The Chattering Classes Appalled At The Hate Crime Bill Finally Know How Celtic Fans Felt.

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When dawn breaks across Scotland on Monday morning, on April Fools Day no less, we will be one step closer to autocracy.

It’s the road we’re going down, not just here but across the west.

In the US, Trump threatens that if he’s elected he’ll be a “dictator for a day”; that’ll be one long day if you’re a political opponent of his or, indeed, one of the “out groups” his staff are drawing lists up to persecute. He intends to go after the media next. He will be attacking the First Amendment from the moment he takes office if he wins. God knows what he will do with the police and, if necessary, the National Guard if he feels that he has to.

At Westminster, they have passed one of the most illiberal laws this country has ever seen, the Public Order Act of 2023 … Labour has already said they won’t repeal it. Of course they won’t. If there is a political party in the west filled with more gutless specimens than the Republican Party of Donald Trump it is the one where careerists cheer Keir Starmer to the rafters, a man who has broken more promises than any party leader in recent history. Emboldened by the lack of a coherent opposition party, the Tory government recently changed the definition of extremism. We are well on the way down the slippery slope here.

But it’s Scotland where the noose is tightest, and the leash shortest and changes in the law steadily eroding our rights. That’s why Monday will be so significant. When we wake up that morning we will live in a different country, because that’s the day the SNP’s new “Hate Crimes” bill comes into effect, and that will be a game-changer, of course.

Now, listen; I think some of the discourse in our country right now verges on the depraved. There are fans of another Scottish club who wished an opposition player dead whilst he was lying unconscious on the turf not that long ago. Their fan forums are a cesspit of hatred and barely supressed lunacy.

You can go on social media on any given day and read enough hate to put the publishers of Mein Kampf out of business. Everywhere you look there is bile being spewed by people who are obviously wound way too tight for day-to-day living. There are elements of that Bill that are coming not before time.

I mean, I’ll give you an example of this which I’ve experienced myself in recent months, and although the particulars of this won’t mean anything to most people there are elements of it which will ring true and be familiar to you from your own lives and your own encounters.

I play video games to relax, although the games that I play don’t relax me much because they are mainly strategy sims.

One of them launched last year and is called Cities Skylines 2, and to say that the launch has been a bit of a mess is an understatement. I won’t bore you with the details. The publishers have been working flat-out to get it fixed and up to snuff, but they’ve made a lot of mistakes and they’re taking a long time and so a little bit of frustration is understandable.

But the forums and certain parts of the online community have descended into toxic chaos with the most unbelievable anger being unleashed on a daily basis.

This is a geeks game, alright? It’s a city builder, this isn’t Call Of Duty or one of those ultraviolent games where you might expect a few headbangers who want to live out their fantasies of killing large numbers of people … this is a game where you build roads and then power stations and water pumps and then zone your areas and watch as they grow.

That game shouldn’t attract people capable of the kind of unhinged hostility which is all over those forums; foot-stamping temper tantrums aren’t even the half of it. The abuse being poured on the publishers and their spokespeople online is off the charts.

And that’s what it’s like now in so many walks of life. Intolerance and malice and frustration are everywhere; I know there are societal reasons for such frustrations but honestly, when you see some of what’s online right now you despair for the species.

So, I’m not against laws which restrict some of what we say and do. There are too many people who feel that their right to vent and spew out whatever’s in their heads over-rides the rights of everyone who just wants to lead a normal, peaceful life. There are some people who have so much anger and hatred boiling away inside them that a little intervention might not be a bad idea before it becomes something much worse than a slogan shouted in a public place or something posted in an internet forum. Not all speech should be free; I’ve believed that for years.

But there are things in that Scottish Parliamentary act which have no place in a democratic society; a plain text reading of that law suggests that you could be jailed for something you say off-hand at a table with your mates in the pub. It means that something you say in your own home, where it’s just you and your family and friends and no-one around to possibly be offended, could get you prosecuted if the details of it ever came to light.

Of particular note, and concern, is that there doesn’t even have to be intent!

So you could be prosecuted under this law even if your comments might be seen as harmful, even if they do no actual harm nor are ever intended to.

