Labour: SNP Government facing ‘major defeat’ on Football Act

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A Bill to repeal a controversial law aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football is expected to be backed at Holyrood.

Labour MSP James Kelly’s legislation to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act will face its first vote at the Scottish Parliament.

The Act was brought forward by the SNP while it had a majority in the last parliament but there is now cross-party support from all the opposition parties to ditch it.

Detractors, including equality organisation BEMIS, fan group Supporters Direct Scotland and human rights organisation Liberty, have argued it is unworkable and unfairly targets football fans.

Labour said the now minority SNP Government was facing a “major defeat” on the issue and urged ministers to rethink their approach to sectarianism.

Speaking in advance of the debate, Mr Kelly said: “Today’s vote on the Football Act must prompt a major rethink from SNP ministers on how they tackle sectarianism.

“The Football Act has proved to be a complete failure, sending out a weak message and causing confusion in the courts.

“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.

“It is time for the SNP to accept the Football Act has to go, and listen to the experts who have made the case for tackling sectarianism through education and community work.”

Mr Kelly’s Bill has been backed by a narrow majority of MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee, who found existing laws generally cover behaviour the Act criminalises.

Minister for Community Safety Annabelle Ewing said: “The vast majority of football supporters are well-behaved and the Act is a clear statement that no section of society is exempt from standards and behaviours that are considered acceptable.

“A YouGov poll commissioned by the Scottish Government found that 82% of respondents agreed that sectarian singing or chanting at football matches is offensive and 83% supported laws to tackle offensive behaviour at and around football matches while 80% directly supported the 2012 Act.

“The evidence in this report clearly shows that 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.

“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, currently provided by Section 6.

“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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