12 December 2011

85% already believe "sectarianism" is a criminal offence...

On Wednesday, Holyrood is due to pass the final version of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill into law at stage three.  Yesterday, the BBC's Politics Show Scotland discussed the issue, and somewhat unexpectedly, yours truly was invited back on to contribute. The section starts around 01:04:16.  While there is still time for the legislation to be amended, its substantial revision seems unlikely.  I've made my own views on this legislation, and how it has been handled, defended and justified, exceedingly - one might even say tediously - plain across a series of more-and-less temperately worded pieces on this blog.  Such doubts are now moot. The Bill will pass on Wednesday. Our thoughts must turn to its implementation, its operation in practice and anxious scrutiny of how prosecutors and police officers use the sweeping powers it gives them. It is in that spirit that I tried to contribute to yesterday's programme.

Whether or not you regard this law as the bee's knees, we must be frank about the challenges presented by how its actual provisions have been composed. It is very broadly drafted, potentially criminalising a great gamut of conduct around and near football matches and football fans, whether in stadia, on public transport, or in pubs with the football on. In these settings, the police will be armed with very broad powers indeed, mediated primarily by that less-than-reassuring concept "common sense", to guide them. If this is your goal, or one you find attractive, this Bill will certainly satisfy. However, the breadth which will give the police such "flexibility" correlatively - and self-evidently - presents challenges for the liberty of the subject.

Some of you, I think, may have misapprehended the point I was trying to make in my ad absurdam piece about the criminalisation of Huguenot-haters. By no means am I seriously suggesting that the police will be spending their time, scourging around in bars, seeking out and persecuting those fondly reminiscing about St Bartholomew's Day in 1572.   By taking such an improbable example, and demonstrating how the new law will criminalise the eccentric conduct and prejudices of its characters, I hoped primarily to prompt a little thought. What about more plausible scenarios closer to home, closer to the Scottish experience? Do we seriously think that such cases really merit criminalisation and jail terms? Anybody who believes that the police and prosecutors never stumble and misjudge, I'd encourage you to read up on Paul Chambers and the scandal of his "Twitter Joke Trial". Such concerns are not hysterical. They are just the sorts of cases which are left vulnerable to prosecution, when you enact very broad criminal legislation, relying on the good sense of law officers and public prosecutors to use their provisions sparingly and selectively. Supporters of the Bill must be frank with themselves about that.

Finally, I wanted to expand upon a point raised in yesterday's Politics Show, on public knowledge of the law and potential challenges posed to the enforceability of this legislation. Les Gray, for the Police Federation, was profoundly skeptical about the idea that football fans - and I suppose, the public in general - will  struggle to ascertain what behaviour, speech or songs will be criminal under the new regime and which will not.  This robust confidence, despite the plain obscurity of the legislation's vaguest section, which criminalises "behaviour that a reasonable person would consider offensive" which a sheriff can be persuaded "is likely" or "would be likely to lead to public disorder". There is, for example, no list of proscribed songs or lyrics appended to this Bill, nor even a series of non-exhaustive scenarios, adding some meat to the concise definitions of its offences, to guide football fans and others exchanging views which might, conceivably, shade into the idea of "expressing hatred" against any of the groups enumerated in the law.

Is Les Gray right to be cynical about the idea that people have a clear idea what is permitted and what isn't? Here's a piece of evidence which suggests not, which I had rather intended to mention on the programme, but lamentably, slipped my mind when the camera had me in its beady, unresponsive gaze.  Seeking to bolster their waylaid plans for this legislation, the SNP Government commissioned a  poll from TNS-BMRB over the late summer, asking a series of questions about public attitudes towards "sectarianism". Do you agree that sectarianism is offensive? Do you agree that sectarianism is unacceptable in Scottish football? Do you agree or disagree that stronger action needs to be taken to tackle sectarianism and offensive behaviour associated with football in Scotland? 

From their point of view, the findings were ideal.  89% agreeing sectarianism was offensive, 91% agreeing that "stronger action was needed". Since, Roseanna Cunningham has regularly syllogised around these findings thus: 

Almost everyone agrees stronger action on sectarianism is needed. This Bill is stronger action on sectarianism. Therefore almost everyone supports this Bill.  

Best I can discern, at no point in this polling exercise did the government or TNS-BMRB attempt to posit any definition of what they actually meant by sectarianism, so heaven knows what those polled made of the questions. I'm reminded of George Orwell's essay, "What is Fascism?", on wild, undefined commonplaces in our discourses, which all too easily obscure rather than illuminate the issues we're trying to talk about. Fundamentally, to ask if folk if they think sectarianism is offensive is basically to ask do you think that this Bad Thing is good or bad? It is no surprise, thus framed, that such questions generate such stonking results.  

