In a move expected to raise eyebrows amongst many of their constituents, Opposition MSPs voted on 15 March to repeal the only piece of legislation aimed at tackling football related aggression.
Responding to the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing MSP said:
“This is a deeply disappointing and worrying decision. Repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, without any attempt whatsoever to put an alternative in place, is a foolhardy move that needlessly exposes vulnerable communities to abuse.
“While some progress has been made, there is still an undeniable problem with behaviour at football, and the recent reports made by match delegates demonstrates more needs to be done.
“This move sends out an appalling signal, suggests that the law is going to be soft on antisocial conduct by bigots and bullies and will compromise the ability of police and prosecutors to charge people for unacceptable behaviour. The removal of the section 6 offence also puts Scotland behind the rest of the UK in terms of protection against religious hatred.
“The SNP Government will, of course, respect the will of parliament but will also continue to work towards ridding Scottish society of the scourge of religious bigotry and prejudice and I look forward to Lord Bracadale’s review of hate crime, due in the coming months. However, it’s a great pity that we must proceed without this additional tool to hold perpetrators of sectarian hatred to account.”
Kenneth Gibson added:
“In a week where a “supporters” group organised a march on the day of a football match with a dark clothing dress code, with their flyer depicting a person kicking a supporter of the rival club in the face and using sectarian language, Opposition parties in Holyrood saw it fit to withdraw the only piece of legislation specifically designed to tackle sectarian football violence.
“It is obvious to anyone that sectarianism continues to be a problem in Scottish football, and I am deeply disturbed that those opposing the Act resorted to repealing legislation rather than seeking to reform or replace it, leaving us without any tailored mechanism to prosecute what is indeed very serious, criminal behaviour.
“That the Tories and Lib Dems would vote with Labour on this preposterous repeal comes as no surprise. The Greens however have demonstrated that in their eyes, ‘some forms of discrimination are more equal than others’, given their strong advocacy to ban offensive behaviour towards people for reasons other than religion.
“Sectarianism is the shame of Scotland and it saddens me that opposition MSPs pandered to what is a small minority for the sake of repealing a piece of SNP Government legislation. The consequences of this repeal on the safety of individuals and will be theirs to live with.”