Thursday, 15 December 2011

Offensive garments not allowed in the Chamber during sensitive debates

Slogan in video: Fans not criminals
Slogan in photograph: SNP Shame on you
No one expected the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill not to be voted into law yesterday, and so it came to pass. The Bill was voted in this afternoon. Also:
Today, the SNP-appointed Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick instructed Parliamentary security to prevent members of FAC entering the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament. We intended to do no more than wear t-shirts spelling out the message 'FANS NOT CRIMINALS'. 
I joined up with this group outside the Scottish Parliament. We were led to a committee room by Hugh Henry MSP, who welcomed us to the debate: several MSPs also came to this room, including some of the Bill's supporters and a lively discussion ensued – more of a shouting match. It was clear that no understanding between the two sides would result, and in any case within ten minutes it was nearly time for the stage 3 debate. The MSPs drifted off and we were about to follow, when the message reached us that people wearing garments with slogans would not be admitted to the Chamber, although they would be admitted if the garments were removed.

It remains unclear exactly what actions, songs and so forth will be criminalised by the Bill – I heard one member offering the explanation that this was 'context-dependent'. This seems to offer little assurance to fans. Opponents of the ban point out how few people have been arrested over the years. The test is whether 'reasonable people' might find specific behaviour or songs offensive. Since so few people have been arrested for so-called sectarian offences at football matches over the last 30 years, many 'reasonable people' might find it hard to identify many offensive actions or remarks. It seems that the trend is to make crimes out of actions and utterances that might have caused trouble rather than those that do cause trouble.

Scotland has recently seen the jailing of a Rangers fan for threatening communications before the Bill was even passed.

During the debate itself (videos here), I noted a point from David McLetchie MSP (18.32 minutes in). He says that government attempts to imply that opponents to the Bill are somehow in favour of offensive behaviour and sectarianism. He urges that both sides should treat each other's positions with respect. He is not the only person who has made this point in the hearings and debates leading to the passing of this Bill (see also 36.19 mins into the video). Of course such tactics are very familiar to us in the smoking debate: we are accused of being indifferent  to smoking rates, disease from smoking, discomfort from smoke, if not actually being in receipt of tobacco company payments. "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terrorism," said President Bush, setting a poor example in democratic leadership, but a good example in browbeating opposition. I hope that those MSPs who feel insulted and undermined by this tactic will remember not to use it themselves in the context of the smoking debate.

Edit: Herald comment on the new Act
Coverage from Fife: Academic delivering 3,000-name petition in last-ditch bid to halt Offensive Behaviour bill
Protesters banned from chamber as SNP use majority to pass anti-bigotry bill

1 comment:

auntieban said...

" make crimes out of actions and utterances that might have caused trouble rather than those that do cause trouble.

It's that blasted precautionary principle thing. You can ban just about anything by applying it.

Not good.