Labour MSP member's bill to repeal the 'Football Act' is formally introduced to Holyrood

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly today announced that his private member’s bill to repeal the ‘Football Act’ will be introduced to Holyrood. 

A BID TO scrap the controversial law that is aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football matches has officially been lodged at Holyrood. 

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly’s Private Member’s Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act has now been formally introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

The law came into force in 2012 after a series of incidents, including trouble at a Scottish Cup replay between Rangers and Celtic, and the sending of suspected bombs to the then Celtic manager Neil Lennon, leading criminal lawyer Paul McBride QC and MSP Trish Goodman.

“My bid to scrap the Act has now been formally introduced and I am hopeful we can see a vote on it this year.” James Kelly MSP

At the time, opposition parties at Holyrood claimed that the Bill was “railroaded” through by the SNP. But since losing its majority at last year’s Holyrood election, the SNP government faces defeat on the issue.

Last November opposition parties have called for the bill to be scrapped after MSPs backed a motion calling for the repeal of the ‘Football Act’ by 64 votes to 63.

Kelly said: “Every other party opposed it. Academics, lawyers, football clubs and football fans fought it, yet the SNP wouldn’t listen and used its majority in the Scottish Parliament to railroad the Football Act through.”

Red Card: Over 70% want to scrap offensive behaviour law in consultation

One of those people who criticised the law was Professor Tom Devine who said that it would likely go “down in history as the most illiberal and counterproductive act passed by our young Parliament to date.”

They have been a few notable groups who opposed the repeal of the law that includes Equality Network, who said: “We are seriously concerned about the message that repealing the 2012 Act would send to the public. We feel it would condone expressions of prejudice and hatred at football matches, as well as suggesting that this behaviour is being decriminalised.”

Annabelle Ewing, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs went further by saying that the Scottish Government will stand on the side of tens of thousands “who want to enjoy watching our national game with family and friends in an atmosphere that is not tainted by offensive, abusive and prejudicial behaviour”.

Ewing said: “Threatening and offensive behaviour associated with football continues to be a problem in Scotland, and a key job of Government is to provide police and prosecutors with the powers to tackle it. 

“Threatening and offensive behaviour associated with football continues to be a problem in Scotland, and a key job of Government is to provide police and prosecutors with the powers to tackle it.“ Annabelle Ewing

“They used the Act 377 times in 2016/17 alone to deal with actions that the vast majority of football fans, and the wider public, consider unacceptable and repealing it in the absence of a viable alternative ‎demonstrates contempt for those targeted. Section 6 of the Act also brings Scotland into line with the rest of the UK by specifically addressing threats intended to stir up religious hatred.”

Ewing added: “We have also commissioned an independent review of all hate crime legislation in Scotland, to report early next year. The review is intended to ensure Scotland’s hate crime laws remain adequate, appropriate and fit for the 21st century.”

The bill has been passed to the Scottish Parliament officials who will agree on a timetable for debating the Bill next week, with Kelly confident that the vote will happen before the end of the year.

Picture courtesy of The Celtic Network

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