Former Labour First Minister condemns party’s stance on ‘Bigotry Bill’

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By a Newsnet reporter

Former First Minister Henry McLeish has condemned the Scottish Labour party’s continued ‘opposition for the sake of it’ stance to the Offensive Behaviour Bill.

Speaking in the Herald newspaper, the former leader of the Labour Party in Scotland decried the party’s behaviour, claiming they offered nothing new to the current discussions.

By a Newsnet reporter

Former First Minister Henry McLeish has condemned the Scottish Labour party’s continued ‘opposition for the sake of it’ stance to the Offensive Behaviour Bill.

Speaking in the Herald newspaper, the former leader of the Labour Party in Scotland decried the party’s behaviour, claiming they offered nothing new to the current discussions.

The Bill contains new legislation aimed at tackling the problem of sectarianism within Scottish football.

Mr McLeish said the legislation made sense and could be effective if everyone worked together.  The legislation, “with the goodwill of all concerned will make a difference” he said.

He added: “I believe the opposition to the new legislation in the Parliament offers nothing new in terms of either alternative proposals or seeking to strengthen the provisions.”

Mr McLeish was speaking out after it emerged that the two Labour MSP’s who sit on Holyrood’s Justice Committee refused to take part in discussions on the new legislation.  James Kelly and Graeme Pearson proposed no amendments, asked no questions of any proposed amendments and abstained from all votes.

One of the Labour MSPs, Mr Kelly, had previously suggested that laws covering messages posted online should be “beefed up”.

Just before the Scottish elections the Labour MSP said: “The job for a future parliament is to look at the laws around the internet and examine whether they’re tough enough or not – and if they’re not, look to beef those up.”

He added: “We must ensure that the authorities have got the appropriate tools in legislation at their disposal to clamp down on this.”

However, speaking on Radio Scotland on Wednesday morning Mr Kelly claimed “… the existing legislation is working well”

The intervention Mr McLeish will be seen as a rebuke to those currently steering Labour’s Holyrood group.  The party are in the midst of a Scottish leadership campaign and the favourite to replace outgoing leader Iain Gray is Johann Lamont.

Ms Lamont has already committed to working with the Scottish government in order to improve the legislation.

Shortly after May’s election she said: “We look forward to scrutinising the detail of these proposals and working closely with the Scottish Government to improve this legislation and ensuring it is in place as quickly as possible.”

The failure of Labour to engage with the parliamentary process has brought criticism from fellow Justice Committee member Humza Yousaf.

Mr Yousaf said that Labour should listen to their former leader and adopt a more constructive approach.

He said:

“Mr McLeish recognises this bill is significant and it will have a positive impact on tackling this serious problem in our society.

“It is time for Labour politicians to do what they were elected to and participate in this important piece of legislation.

“It was completely unacceptable for the Labour politicians not to participate – particularly as their depute leader said they would work constructively with the government to improve the bill.

“Labour needs to drop their opposition for opposition sake approach and engage at stage 3.”