I am extremely disappointed that, despite my pleas to SNP Members to vote with their consciences, and in the face of widespread political and public opposition, they voted on masse to pass the Scottish Government’s deeply flawed Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill.
As I pointed out in my speech during the Stage 3 Debate, the Bill fails to offer any definition of what constitutes sectarian or offensive behaviour. It is far too narrow, and does not advance any strategy for dealing with sectarianism in a broader societal context.
One requires only the most cursory knowledge of Scottish football to appreciate that whilst some songs, chants and slogans are brazenly aggressive and discriminatory, others are not. The police already have powers to arrest people for offensive acts at football games; powers which they repeatedly fail to exercise.
Whatever new powers we grant them, the police will never eradicate sectarianism in football grounds, as they are dealing with symptoms, not causes. Until we recognise that sectarianism is a societal problem that requires a sophisticated response, we will never overcome it.
In stark contrast to this Bill, Scottish Labour’s 11 point Action Plan features a raft of innovative proposals, including a comprehensive review of how educators can promote religious and cultural tolerance.
Perhaps we could start by not denying football supporters their democratic right to sit in the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament Chamber for the innocuous offence of wearing t-shirts bearing the collective slogan “Fans not Criminals”. I do not know who was responsible for this outragous decision – although I have my suspicions – and I will be very interested to see what the Presiding Officers have to say for themselves.
The only way that we will rid ourselves of sectarianism is to broadcast the message, loud and clear: in 21st Century Scotland, sectarianism, like racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia, is utterly unacceptable.
The debate can be viewed in full here.