MSPs scrutinising football bill attend Old Firm game

MSPs at Ibrox
Image caption The MSPs were briefed on security operations before and during games

MSPs scrutinising legislation on offensive and sectarian behaviour at football games have attended their first Old Firm match.

The members of Holyrood's justice committee were watching Rangers take on Celtic at Ibrox in Glasgow.

The Scottish Parliament has been taking evidence on a bill to outlaw behaviour deemed to "incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred".

Football clubs, fans, lawyers, pundits and academics are also being consulted.

More than 70 written submissions have been submitted to the committee, which aims to tackle offensive and sectarian behaviour at football games and online.

MSPs were attending the Old Firm game to gauge at first hand some of the issues involved.

Among those at Ibrox on Sunday - where Rangers won 4-2 - was Christine Grahame, the convener of the Holyrood justice committee.

She was briefed on policing operations both inside and outside the ground and said she was very impressed by the level of preparation involved.

Internet postings

Ms Grahame told BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "I've just seen a very heavily policed and stewarded match and they won't all be like that and that's within the contained stadium.

"What I'm concerned about now is to look at when the fans leave the stadium and go elsewhere and when they were coming to the stadium."

Ms Grahame said it was difficult to discern what was being sung by fans at the game because of the "excitable cacophony", but that she had no doubt the fans know what songs are being sung.

The committee convener conceded there were still problems with pinning down areas of evidence, particularly in relation to internet postings, but said these areas would be looked at when the committee makes an initial report.

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 Scottish government 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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