The End Is In Sight For The Shameful Offensive Behaviour Act

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As this website predicted on the day after the Scottish elections, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is just about dead in the water.

Yesterday the opposition parties in the Holyrood Parliament came together to announce that it will be consigned to the history books.

Newspapers, and the SNP, had labelled this an “anti-sectarianism” bill.

It was nothing of the sort.

Instead, it was an anti-free speech bill, and an anti-football supporter one, which criminalised political expression at games where it would otherwise have been perfectly legal. The logical step, had this bill been renewed, wouldn’t have been to roll back certain elements of it, it would have been to extend it so certain political expression was outlawed everywhere.

It is one of the most regressive pieces of legislation ever enacted by a government in the West during peacetime, and I make no bones about saying that. Criminalising songs? But only in the context of football? What was that if not an assault on fans themselves?

What was it if not an unacceptable constraint on civil liberties?

The law is about to be ditched.

The SNP lost their Holyrood majority earlier this month, in spite of winning the most seats in the Parliament. There was always talk of certain members – James Kelly in particular – being ready to table motions to deliver the Bill to the bin; today he has made the first move in that direction.

The Offensive Behaviour Act will be no more.

This brings to an end one of the most controversial sagas in the recent history of the game here. A product of the so-called Shame Game, where Rangers players behaved like thugs, their manager provoked the Celtic boss into a touchline confrontation, but where only Neil Lennon was subsequently found guilty of anything, this Bill turned into criminals a lot of young men and women who otherwise might never have entered the justice system.

Its repeal does not end their fight for justice, or the campaign to have certain police officers charged for their own appalling behaviour whilst it was law, but it brings to an end the persecution of football fans under this particular locus.

It also ends all debate and discussion over whether this was ever a law to combat sectarianism.

It certainly was not.

That issue has deeper roots than mere football, as anyone who’s ever checked out certain swampy pages on Facebook or trawled the sewer of Twitter can attest.

Football is often a convenient hiding place for bigots. Politics is another.

I don’t think you need experience in that particular field to read between the lines of what I’m saying there.

The days of “equalising” genuine hate speech by going after certain forms of political expression are well and truly over … but we won’t forget the people who pushed hardest for this law and their stated reasons why it was required.

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