And so civic Scotland is partially outraged by this, and they should be. There are many reasons why. Political debate is one area which is threatened by this. As we all know, there is nothing easier in the world right now than saying something that can get you branded an antisemite. Criticise Israel, criticise Israeli policy, in any way and you are taking your chances.

I’m willing to take that risk when I write, on this site, that UEFA should be discussing excluding Israel from football the way it has excluded Russia, because I know that I’m on solid ground and I’m perfectly willing to sue anybody who calls me that in earnest.

But as of Monday, I could be subject to prosecution for writing that if someone, somewhere, takes offence and decides I’m “stirring up hatred” and that’s not something that I should have to take my chances on, not that it would stop me if I thought the subject deserved another round of discussion.

That’s not something anybody in this gig should have to take their chances on. That’s an infringement on free speech, and I resent that un-necessary and unwelcome potential restriction of my rights under Article 10 of the ECHR; and I use the word “potential” deliberately, because I personally don’t fear this law because I’ve been doing this for ten years and I know exactly where the line is.

And yet, come Monday, that line will have moved and I can’t be 100% sure where it will have moved to although I’ve had a good look at the law and have a reasonable understanding of it.

I’m not terribly worried by it, but I will be wary of it, as I was with Scotland’s last deplorable piece of illiberal legislation, the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act, passed by this same government.

And you know what?

I find civic Scotland’s outrage pretty infuriating, considering how silent some of them were on the subject of that law when it was passed by our parliament. I feel that they are only angry now because this one might affect them, not because it’s a piece of shit that no society which values the principle of free expression should ever have passed into law.

A lot of them abandoned and betrayed us over the Offensive Behaviour at Football bill. They were perfectly happy to see working class men and women dragged through the courts and branded bigots for the songs they sang and the flags they carried and the sentiments they expressed.

You didn’t have to go too far to see why that law also belonged in the bin. From conjuring up phantom non-existent people who “might be offended” by a certain song to the fact that if you sang The Soldiers Song on the way to a football match that you could be jailed, but that if you sang it on the way to watch Ireland play rugby at Murrayfield you were fine … I mean it criminalised at football games acts which were legal everywhere else and in any other context.

And most of civic Scotland didn’t give a damn about it. Half of the mainstream media supported it and were perfectly happy to see it implemented.

I’ll tell you a story, and this is true; when I first started this gig, I was dating a girl who came from a staunch Rangers background. Her brother was a serving police officer, and he didn’t like me much and he certainly didn’t like some of what I wrote.

I couldn’t have given a damn, but when she casually mentioned to me that he had said that I could be jailed for some of it I emailed him and told him that if he felt confident in that he should come round and slap the cuffs on me. Needless to say, he never did because the claim was idiotic.

But a year down the line, we had the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act, and I have little doubt that he would have chanced his arm under some provision of that particular bill if he’d had the the guts to try. He would have failed in any case, because I was never going to fall foul of that ridiculous piece of legislation over something I wrote, but I know people, and I’m sure you all do as well, who ended up in court because of that law, which from day one was a mess of biblical proportions, and which resulted in as many overturned convictions as sustained ones.

Still, it kept the courts and the police busy and it gave preening politicians a chance to strut and claim to have acted to end a societal scourge. But what societal scourge was that? It certainly didn’t tackle bigotry and hatred. Those things endured. We live in a country where there are Orange parades every single year. No government which took this stuff seriously and wanted to be taken seriously on it would ever have allowed those to continue.

And you know what? This new law should be perfect for ending those once and for all, because all most of those parades are is incitement to hatred. But we’ll see how many are rejected on those grounds. We’ll see how many prosecutions there are arising from events in Glasgow Green when July comes back around. The courts would be on 24-hour shifts, and every cell in the city would be filled to the rafters, and I somehow doubt that they will be.

But I’ll tell you, I know that football fans will bear the brunt of this law and nobody will crack a light any more than they did the last time it was football fans being booted through the judicial system.

But the first time some well-connected comedian has his collar felt for telling an off-colour joke, or some speaker at a rally utters a phrase that annoys some guy standing in the back of the crowd looking for something to be annoyed at and ends up in court over it … wow. You will hear the squeals from John O’Groats to the wedding halls of Gretna.

