembered, though, that this is not simply some petty attack being carried out for political gain. The response from the SNP in this regard has been tired and predictable, with it choosing to denigrate Labour for siding with the Tories rather than actually deal with the issue at hand. 

The SNP cannot reasonably expect to be able to frame every policy debate along the lines of the referendum in the hope that it will dissuade those in favour of independence from criticising the party.

These political games are of absolutely no interest to the young fan being dragged out of his bed at 7am on a Friday morning in front of his panic-stricken family for the alleged crime of offending a hypothetical person. 

Nicola Sturgeon herself has criticised those in opposition for prioritising this matter. The rights and wellbeing of football supporters should not be a genuine concern, she seems to be suggesting.

Fortunately, however, the SNP appears to be alone in holding such a view as all opposition political parties in Scotland continue to oppose this law. This includes Patrick Harvie and the Green Party, as well as Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. The ideological differences of these respective parties could scarcely be more pronounced, but they are in agreement on this issue. 

The response from the SNP in this regard has been tired and predictable, with it choosing to denigrate Labour for siding with the Tories rather than actually deal with the issue at hand. 

A bad law is a bad law. The fact that this Act has united those across the political spectrum, as well as fans of Celtic, Rangers and a host of other rival clubs, seems to be as clear a sign as any that it is not fit for purpose.

When not dismissing outright the concerns and rights of fans, SNP ministers have had a tendency to refer to a YouGov poll which they claim demonstrates that the public supports the Act. However, this poll is almost as flawed as the legislation itself. Over half of the respondents within this poll admit to having no interest in football, which means that the remaining number of respondents who do have some knowledge and interest in football is too small a sample from which to infer the views of the population. 

Of even greater importance, however, is the manner in which the questions are worded. Respondents are asked if they support the legislation on the predication that it is action against sectarianism. This is entirely disingenuous as previous legislation already outlawed such behaviour and the new offence created by the law has nothing to do with sectarianism whatsoever. 

To make a comparison, if someone was to conduct a poll on public opinion about a complex piece of tax law and stated that the law was designed to prevent tax evasion, it would be expected that the majority of respondents would register their support for this measure in spite of the fact that they would probably be unlikely to understand the intricacies of the law and how it works. Thus, the results from such a poll would not actually be representative of anything.

The fact that this Act has united those across the political spectrum, as well as fans of Celtic, Rangers and a host of other rival clubs, seems to be as clear a sign as any that it is not fit for purpose.

The final defence of the Offensive Behaviour Act seems to be the constant repetition of the mantra that repealing it would 'send the wrong message', particularly in light of the scenes which marred the recent Scottish Cup final and with the looming prospect of more regular derby matches in Glasgow now that Rangers have been promoted to the top tier of Scottish football. 

Now we are not at this point suggesting, nor have we ever contended, that all fans are angels. The clamour from people like John Mason MSP, however, to link the scenes at Hampden to the possible repeal of the Offensive Behaviour Act has been utterly lamentable given that the two issues are entirely separate. These fans could be, and indeed have been, charged under a variety of laws. 

We are not for a second arguing that football fans should not be subject to criminal charges if their behaviour warrants it. The law should apply to football fans in the exact same way it would to anyone else. The problem is that this is not the case under this legislation and the fact that citizens are not treated equally in the eyes of the law sends a far more dangerous message than the repeal of an unworkable law. 

And perhaps if so much time, money and effort was not being spent filming and harassing fans who are merely singing songs, then the police could have been more effective when it came to securing the safety of those at Hampden on that day.

Fans Against Criminalisation has now entered into dialogue with the opposition parties and we are delighted at the progress which is being made and by their continued commitment to their manifesto pledges to repeal this unjust and unjustifiable attack on the rights of a select few. 

Fans Against Criminalisation has now entered into dialogue with the opposition parties and we are delighted at the progress which is being made and by their continued commitment to their manifesto pledges to repeal this unjust and unjustifiable attack on the rights of a select few. 

We have met with James Kelly and he has assured us that he intends to submit his Bill in the coming weeks, hopefully prior to the Parliament breaking up for the summer. Both the Green Party and the Tories have assured us that they will vote in favour of this Bill in order to repeal the legislation, and we are set to meet with representatives of the Liberal Democrats next week, however they too have already confirmed that they will support Kelly in his efforts. 

The numbers now favour those opposed to this illiberal Act, however our campaign will not count our chickens before they have hatched. It is our understanding that there will likely be a period of consultation to properly measure public opinion on the impact of the legislation and it is possible that the Justice Committee may exercise its right to gather its own evidence to allow for all of the facts to be properly considered before any Members' Bill goes to a vote. 

We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we get the result we have been working towards since 2011, and we urge all of those who have supported our efforts to continue to do the same. 

If everything goes to plan, each and every one of you will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation process and it is incumbent on all of us to do so. 

We are hopefully in the final stages of our campaign, but nothing has been won yet. 

The CommonSpace opinion section is an open platform for anyone who wants to voice their views and does not represent the editorial position of CommonSpace itself. If you'd like to have a piece published, email CommonSpace editor Angela Haggerty at angela@common.scot

Picture courtesy of The Celtic Network

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