MSP branded 'utterly irresponsible' over move to repeal offensive behaviour act

12 December 2017, 06:09

Sectarian Police

A Labour MSP has been branded "utterly irresponsible" and "self serving" over efforts to repeal controversial legislation aimed at cracking down on football sectarianism.

James Kelly is to give evidence to MSPs on Holyrood's Justice Committee on his member's bill, which if passed, would scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

But ahead of the committee meeting SNP MSP George Adam accused the Labour MSP of ignoring the "vast majority" of people in Scotland who support the legislation.

The SNP cited a YouGov poll from 2015 as showing more than 80% of Scots support the Act.

Mr Adam also pointed to a number of organisations who wanted it to remain in place, including Victim Support Scotland, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities and Stonewall Scotland.

The legislation - which came into force in 2012 - criminalises behaviour which is ''threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting''.

But it has been widely criticised by fan organisations and others, with Mr Kelly claiming it has unfairly targeted football fans, causing division between police and supporters.

Mr Adam however said: "James Kelly is utterly irresponsible in seeking to erode the powers our police currently have to tackle bigotry, just to land a political blow.

"He is a politician doggedly pursuing a self-serving agenda - entirely focused on his own political interests, but deaf to the views of the vast majority of people across Scotland.

"At a time when the SNP Government is focussed on education, health, jobs, the economy and protecting Scotland's place in Europe, the Labour party would rather see us remove legislation that tackles sectarianism, prejudice and discrimination whilst offering no alternative in its place."

The SNP MSP continued: "Labour's core arguments are torpedoed by the fact of what the legislation has achieved and the overwhelming support it commands across society.

"The Act is backed by organisations representing the very vulnerable groups it is designed to protect - many of whom are critical of Labour's attempts to repeal the Act.

"If James Kelly had a modicum of political sense he'd find a new political hobbyhorse and drop his obsession with undermining the fight against sectarianism."

Mr Kelly replied, saying: "Time is running out for the Football Act. From legal experts and human rights groups to supporters' organisations, this legislation has been roundly condemned.

"The Football Act has been a failed PR stunt for the nationalists. They rushed it through Parliament in 2012, abusing their majority at the time with no support from any other party.

"Repealing the Football Act will leave no gap in the law, as experts have made clear to Parliament.

"It will also mean fans are no longer the subject of illiberal and unjust legislation, and it creates the opportunity for meaningful work to take place between supporters' groups, police and football clubs.

He added: "The SNP are now desperately clinging on to this disgraced law which has no record of success and it is time the party started listening to the majority of fans and experts who want the Act scrapped.

"Sectarianism is too complex a problem to be solved in 90 minutes on a Saturday.

"We need a generational change in attitudes and the place to do that is in communities and classrooms, not by needlessly criminalising working class young men."