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Labour MSP launches bid to repeal ‘hated’ football behaviour act

James Kelly says the SNP "won't admit they got it wrong".
James Kelly says the SNP "won't admit they got it wrong".

Labour will today take steps to repeal controversial legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism.

Glasgow MSP James Kelly is to meet parliament officials to begin drafting a Member’s Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

The SNP used its majority in the last Scottish Parliament to pass the legislation despite opposition from across the chamber.

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all pledged to repeal the Act in their manifestos for the recent election, which returned a minority SNP administration.

Mr Kelly said: “Today I’ll take the first steps to repeal the SNP’s hated Football Act. The law has become a symbol of the SNP’s arrogance in government and it is time for it to go.

“The Football Act was bulldozed through parliament by the SNP with not a single other party voting for it and everyone from football fans to academics and lawyers opposing it.

“The SNP still won’t admit they got it wrong on the Football Act, but they have lost their majority in parliament and I will work constructively with the other parties to abolish the Football Act.”

The legislation criminalised offensive and threatening behaviour, including sectarian behaviour, related to football matches and any communications containing threats or incitement to religious hatred.

At the time the Act was passed, opposition parties released a statement claiming the SNP had failed to make the case for it and warned it could do “more harm than good”.

They also cited concerns of football fans and religious, anti-sectarianism and legal organisations.

A report published earlier this year revealed there were only 79 convictions in 2014/15 under the legislation, with opposition parties stating the figures demonstrated the law is unnecessary.

 

The Scottish Government said that while the vast majority of football supporters are well-behaved, the Act had delivered improvements and any move to repeal it would send the wrong signal.

A spokeswoman said: “Since its introduction, religious crimes, race crimes and crimes in relation to individuals’ sexuality are down and we’ve seen a decrease in crimes of offensive behaviour at or in relation to regulated football matches in Scotland.

“Statistics show a steady decline in offences at stadiums and a YouGov poll shows 80% 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 would send entirely the wrong signal and would undermine progress in driving all forms of prejudice from the game.”

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