Glasgow & West Scotland

Labour MSP bids to scrap 'hated' football act

Football fans Image copyright PA
Image caption The law was intended to discourage overtly sectarian behaviour in and around Scottish football matches

An attempt to ditch controversial legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism is being launched.

Labour's James Kelly will begin work on a Member's Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

The Glasgow MSP said it was time to axe the "hated" law now that the SNP no longer had a majority at Holyrood.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was a "strange priority" for opposition parties but she would discuss concerns.

'Legitimate concerns'

She said: "I think it's a strange priority for opposition parties to almost have as their first objective to get rid of legislation which is about tackling sectarianism.

"That's not something which I think should be the priority of the opposition parties.

"But of course we are happy to discuss how legitimate concerns can be addressed, and that constructive approach is one that I will seek to take on any issue."

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all pledged to repeal the Act in their manifestos for the recent election.

With the SNP returned to government as a minority administration, there is now a majority in the chamber which would back repeal.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Fans Against Criminalisation group has staged rallies against the Act

Glasgow MSP Mr Kelly will meet with officials at the Scottish Parliament later to begin the process of drafting his Members Bill.

He said: "Today I'll take the first steps to repeal the SNP's hated Football Act. The law has become a symbol of the SNP's arrogance in government and it is time for it to go.

"The Football Act was bulldozed through parliament by the SNP with not a single other party voting for it and everyone from football fans to academics and lawyers opposing it.

"The SNP still won't admit they got it wrong on the Football Act, but they have lost their majority in parliament and I will work constructively with the other parties to abolish the Football Act."

'Eroded trust'

The Act was introduced in 2012 in an attempt to crack down on sectarianism and other football-related offences.

Critics have argued there was already sufficient legislation in place to deal with disorder at football matches. They have also claimed the new law has unfairly targeted law-abiding football supporters.

The Fans Against Criminalisation campaign group also claimed the legislation had eroded trust between supporters and police and had failed to tackle bigotry.

A report published earlier this year revealed there were only 79 convictions in 2014/15 under the legislation, with opposition parties stating the figures demonstrated the law was unnecessary.

'Real improvements'

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said the Act had "delivered real improvements".

"Since its introduction, religious crimes, race crimes and crimes in relation to individuals' sexuality are down and we've seen a decrease in crimes of offensive behaviour at or in relation to regulated football matches in Scotland," she said.

"Statistics show a steady decline in offences at stadiums and a YouGov poll shows 80% of Scots support the Act - a view shared by the overwhelming majority of those in the sample who follow Scottish football.

"Any move to repeal the Act would send entirely the wrong signal and would undermine progress in driving all forms of prejudice from the game."

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