And I’ll be squealing along with the chattering classes because it’s just wrong to put a law like that on the statute books, it’s just wrong to keep on widening the definition of what’s offensive until it makes criminals out of people who meant no harm and whose views could not have done any. The First Minister says that the threshold for prosecution will be too high to capture those sorts of people, or people like me, but you don’t have to be prosecuted, you only have to be arrested, you only have to be branded intolerant or bigoted and that might do terrible damage.

And all this is to say nothing for the man hours wasted, the police resources squandered, the court time taken up over much ado about nothing, as if there were no actual crimes being committed, as if we lived in a safe and secure paradise and this was a sincere attempt towards some future even greater utopia. But this is Scotland in 2024, and I’m fairly certain that our police have bigger issues to deal with, and bigger problems to fix.

They hate this law, by the way, and they’ve said so publicly, and that’s nothing compared to how the judges are going to feel about it when the cases start piling up on the docket.

And yeah, much of civic Scotland hates it too, but only because some of them feel the stab of fear in their own hearts and worry what they might say or do that is taken out context or used by others to get them into bother. They didn’t give a toss when it was just us.

But from Monday they’re going to know how we felt.

They’re going to understand what it was like to walk in a football crowd and know that you could be prosecuted for the songs you sung or the flags you carried or the ideas you expressed between 19 January 2012 and 18 April 2018.

In some ways, it’s gonna feel like that all over again, and we should all be concerned about that.

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  • Phil says:

    Found guilty, Brendan banned from the dugout which we accept and you call that a victory? So it wasn’t about taking on the corrupt SFA and fighting to right a wrong or fairness or cheating in the end? What’s going to change after today?

  • Martin says:

    It’s a dreadful law. The OBFA was its precursor, of that I’m totally convinced. Try it on a section of society to see what you can get away with. The point of the hate crime Bill is not, as in normal civilised countries, to take criminals through fair trial. The point is to pursue those who are… Shall we say… Unpopular in certain circles and punish by process. They might never be convicted or even get to trial, but their laptops and phones will be seized, and held for goodness knows how long.

    Though by far the worst part of the law is the idea that Jimmy in New Zealand could have written something on the Internet 10 years ago and Jamesie opens it next week in Scotland and takes offence. Under this law Jimmy’s 10 year old tweet or whatever is published, in Scotland, next week when Jamesie opens it. So Jimmie is subject to the hate crime bill and could (theoretically) be extradited.

    The law is horrific in many ways. Morally repugnant, badly written, mendacious and over-reaching. Actually the point about Orange marches could be the solution. Flood the system. Every day. Make it an unworkable law. Because this is a dark road our “democratic society” steps down, and it may be one way.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Bloody Hell – I better watch myself then James if they are lurking on here…

    But I won’t be silenced one iota, that’s for sure – unless by your good self !

    I absolutely think (from what information you provide me with) that the Scottish Football Media are scum and therefore The Scummy Scottish Football Media stays in my keyboard vocabulary then…

    I think that The Butchers Apron – (And I don’t give a continental fuck if I’ve offended you Brian Wilson Labour and Celtic Butchers Apron Lover) – is a flag of oppression, thuggery, theft, pillage, rape, colonialism, imperialism and a flag of Black Burning Shame and therefore The Union Jack stays as The Butchers Apron in ma keyboard vocabulary then…

    I think that The SFA and The SPFL are corrupt and bent to the core and employ Cheats with Whistles, Flags and Moniters so The SFA / SPFL stay as Cheats with whistles, flags and monitors in ma keyboard vocabulary then…

    So there we have it – Life’s all about opinions and these are some of mine to be agreed or disagreed with…

    So then – To any lurking unionist Sevco Huns – in authority or not in authority…

    What youse gonna do about it – eh !!!!

  • Jimmy says:

    Maybe its my aging brain, but I can’t keep up with it all. Had to take a break from You tube with everything happening in the world as I was going bonkers.
    One thing is for sure though,, Hate speech and Hate crime doesn’t apply to sevco fans, they love every part of their skulduggery.

    • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

      Very true about The Sevco Fans Jimmy – Very true indeed…

      Although there is the odd decent ones around these shores that want nothing to do with The Butchers Apron side of things at Sevco, so credit to these few from me for that wee bit at least !

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