Scotland politics

Labour MSP tables Offensive Behaviour at Football Act repeal bid

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A bid to scrap a controversial law aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football has been officially lodged at the Scottish Parliament.

Labour MSP James Kelly has brought forward a Member's Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The law came into force in 2012 after the SNP used its majority in the last Scottish Parliament to pass the Act.

But after losing its majority at the last Holyrood election, the government faces defeat on the issue.

All of the other parties at Holyrood have called for the bill to be scrapped, with MSPs uniting in November to back a motion calling for its repeal by 64 votes to 63.

Opponents of the law say it is poorly written, unnecessary in light of existing legislation and unfairly targets football fans, with the Fans Against Criminalisation campaign group staging protests against it.

But the Scottish government has defended the law, arguing that opponents have not put forward any viable alternatives and that scrapping it would send out the wrong message on prejudice and offensive behaviour.

'Continues to be a problem'

Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said: "This government stands on the side of the many tens of thousands of football supporters who want to enjoy watching our national game with family and friends in an atmosphere that is not tainted by offensive, abusive and prejudicial behaviour.

"Threatening and offensive behaviour associated with football continues to be a problem in Scotland and a key job of government is to provide police and prosecutors with the powers to tackle it."

She said the Act had been used 377 times in 2016/17 to "deal with actions that the vast majority of football fans, and the wider public, consider unacceptable".

Ms Ewing said: "Repealing it in the absence of a viable alternative ‎demonstrates contempt for those targeted.

"We have also commissioned an independent review of all hate crime legislation in Scotland, to report early next year. The review is intended to ensure Scotland's hate crime laws remain adequate, appropriate and fit for the 21st century."

But Mr Kelly said he was confident that next season will be the last one with the legislation in place.

He added: "Every other party opposed it. Academics, lawyers, football clubs and football fans opposed it, yet the SNP wouldn't listen and used its majority in the Scottish Parliament to railroad the Football Act through."

Parliament officials will next week agree a timetable for debating the Member's Bill next week, with the first vote likely to happen before the end of the year.