Labour to develop new anti-sectarian strategy for Scotland

Labour has pledged to draw up a fresh anti-sectarianism strategy days after MSPs voted to repeal a controversial law aimed at tackling the problem.
Previous laws aimed at tackling the problem in football were scrapped. Picture: John DevlinPrevious laws aimed at tackling the problem in football were scrapped. Picture: John Devlin
Previous laws aimed at tackling the problem in football were scrapped. Picture: John Devlin
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James Kelly MSP said that legislation was not the answer and he would bring together charities, campaign groups, faith leaders, local government, football clubs and police to develop a fresh approach.

His Bill to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act passed its first parliamentary hurdle at Holyrood last week after opposition parties united to back it.

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The Act was introduced in the last parliament by the then majority SNP government, but has faced criticism from football fans and the legal profession.

Mr Kelly said Labour would evaluate the work of the SNP government on tackling the issue and review the funding available for anti-sectarian programmes in order to draw up a figure for next year’s budget.

The party will look at the uptake of recommendations made in 2015 by the independent advisory group on tackling sectarianism led by Dr Duncan Morrow.

It will also consider the role of clubs, fans’ groups and the police in tackling sectarianism and the new challenges posed by online bigotry.

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Mr Kelly said: “There should be no doubt that Labour is committed to ridding Scotland of sectarianism.

“Religious bigotry existed long before the Football Act and it is still a problem we are shamed by today. But it is not confined to the terraces of football stadiums and cannot be combated through broken legislation.

“Instead of unworkable laws, we must shift our focus to communities to tackle the root causes of bigotry, including through community groups and education, as recommended by experts at the Justice Committee.

“I am deadly serious about using my role as an MSP to tackle this modern-day shame. That is why I will be developing an anti-sectarianism strategy fit for 2018, which I hope every party, including the SNP, will get behind.”

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers have been consistently clear that tackling the scourge of sectarianism requires a broad range of actions, including education and wider community-based projects - backed by unprecedented Scottish Government investment of £13 million since 2012 - alongside the work of the justice system in enforcing the law.

“In recent days the Minister for Community Safety has also underlined the need for all parties to work together to build consensus on how we can mitigate the potential adverse impacts that repeal of the 2012 Act could have on vulnerable communities - a risk which was raised by a range of organisations in evidence to Parliament.

“Ministers remain resolute in their determination to combat religious bigotry, alongside wider hate crimes such as those involving homophobia and racism, which is also why they have commissioned a wider review of the law in this area, to report later this year.”