The sectarianism between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Glasgow has destroyed families, taken lives and crippled communities. This sectarianism is embodied in the rivalry between Glasgow Rangers and Celtic FC. With every Old Firm derby there comes further reports of violence. The violence between the two sets of fans escalated to such an extent that last year Les Gray, head of the Scottish Police Federation, called for the derbies between the two clubs to be banned.
As a result, the Scottish Parliament tried to rush through the The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. This Bill broadly aimed to do two things:
1) To deal with those who engage in certain behaviour if it is likely to incite public disorder where that behaviour relates to a regulated football match involving a Scottish football team.
2) Criminalise threatening communication generally. It does not have to relate to football supporters.
For the record, I will be the first to admit that something needs to be done to tackle this level of violence, but I am not convinced that yet more legislation is the way forward.
There is a plethora of offences on the statute book already dealing with breach of the peace, violence and incitement of hatred. Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 outlaws “threatening and abusive behaviour”. Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 outlaws any action aggravated by religious prejudice. Football banning orders can already be made against individuals convicted of a violent offence which involves a football match. The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) Scotland Act 2009 outlaws action aggravated by the perpetrator ‘evincing malice and ill-will’ towards the victim on the grounds of sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.
No one has yet explained to me why, with these plethora of legal tools at their finger tips, the Scottish government thinks we need more legislation.
The sceptic in me thinks that perhaps this was a knee jerk reaction to a moral panic created by the unacceptably high levels of violence we saw during the last footie season. Either way, if you want to introduce new legislation you have to A) show how it is different from existing legislation and B) That it is proportionate to the problem it aims to address. Currently I do not believe this Bill does either.