Labour MSP James Kelly will attempt to repeal anti-sectarian football legislation
A Labour MSP has vowed to try and scrap a controversial law designed to stamp out sectarianism in football if he is re-elected in May.
James Kelly claimed the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012 is “eroding trust” between football fans and the police.
The legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2011 and introduces two new criminal offences, covering offensive behaviour in and around football matches as well as threatening communications.
However, the Act has been the subject of controversy since its inception amid claims it discriminates against football fans and undermines freedom of speech.
A petition lodged at the Scottish Parliament, which calls for a “full and comprehensive review” of the legislation “with a view to having this Act repealed”, has garnered 6,500 signatures.
Kelly, who will seek to retain his Rutherglen seat and is also seeking a place on the party’s Glasgow regional list, said he would bring forward a member’s bill to repeal the Act if returned to Holyrood in May.
He said: “The place to tackle intolerance is in our classrooms and community groups and this Football Act is a barrier to that.
“The SNP Government in Edinburgh don’t understand that the problem of sectarianism in Scotland goes far beyond 90 minutes on a Saturday.
“The Football Act shows a government more interested in public relations than the public interest.”
Last June, an independent review of the legislation warned of strains on police, club and fan relationships at certain football clubs as a result of tensions around the introduction of the Act.
Researchers from the University of Stirling and ScotCen Social Research found a concern among some police officers that the focus of resources on offensive behaviour was “at the expense of resources being available to appropriately monitor more violent risk groups”.
Charges under section 1 of the Act fell by almost a quarter between 2012-13 and 2013-14, though researchers acknowledged it was “impossible to determine” whether this was attributable directly to the new law.
Latest statistics show a steady decline in offences at stadiums and a recent poll found four in five Scots support the legislation, the Scottish Government has said.
“The Football Act is eroding trust between football fans and the police and that is solely because of the SNP,” added Kelly.
“No other party in Parliament supported it, and Scottish civic society, football fans, academics and lawyers all opposed it at the time it was bulldozed through by an SNP majority that simply wouldn’t listen.
“The next generation should be the one that ends sectarianism for good, but that starts with getting our priorities straight, and repealing the Football Act.”