THE campaign to scrap the hugely unpopular Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act looks set to be entering its final stages following the decision of opposition parties to unite behind a motion calling for its repeal.
Now the fight to scrap the act will take place on a new battleground, with a committee of the Scotttish Parliament ready to examine the arguments in favour of its repeal as the next step in the process after the lodging of the repeal bill by Labour MSP James Kelly.
Describing it as a bad law which lacked support from the start, Mr Kelly stated that the repeal of the act will serve as an important moment in the history of Scottish devolution and mark an end of the law’s power over ordinary football supporters, particularly those from within the Irish community.
“Repealing the SNP’s Football Act will be a historic and important moment for devolution,” Mr Kelly said. “The law sums up how arrogant the SNP has become in government—and the contempt ministers have for parliament.
“Lawyers, academics, football fans and every opposition party opposed the law as it made its way through parliament. The SNP dismissed those concerns and simply used a parliamentary majority to bulldoze the act through.
“And it has since ignored the views of the Scottish Parliament on this issue. Repealing the act will show that the days of the SNP treating the Scottish Parliament and the views of the Scottish people with contempt are long over.”
As part of parliamentary scrutiny of the act, submissions are being taken from the public in order to understand how the law has affected ordinary people, and having successfully co-ordinated the submission of huge numbers of statements at the previous stage, campaign group Fans Against Criminalisation are calling on their supporters to do the same again in order to make clear to the Justice Committee the effect the act has had.
“The call for written submissions will run until Friday August 18, 2017, after which there will be a number of committee sessions where groups and individuals will be invited to give evidence in person,” FAC said, explaining the process and calling on the public to have their voices heard. “For those of you who have long memories, this is the same process that was used in 2011 when the original Offensive Behaviour Bill (then Act) was making its own way through the system.
“The format of the written submissions is similar to those used in the public consultation carried out by James Kelly before introducing his repeal bill. If you made a submission to his consultation—and very large numbers of you did—then please do so again. Your views expressed at that time will not be taken into account unless you submit evidence to the Justice Committee between now and August.”
While the repeal process has been led by the Labour MSP, support has come in for his efforts from across the party divide in opposition, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Green Party all backing his efforts in order to take advantage of the SNP’s loss of majority to seal the act’s fate.
Across the parties there has been frustration at the way the act was passed, and Tory MSP Oliver Mundell has bemoaned the SNP’s failure to tackle the act before it got to this stage.
“The SNP should have scrapped this unnecessary and unpopular law before it got to this stage,” he said. “Given the widespread criticism of the legislation, this repeal should have been going through on government time and not left to opposition parties. The Scottish Conservatives voted against this when it was introduced, and will do so again when it comes to parliament in future.”
The Lib Dems also showed their support for Mr Kelly’s efforts, with their MSP Liam McArthur also describing the act as ‘unnecessary and unpopular.’
“With the repeal bill now being formally lodged, the final whistle is in sight for this unpopular and unnecessary Act,” he said. “This minority SNP Government must recognise the game has changed and join opposition parties in voting to repeal this legislation.”
However, the SNP railed against the campaign, with Community Safety and Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing saying that without a viable alternative to the act the repeal effort ‘demonstrates contempt.’
“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,” she said. “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. They used the Act 377 times in 2016/17 alone to deal with actions that the vast majority of football fans, and the wider public, consider unacceptable and repealing it in the absence of a viable alternative demonstrates contempt for those targeted.”
Fans Against Criminalisation
With the final stages of the campaign set to play out in the full public glare, FAC renewed their commitment to ensuring the act is finally repealed and promised that their efforts won’t stop until parliament has finally removed it from the statue books.
“Our task now, which we will be taking up from the start of the new football season is to make sure that any attempt to thwart the will of the people and the parliament by unnecessarily delaying the progress of the repeal bill will be vigorously challenged,” FAC said. “The Government should be in no doubt, we intend to have the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act repealed and to do so as a matter of urgency. The best thing for them to do now is to acknowledge the mood of the people and the parliament and work with James Kelly to progress the repeal bill with no undue delay.
“This has been a long and difficult campaign but we are in the home strait. Please continue to support the campaign and to keep up your vocal and visible opposition to the act until it is dead and buried and the dirt is tramped down.”