MSPs bid to scrap Offensive Behaviour at Football Act

MSPs have launched a bid to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Picture; John Devlin
MSPs have launched a bid to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Picture; John Devlin
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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.

James Kelly has brought forward a Member’s Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

Police at Hampden. Picture; Michael Gillen

Police at Hampden. Picture; Michael Gillen

The Labour MSP said he is “confident that next season will be the final football season with this poor piece of legislation in place”.

The law came into force in 2012 after the SNP used its majority in the last Scottish Parliament to pass the Act despite a lack of support from other parties.

After losing its majority at the 2016 Holyrood election, the SNP suffered a symbolic defeat on the law when the Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs united in November to back a motion calling for its repeal by 64 votes to 63.

Mr Kelly’s public consultation on his Member’s Bill found 71% of respondents support scrapping the Football Act.

Speaking ahead of formally launching the Bill at Cathkin Park in Glasgow, Mr Kelly said: “The SNP’s Football Act is now approaching injury time.

“My bid to scrap the Act has now been formally introduced and I am hopeful we can see a vote on it this year.

“As it stands, I am confident that next season will be the final football season with this poor piece of legislation in place.

“SNP ministers were arrogant to bulldoze this law through Holyrood in the first instance.

READ MORE: Thousands back repeal of Offensive Behaviour at Football act

“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.

“Having lost that majority, having seen the clear public support for repeal through the consultation process, and then having been sent a clear message by the Scottish electorate last week to get back to the day job, the SNP really needs to wake up to how unpopular this law is.”

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.

Community Safety and Legal Affairs 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.

“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.”