MSPs expected to back Offensive Behaviour at Football Act repeal bill
Labour MSP James Kelly's bid to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act faces its Stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament
Football pitch - Fotolia
MSPs are expected to back Labour MSP James Kelly's bid to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act today, as the member's bill faces its first vote in the Scottish Parliament.
The bill, which was backed by the Justice Committee, would scrap the 2011 law introduced by the SNP to crack down on sectarianism.
The original law was passed while the SNP held an overall majority at Holyrood, which they lost at the 2016 election.
Opposition parties are all expected to back the bill at stage one, which means pressure will be on ministers to amend it.
The law was passed in response to violence at matches between the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow, but Kelly said it unfairly targets football fans instead of tackling the roots of sectarianism.
"The Football Act has proved to be a complete failure, sending out a weak message and causing confusion in the courts," he said.
"The SNP's legislation was designed to be PR exercise to make it look like they were taking action on sectarianism at the time, but the reality is that the Football Act has only served to draw a divide between fans and the police.
"The Football Act is discredited legislation, condemned by legal experts, fans' groups and equalities organisations, along with every opposition party, and its time is up."
Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing challenged other parties to come up with a viable alternative.
"A range of organisations have highlighted real concerns to MSPs about depriving our law enforcement agencies of this legislation completely without putting a viable alternative in place," she said.
"We share those manifest concerns that repeal will send entirely the wrong message, leaving vulnerable communities feeling exposed to abuse and prejudice and putting Scotland behind the rest of the UK in terms of protection from incitement to religious hatred.
"Singing songs about terrorism, mocking incidents involving loss of life and being hateful towards some of our most vulnerable communities with no regard for the impact of their wilful behaviours is not acceptable in a modern Scotland."
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