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by Tom Freeman
25 January 2018
MSPs vote to back repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act

Rangers and Celtic fans - Gregor Smith

MSPs vote to back repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act

The Scottish Parliament has indicated it will repeal the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

MSPs voted 65 to 61 in support of Labour MSP James Kelly’s repeal bill at Stage 1.

The act, which was introduced in 2011 by the SNP majority administration to tackle sectarian violence and discriminatory abuse at football matches, has been opposed by all other political parties and now looks set to be scrapped.

Anti-discrimination groups such as Stonewall Scotland, the Equality Network, Victim Support Scotland and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities have defended the act, but critics have said it has disproportionately targeted football fans rather than the causes of sectarianism.

There has also been questions about its implementation from legal groups.

Supporter’s group Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) said today’s vote was “a huge step forward on the road to repeal. We are now within touching distance”.

SNP MSPs called for opposition parties to amend the act rather than scrap it, but they failed to convince as the Scottish Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats all backed the principles of Kelly’s member’s bill.

Kelly said: “Parliament has now made the clear decision to back the repeal of the Football Act.

“It is discredited legislation which has failed to make any progress in tackling sectarianism, while at the same time dividing fans and the police.

 “It is time for the SNP government to listen to the will of Parliament and get behind repeal. Instead of continuing to pursue this broken law, it must work to unify parties, anti-sectarian organisations, faith groups and education leaders, and start taking the problem of sectarianism seriously.”

Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said some “could be concerned about the message today’s vote sends”.

She said: “While this is clearly disappointing, we must respect the will of Parliament. It’s important now that all parties build consensus on the next steps required to mitigate the impact of this decision on vulnerable communities.”

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