Opposition parties accused of ‘bizarre actions’ over anti-sectarianism bill


By G.A.Ponsonby
Opposition parties have been accused of “bizarre actions” after voting against the Scottish government’s Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill.
Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems were joined by the two Green MSPs in a revolt against the Bill, which contains the SNP’s anti-sectarianism proposals.

The opposition teamed up to vote for a Labour amendment that criticised the Bill for ‘failing to make the case, being confused and being difficult to enforce’.

However the SNP have accused them of displaying ‘bizarre behaviour’ by opposing the same Bill that they originally supported in June despite the fact that the amendment process, where they will be able to put forward their own proposals, has yet to even start.

Under parliamentary procedures the Bill, which was supported by the majority SNP group, will now go forward for amendments and the SNP is calling on all parties to engage in that process.

SNP MSP and Justice Committee member John Finne said:

“I welcome the fact that at the end of the day Parliament unanimously agreed to note the committee’s report and let the Bill go forward to the next stage.

“It was utterly bizarre that the opposition parties who endorsed the general principles of the Bill in June were voting against those same principles before anyone had taken the opportunity to make changes.

“Nothing shows up the opposition’s attitude more than their attempt to throw out the legislation before trying to make amendments to it.”

Mr Finne said he was glad that the Bill would still be going forward but called on opposition parties to work constructively by putting forward their own amendments rather than simply rejecting it out of hand.

Mr Finnie added:

“This legislation is part of a package of measures to tackle sectarianism and to restore the good reputation of our game.  There is overwhelming public support and the police and prosecutors are clear that they need this legislation.

“It would serve Scotland and parliament well if instead of today’s bizarre behaviour the opposition worked with the SNP Government on this legislation and to restore the reputation of our beautiful game.”

Speaking for Labour, MSP James Kelly complained that the Bill focussed too narrowly on football and said that evidence given by the SNP’s Roseanna Cunningham evidence to the committee had undermined its credibility.  Mr Kelly also attacked the role of the Lord Advocate.

He said: “I feel the Lord Advocate allowed himself to be drawn too far into the political process.  He fronted the bill.  He came to the committee. Essentially, the second time he came to the committee, he came to look after the minister to make sure she didn’t get into further difficulty.  The process, at that point, was undermined.”

The Scottish Lib Dems have called for the Bill to be scrapped whilst the Greens urged the Scottish government to pause further and to engage with other interested groups.

The Bill includes new legislation aimed at dealing with the problem of sectarianism within Scottish football.  The proposed legislation is the result of violence and infammatory chants that have soured Scottish football for years.  Last year touchline incidents and letter bombs sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon resulted in Starthclyde Police calling for a summit.


Labour amendment:

“Notes the number of verbal and written submissions that raised concerns about bill; believes the Scottish government have failed to make the case for the requirement for new offences contained in the bill; that it lacks clarity, would lead to confusion, be difficult to enforce if implemented and cannot be supported; believes a more proportionate response to dealing with the problems around Scottish football would be to give greater consideration to use of existing laws, work with football authorities and promote positive interventions in communities and the education system.”