Overwhelming support for Labour campaign to scrap abusive behaviour at football law

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 31 October 2016 in News

Over two-thirds of respondents to a Scottish Labour consultation have backed the repeal of the SNP's anti-sectarianism law 

Picture Credit: Fotolia

A campaign to scrap an Act which outlaws offensive behaviour at football has received overwhelming support in a public consultation.

Over 3,000 people responded to Scottish Labour's consultation on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 and 71% said they fully support a repeal.

The Scottish Government say the law is a vital tool to fight persistent scenes of sectarianism at football, but some fans and experts say it is a heavy handed response and one sheriff described the Act as "mince".

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly, who is preparing a Bill to repeal the law, said: “The people have had their say, it’s time to scrap the SNP football Act.   

“The SNP were arrogant to bulldoze this piece of legislation through Holyrood in the first place. Every other party opposed it. Academics, lawyers, football clubs and football fans opposed it, yet the SNP wouldn’t listen and used their then majority in the Scottish Parliament to railroad the Football Act through.  

“Having lost that majority, and faced with clear public support for repeal through the consultation process it would be incredibly arrogant if the SNP do not now think again.  

“I will take the next steps in the legislative process. The SNP should consider dropping their support for this bad law, and backing my Bill.” 

The consultation was open to anyone who wanted to have their say and was not conducted under British Polling Council guidelines.

However, Labour say its consultees came from a wide cross-section of Scottish society and were not solely drawn from sceptical football fans.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland continues to have a problem with abusive behaviour at football games which tarnishes our national game. 

"A hardcore minority is souring the atmosphere for the majority of football supporters and critics of the OBFTC Act seem to think our only option is just to accept this contempt for fans and players.
 
“Not one viable alternative to dealing with the unacceptable scenes of violence and abuse we continue to see at matches has been put forward in the entire debate around this law. 

"This is not just about sectarianism or language that can be challenged by education programmes – two thirds of charges under the law in 2015/16 for threatening behaviour, including physical violence.
 
“After two full football seasons of the Act being in place an independent evaluation found that the clear majority of fans condemn abusive behaviour towards people’s religious beliefs.
 
“As the consultation has only just closed we will take the time to look at the responses fully. As we have repeatedly said we are absolutely willing to talk about how the law could be improved but with no alternative to deal with those who use football to spread hatred and abuse, those opposing the Act are turning a blind eye to the sickening scenes we continue to see at games and telling us we have no right to expect fans to behave any better."

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