On my main theme, however - public knowledge of the law - the poll generated one finding which the government have conspicuously not discussed. Indeed, insofar as they have made reference to it, they've appear to have distorted the significance of the data. TNS-BMRB report that they asked their respondents if they thought that sectarianism is a criminal offence, under existing legislation? The key rationale now advanced by Scottish Government ministers is that this new Bill closes "gaps in the law", which is a rhetorical way of saying, "criminalising things which are not criminal but we think ought to be." So how knowledgeable were the public about these "gaps"? Did they see sectarianism as already criminal, or presently permitted by the law, and requiring criminalised in a "crackdown" aiming to expunge it from society and eliminate its lyrics from football? Strikingly, the poll showed that the vast, vast majority of respondents already thought that sectarianism was a criminal offence. The results were as follows:

Q: Sectarianism is a criminal offence. Agree or disagree?
Agree: 85%
Disagree: 5%
Neither agree nor disagree: 10%

Extremely cheekily, in a naked distortion of the polling data, in its news release, the Scottish Government appears to have substituted the is for an ought, suggesting that the poll showed that 85% of people "agreed that sectarianism should be a criminal offence". Not so. And the difference between the two statements is absolutely crucial. While the second may support the Scottish Government position, the question as posed by TNS-BMRB is more interesting, and more challenging. If most folk already regard "sectarianism" as criminal, what can new, symbolic criminal legislation contribute to changing behaviours, stopping mouths and slaying songs? More generally, if people have a very loose grasp on what the law requires of them as is, failing even to recognise the "gaps" the SNP government have put at the heart of their justification of this legislation, who can have much confidence that the broad-brush terms of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill will be seriously comprehensible, allowing people to discern what is and is not criminal, and regulate their conduct accordingly?  

At the very least, the Scottish Government's own poll suggests that Les Gray's cynicism about knowing fans, feigning ignorance about what is and is not required of them by the criminal law, may be seriously misplaced.


  1. "Extremely cheekily, in a naked distortion of the polling data, in its news release, the Scottish Government appears to have substituted the is for an ought, suggesting that the poll showed that 85% of people "agreed that sectarianism should be a criminal offence". Not so. And the difference between the two statements is absolutely crucial."

    You're distorting things somewhat yourself here. What the poll document actually says is "Agreement that: Sectarianism is a criminal offence."

    That's an extremely ambiguously-worded bit of data, and it doesn't tell us what the exact phrasing of the question was. It's entirely possible, for example, that respondents could have been using/interpreting the word in the more colloquial sense, as is "Aw, see the state o' his front gairden, it's pure criminal, so it is."

    Or if they were asked "Do you agree or disagree with the following: sectarianism is a criminal offence", it's perfectly plausible that the average punter could could interpret that as a proposition rather than an enquiry.

    I'm afraid you're getting a bit obsessed with nitpicking over this. Your quibble on TPS about the public understanding the precise details of the law is silly - if someone gets in a fracas in the street, how detailed do you imagine their knowledge is as to whether they might be charged with breach of the peace, assault, ABH or GBH (or whatever gradations of violence are appropriate - I confess ignorance myself as to which exact levels of brouhaha exist in Scots law). And that's long before we get into far more complex areas of crime about which most people know next to hee-haw.

    I'm afraid "thick Old Firm fans won't know which songs they're allowed to sing" is a rubbish objection to the legislation. They'll work it out soon enough after a few prosecutions. And even if they don't, then either we'll have a load of bigots in jail and off the streets, or they'll shut up with ALL their songs about Irish wars just to be safe. And both of those outcomes are just grand by me.

  2. RevStu,

    I'm a lawyer, nitpicking is my business! ;-)

    Actually, if you look at the very last page of the .pdf of TNS-BMRB's full polling findings, you'll see the precise questions posed. I agree that it is an oddly clipped way of asking it - but the question polled was "To what extent do you agree or disagree that sectarianism is a criminal offence?" I don't see how I can have distorted the Scottish Government's (mis)representation of the polling findings. I just quote them. "Is" is not the same as "ought". The scenario you envisage, of folk misunderstanding what the clear text of the question asked of them, is certainly possible. It always is with such polls.

  3. I think the conundrum can be easily explained by the fact that the 85 per cent of people who already believe that sectarianism is a criminal offence don't behave in an offensive way around football matches in the first place. They do not require to have their behaviour changed. And conversely the people who do behave in an offensive way know fine well that it isn’t criminal because they have been able to behave that way without getting challenged or stopped.

    It may be that some people don’t behave that way purely because they erroneously believe that sectarianism is already a criminal offence. But I would suggest that the vast majority of people wouldn’t behave that way in any circumstances, whether or not it was criminalised. So it’s unlikely they would end up getting arrested because they are accidentally offensive in a sectarian or racist or homophobic way in or around a football match.

