Pat Nevin and Graham Spiers back hate crime bill

Former footballer Pat Nevin and sports pundit Graham Spiers have backed the hate crime bill while giving evidence to MSPs.

Holyrood's Justice Committee has been hearing from a range of views as part of its deliberations on the forthcoming sectarianism legislation.

Football fans and academics have also been giving evidence.

The bill wants to outlaw behaviour deemed to "incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred".

Mr Nevin, who played in the 1980s and 90s for clubs including Chelsea, Everton and Motherwell, said he hoped that "good legislation would go through".

Both he and Mr Spiers, who writes for The Times, agreed that fans and their clubs should face the issue of sectarianism and act to stop it.

Mr Nevin told the committee: "Whatever we do, I want to make it [sectarianism] culturally unacceptable and legislation may be needed to do that.

"I feel that a number of people feel there isn't a problem, they say ultimately it is something you let Celtic and Rangers get on with it, it will be sorted, Uefa don't agree with that. I hope that good legislation can go through."

Mr Spiers, who said that as a child he supported Rangers, said some supporters liked the "old offensive, bigoted chants".

He told the committee, chaired by Christine Grahame: "Supporters in private like the songs, but in a public forum they don't want to admit it. Fans have been pulled kicking and screaming into this debate."

Mr Spiers said he wanted the denial to stop.

Representatives from the Rangers Supporters Trust and the Celtic Trust also gave evidence.

Fans of Dundee United, Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts football clubs were also represented.

In addition, academics from the University of Abertay in Dundee and Queen's University in Belfast spoke at the meeting.

Image caption The Scottish government has embarked on its anti-sectarian behaviour initiative

More than 70 written submissions have been handed to the committee from wide ranging sections of society, including the Scottish Beer and Pub Association and the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

Sociology and criminology lecturer at the University of Abertay Dundee, Stuart Waiton, wrote a submission in which he outlined his theory that the lower classes were being discriminated against in the legislation.

He also appeared alongside Mr Spiers and Mr Nevin to give verbal evidence.

Mr Waiton wrote: "The Football Bill consciously distinguishes football fan activity from the words and behaviour of artists, comedians and other performers. That football rowdiness is arguably part of a 'performance' specific to games is ignored."

'Rude words'

Mr Waiton added: "This aspect of the bill appears to be wholly discriminatory against football fans who would no longer be treated equally under the law.

"Furthermore, and perhaps more contentiously, the focus on what could be described as crude and rude words - fenian, tim, hun and so on - which are more part of everyday language amongst poorer sections of society, means that these people are again potentially criminalised for simply lacking politeness or using what is deemed to be politically incorrect language."

At the start of the three-hour session, evidence was heard from;

  • Mark Dingwall, of the Rangers Supporters Trust
  • Jeanette Findlay from the Celtic Trust
  • Dr Neil Havis, from the ERIN Hibernian Supporters Trust
  • Greig Ingram from the Aberdeen FC Trust
  • Martin Riddell from the Association of Tartan Army Clubs
  • Derek Robertson from the ArabTRUST (The Dundee United Supporters Society)
  • And Derek Watson from the Heart of Midlothian Supporters Trust.

Ms Findlay told MSPs that "nothing justifies a separate piece of legislation solely aimed at football supporters" and the bill was "unworkable, unclear and would criminalise football fans".

Mr Dingwall said the Ibrox club's fans had felt particularly targeted by the proposed new law, which could see offenders spend as long as five years in prison and be banned from football grounds.

Martin Riddell, of the Association of Tartan Army Clubs, said he supported the bill and added that current initiatives were "not working".

Mr Riddell drew a comparison with the behaviour of Tartan Army fans in the 1980s and 1990s saying that there was an opportunity for football fans' behaviour to be an "antidote" to that of the opposing team.

He added: "What our fans and organisations have started to say is if we have to clean up our act, everyone else has to do the same."

Football season

If passed by MSPs, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill would mean those convicted could spend as long as five years in prison and be banned from football grounds.

The committee has already heard evidence from security chiefs at both Rangers and Celtic as well as Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation.

The SNP originally wanted to pass a bill tackling sectarianism before parliament went into recess and ahead of the football season kicking off.

However, opposition parties raised concerns over the speed of change and First Minister Alex Salmond agreed it would not be rushed through as "emergency" legislation.

Instead, the plans were opened up to further scrutiny with an aim to be in place on January 1 next year.

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