Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Criminalising football fans: Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill (Scotland)

Controversy continues to follow the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill 2011 on its passage through the Scottish Parliament. The essence of the Bill is to make criminal acts of songs or gestures that are perceived to threaten others at or in relation to football matches. At its root is the historically tense relationships between fans of the 'Old Firm' (Rangers and Celtic), but the terms of the Bill would apply to perceived sectarian aggression anywhere in Scotland (or even in some cases abroad, see section 7).

The Bill is vague to a fault:

(b) the behaviour— 
(i) is likely to incite public disorder, or
(ii) would be likely to incite public disorder. 
(2) The behaviour is— 
(a) expressing hatred of, or stirring up hatred against, a group of persons based on 
their membership (or presumed membership) of— 
(i) a religious group,
(ii) a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation,
(iii) a group defined by reference to a thing mentioned in subsection (4), 
(b) expressing hatred of, or stirring up hatred against, an individual based on the 
individual’s membership (or presumed membership) of a group mentioned in any 
of sub-paragraphs (i) to (iii) of paragraph (a), 
(c) behaviour that is motivated (wholly or partly) by hatred of a group mentioned in 
any of those sub-paragraphs, 
(d) behaviour that is threatening, or 
(e) other behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive.

Indeed it takes the shape of an unquantifiable threat: as described here by Roger Cassidy of the Ballingry Celtic Supporters' Football Club:

Strathclyde Police Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan has recently admitted that he could not publicly state which songs would get you arrested ... In conclusion, it is this ambiguity of the draft legislation that most concerns our membership – with the possibility of a law being introduced that you won't know you're breaking until the police arrest you for it.

Opposition has come from several quarters, on the basis of civil liberties concerns and the absurdity of locking people up for singing songs. Among those expressing concern have been Index on Censorship and John Downie at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. The SCVO's line acknowledges the problem of outlawing players from crossing themselves on the pitch. However, Downie's solution to sectarianism (getting rid of denominational schools) seems at best an indirect route to addressing the issue of perceived sectarianism at football matches and at worst irrelevant or even counter-productive.

By contrast Stuart Waiton (a sociologist from Abertay University) argues that Scottish football is not the hotbed of sectarianism that promoters of the Bill make out. In the video below he gives evidence to the Justice Committee on a range of issues: people who take pleasure in taking offence, issues of incitement, to what extent sectarianism really features outside football, and what is or should constitute criminality at a football match.

Waiton welcomes the demonstrations that have so far taken place against the Bill and would like the clubs to show that the legislation isn't needed:
If Rangers and Celtic supporters, bloggers and associations came out in support, not of their own right to sing what they like, but their opponents’ right to do so, the case against the Bill would be strengthened immeasurably.
The focus of the campaign must be along these lines (a petition is also available).


Smoking Hot said...

Average crowd is 50-60,000. One side chants something that violates this proposed bill and then the other side replies also violating this bill. What then? ... arrest 50-60,000 people?

Evidence will be what? CCTV? Everyone from both sides takes the defence that they were not singing/chanting ... just miming!

Comedy Central or what? :)

Xopher said...

Our culture, however 'basic', fails to suit our leaders!
They dress the part in their suits, they live well off our taxes, they are SLUITERS- looters in suits and we, their employers, are not good enough for them.

Bill Gibson said...

This can be the turning point in the fight against Prohibition, as both teams have a global following. If the masses unite, a clear message of "Enough is Enough" will be sent to the politicians.