'Popular democracy'

Rangers and celtic fans Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish government's measures to tackle football-related problems have run into opposition

Bigotry, of course, is appalling, egregious, a hissing and a byword to all right-thinking people. It can also be mind-numbingly dull.

It is an angry countenance, a vile word, an outstretched arm, a missile, a conflict.

But, in its day form in Scotland, it can be cloying and enervating: pusillanimous little asides, tedious "humour" about flute bands and the wearing of the green.

As Scots, it undermines us, it distracts us, sometimes it badges us in the eyes of the world. It is long time to be rid of it. But how?

As noted, this issue has a wide range of facets - from brutal violence to the low-level radiation of inappropriate comments.

Indeed, it may be argued that sectarianism and bigotry are two different things - with one being a predisposition to pertain to a certain form of religion and, the other, a manifestation of loathing towards the other lot.

Self-evidently, legislation alone - the proposed law being debated by MSPs today - will not be sufficient.

To be clear, ministers have never said that is the case.

They have always stressed that new legal sanctions had to be accompanied by such devices as a sustained programme to educate new generations to avoid the problems which have survived, somehow, from generations long past and gone.

Each side at Holyrood accuses the other of being motivated by partisan considerations.

Opposition leaders say the SNP is trying to make up ground from perceptions that sectarianism slipped in governmental priorities after they took power from Jack McConnell.

The SNP say that Labour in particular is driven by populist concerns, echoing the loud voice of the grandstand rather than the quiet voice of Scotland.

I do not believe that either accusation can be taken too far - or allowed to subsume the debate.

Rather I believe that both sides are, mostly genuinely, seeking solutions.

The rhetoric will be heated. ministers will condemn their critics for abandoning consensus.

But consensus breaks down when the other lot believes that a government has got things fundamentally wrong.

Opponents will accuse ministers of "railroading" the bill through parliament which, when you think about it, simply means exercising the majority mandate supplied by a grateful electorate.

To the substance.

The bill has two purposes - to outlaw offensive behaviour, such as chanting, connected to football; and to prohibit threatening communications online and elsewhere.

'Assault is assault'

Ministers say the measures are needed: the first offence, they say, fills a gap which has emerged owing to court interpretations of breach of the peace; the second, they say, requires specific definition and tougher sentences; thirdly, they say, it is right for parliament to send a message disapproving of bigotry.

But opposition critics say that bad law, wrongly applied law, ill-defined law may simply exacerbate the problem by enhancing a sense of victimhood (in a sector of society scarcely short of such a phenomenon at the moment.)

They say that it is wrong to punish an individual when that individual was unable to calculate in advance that a particular action, a particular song, would result in punishment.

Ministers have grown increasingly exasperated with that argument. They say that assault is assault - that you do not need to specify in advance that it is worse to hit an eye than a nose.

Ah, say critics, but this is creating a new offence, not part of common law.

Yes, say ministers, but if we draw up a "naughty list" of songs - as Humza Yousaf described it on Good Morning Scotland - then, you know what, those who are determined will simply come up with other charming little ditties.

In any case, say ministers, the argument is specious. Those in the grandstands know precisely which songs are offensive. Often, that is why they are sung.

It is possible in this case to have sympathy with both sides of this argument, to say that virtue does not lie solely with either side.

Or, to borrow a phrase from the first minister, that there is no monopoly of wisdom.

Opponents say the bill will flop and may even make matters worse. Government supporters say it will be a vital and sensible part of a wider campaign - and will be seen as such once it has been operating for some time.

Either way, the bill is going through. That is majoritarian democracy. It will then be tested - and judged - in practice.

That is popular democracy.