Scotland politics

Opposition parties at Holyrood could scrap sectarianism law

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

Opposition parties at the Scottish parliament have said they will seek to repeal controversial legislation on sectarianism.

The Scottish Conservatives have said the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is "unfair and unworkable".

With Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens all opposed to the law, there is now a majority in parliament against it.

The Scottish government has said the act had delivered "real improvements".

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications 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.

And the Fans Against Criminalisation campaign group has claimed the legislation has eroded trust between supporters and police, and has failed to tackle bigotry.

Image copyright SNS Group Alan Harvey
Image caption Flares and smoke bombs have become a more common sight in Scottish football grounds in recent years

The Scottish government believes the legislation has helped curb the problem of sectarianism.

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

"The Act sends out a clear message that Scotland will not tolerate any form of prejudice, discrimination or hate crime, and it gives police and prosecutors an additional tool to tackle this behaviour.

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

Following the Scottish election, the SNP no longer has a majority in the Scottish parliament.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: "Having prevented the SNP from gaining an overall majority, we can now use the powers of the parliament to scrap some of the bad laws they passed in the last one.

"To do that, opposition parties need to work together where possible and, as Scotland's main opposition, we aim to facilitate that as best we can.

He added: "We want to work with other opposition parties on this to ensure parliamentary time is provided over the coming weeks and months so we can act without delay.

"We believe there is a majority in the new parliament to end this absurd law."

Labour MSP James Kelly said he plans to bring forward a Member's Bill to scrap the legislation.

Mr Kelly said: "The place to tackle sectarianism is in our classrooms and communities.

"Instead, the SNP passed a law based on chasing headlines rather than finding solutions and set us back in the fight to end sectarianism in Scotland.

"Labour will work with other parties in the Scottish Parliament to repeal the Football Act."

A move to change the law is likely to have the backing of the Liberal Democrats.

Their spokesman said: "The Act was pushed through when the SNP had a bulldozer majority. Now they have lost seats they have to listen to other voices.

"After repeal the Scottish government should instead take forward the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism."

Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens confirmed their opposition to the legislation in its current form.

He told the Sunday Politics Scotland programme: "I think its a bad piece of legislation and I think there is an opportunity to deal with the worst of it.

"I suspect that a Justice Committee process might be better than simply a Member's Bill to scrap it altogether."

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