Date: 15th October 2017 at 5:12pm
Written by:

The Green Brigade unveiled their latest banner during the game against Dundee yesterday, and it was as on the nose as it could have been. Indeed, some think it was too on the nose and are worried that it might offend some of the SNP supporters amongst our ranks.

You can vote for a government, a party, without agreeing with everything it does.

I did it myself. I’ve been voting SNP, steadily, in elections since the Scottish Parliament one a decade ago.

In spite of being a huge fan of Corbyn that was my second general election where I ticked the box next to the yellow and black of Nicola Sturgeon’s party.

But their criminal justice policies are deeply worrying.

Their policies on football fans are a disgrace.

The banner yesterday simply made that point in a way that leaves no room for doubt as to how serious some view this; between the government’s ministers and Police Scotland this is an administration that has criminalised free expression, but in a cowardly fashion which makes what someone says and does at a match a crime when it would not be in any other surroundings.

It is scandalous.

It has always been scandalous.

The trouble, the problem, doesn’t stop at the Offensive Behaviour Act either.

Let’s not forget, this was a bill born from a so-called Shame Game where Ally McCoist’s gutless behaviour started a touchline rammy and several Rangers players got red cards. There were a number of arrests inside and outside the ground that day, but I do not think I am underplaying those events to say that this was hardly a riot. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that the government was guilty of either an over-reaction of epic proportions or they cynically exploited the first opportunity that came along to get one of their hobby-horse policies across the line.

Why not lobby for the punishment’s to be levied on those who’s on-field behaviour was unacceptable?

Because that would have been too difficult.

Going after football fans is easier.

It has always been easier.

I mean, why football fans in particular? Ask around; barely any of the people responsible for this law self-define as club supporters. It is tempting to say this is a rugby lovers law, targeting a sport that these ivory tower bureaucrats view with disdain.

As I said, football fans have always been an easy target for these sort of people; plenty of them were on the Tory benches in the 80’s, and their policies led to Hillsborough, where fans were herded into cattle pens with the all-too predictable consequences.

Football fans conjure up bad images, whether in the colours of Celtic or the club across town or wherever.

In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby discusses this phenomenon at some length; he spoke of one colleague at work who simply refused to believe he was an Arsenal supporter because he was well read, articulate, clearly intelligent and otherwise “normal.” He said years later that he disdained the idea that the book “sold football to the middle classes.” He scornfully talked about those who said football fans wouldn’t buy a book “which contained Jane Austen quotes” and famously reported that “I don’t want to make extravagant literary claims … but I knew when I was writing it that a lot of football fans could read without moving their lips.”

I agree. I, myself, have built a large, steady, readership in spite of the fact that I often use political, historical and even obscure pop culture references in the pieces I write. I pitch high, because I know my audience is intelligent and insightful and more than capable of connecting with it. Yet I read journalists who obviously don’t believe a word of that and write comic book level stuff which seeks to simplify everything and strips most of it of meaning.

This attitude towards us persists; that football fans are thick neds.

The tragedy for Scotland is that this has been shoe-horned into public policy.

And worse is to come.

The SNP are so enraged about James Kelly’s efforts to put this affront to democratic norms in the bin that they are weighing up an even darker version to replace it; this time, the clubs themselves will be held liable for the behaviour of the fans.

This is an interference in football governance which no club, no manager, no supporter, no press person and no administrator should be willing to countenance for two seconds.

A law which seeks to punish clubs with sanctions, fines, even points deductions because of what happens in the stands?

We might as well close up shop right now, all of us, and let the government run the whole game.

UEFA will never stand for it, and will demand the SFA resists.

The courts might get involved, and then who knows what happens after that?

The SNP doesn’t care about the potential consequences of strict liability, which should give you some insight in how much they care about what football fans think. Just passing such a law could be potentially ruinous, even before any individual club is taken to task under it.

The European governing body could not be clearer on this.

I am sure the SFA has made that plain in their representations.

But there is a grim determination to go ahead with this anyway.

The SNP voter base is a loose coalition.

That’s what they’ve forgotten about.

The rise of Corbyn and the Labour left already puts it in peril on that flank.

His appeal is obvious to a guy like me, who comes from a Labour background. I might now be a committed supporter of Scottish independence but that’s not the same thing as religiously voting SNP like I was a member of a cult. Sturgeon’s conference speech was sweet music, but in a general election ex Labour voters now have a serious decision to make, and if they are football fans who feel alienated and pissed off about this then that choice is a Hell of a lot easier to make.

In addition, Unionist Tories are coming after them on the right.

The Scottish electorate is fragmented.

To win elections here you need to do more than just stand in the centre and try to appeal to a dwindling band of tabloid readers. If they want to bring football in Scotland to the point of standstill they are welcome to go ahead but there will be consequences for that if they do.

You know, I don’t want them to drop these proposals out of political calculation.

I had rather hoped that some sort of sanity would break out in their ranks and they’d drop it for moral ones, having realised that the policy is plainly fascistic and discriminatory. But I’ll settle for them doing it because they can see the writing on the wall.

Over in SevcoLand there was some sneering at that banner yesterday.

They really are thicker the proverbial steel reinforced bank vault wall.

If Strict Liability were in place today, and it was being rigorously enforced, their disgraceful behaviour of Friday night would have placed them in dire trouble.

As amused as I’d be by that I do not want any such law to be passed; our football authorities already have the tools to deal with vile behaviour like that.

What I want is for them to grow balls and use their powers to do it.

Because if they had done that, if they had acted years ago instead of hiding behind pitiful excuses and the notion that clubs are “doing all they can” the Offensive Behaviour bill wouldn’t have got a single vote. Strict Liability would not be getting discussed.

It’s partly their fault that we are here, and when this issue is being voted on Hell mend them if the reactionaries in the Holyrood government get what they want and Scottish football winds up a chew toy of the political class.

We’re a long way from that.

This would be a spectacularly dangerous road for this government to go down.

They still have time to realise that and stop.