    And I’d have to say I fully agree with Les Gray on this one. If you think people don’t know what constitutes the kind of behaviour that would be caught under this act LPW perhaps you could talk us through the last time you accidentally behaved in a sectarian, racist or homophobic way? Cos I tend to think that kind of behaviour is fairly deliberate. People know when they are doing it.

    Football supporters certainly have a pretty good idea what they will no longer be able to do with impunity. Most of them accept that because they don’t do it now - and most of the ones who object are objecting because they DO know what kind of behaviour will become an offence, not because they don’t know.

    Something I found interesting was the reaction to the film on you-tube of the racist woman on a tram in Croydon. Cos I thought yes maybe she should be arrested but it's actually more important that she is referred to social services cos she was clearly on drugs and in charge of a small child. The racism was kind of secondary to the chuild protection and mental health issues in my view. But a couple of friends who are vehemently against the SNP's bill were also really vehemently in favour not only of arresting that woman but jailing her too. Which I find hard to understand. I can understand a libertarian approach - people should be able to say whatever they like whether it is racist or homophobic or sectarian or whatever. But I can't understand how a lone woman clearly off her head on something ranting on a tram is somehow more culpable than several hundred adult men doing much the same thing. I suppose that is what they call context.

  4. "I agree that it is an oddly clipped way of asking it - but the question polled was "To what extent do you agree or disagree that sectarianism is a criminal offence?""

    Fair enough. But even so, as you note, my basic point stands. Personally I suspect most people would treat it as a proposition, because the other way it doesn't make much sense - it's like asking "to what extent do you agree that murder is a criminal offence?" - there are no "extents" there, it either is or it isn't.

    So *if offered a range of options* (as they were), and particularly given that the other three questions were all asking for opinions rather than testing knowledge, I think people would be very likely to treat the question as being effectively "How criminal do you think sectarianism SHOULD be?", no matter what the actual words were. Indeed, I'm not even sure that wasn't the intent.

    On the broader issue of the public understanding the details of laws, my comments still hold.

  5. RevStu, would your resolve extend to the sectarian AND racist nature of 'sent him homeward to think again' and 'rebellious scots to crush' of the Scottish and English National anthems respectively?

    The lazy and slapdash approach to this Bill would make the above a chargeable offence given the historic differences in race and creed between the two countries.

    This Bill will undermine the good standing of Scots Law which is the greater tragedy.

  6. No it wouldn'r Anonymous. Because can you provide a single instance in recent history when the singing of Flower of Scotland has been associated with public disorder and violence? No you can't. FFs even Princess Anne sings Flower of Scotland at rugby games! So that's a daft argument.

    To be sure there used to be an issue with public disorder around the annual England/Scotland football matches. They solved that by ending the fixture for good in 1989.

    That's not really an option with club football however, not without destroying the game. Though I see Labour are promoting the idea of sanctioning clubs for sectarian behaviour. Way to go eh? Punish all the fans for the actions of a small minority and end up bankrupting the clubs. That's one way to solve the problem I suppose but not a very sensible one I suggest.

  7. "RevStu, would your resolve extend to the sectarian AND racist nature of 'sent him homeward to think again' and 'rebellious scots to crush' of the Scottish and English National anthems respectively?"

    I've never heard Flower Of Scotland sung at a club game in my life, far less used to provoke opposing fans, so no. God Save The Queen, however, IS sung regularly and for that purpose at club games.

    What you've done there is unwittingly provide an example of why most of the criticisms of the legislation are so daft. Because the whole point of the bill is context - GSTQ is a perfectly legitimate thing for England fans to sing at England games, including should they play Scotland, because it's their national anthem. It should therefore not be on a list of banned songs.

    But it isn't a legitimate thing for Rangers fans to sing at club games, because Rangers aren't a nation and they're not English. There is no such entity as "Britain" in professional football. The only reason Rangers fans sing it is as provocation, and as such it should properly considered an offensive song under the bill when sung in that context.

  8. Oh, and of course, neither FoS or GSTQ are "racist". The Scots and the English are the same race.

  9. Groundskeeper Willie13 December 2011 at 10:41

    Hope your feeling better, LPW.

    It was interesting to see Tom Devine and Les Gray together in the studio because it called to mind the Halaka case, which was funded by Les Gray's organisation and in which Tom Devine not only gave evidence for the defence but also brought the proceedings to a wider audience by writing to the press about them.

    I hope the impending legislation is subjected to as well resourced and robustly stated judicial challenge as was mounted in the Halaka case.

  10. Groundskeeper Willie13 December 2011 at 11:11

    RevStu said...
    'Oh, and of course, neither FoS or GSTQ are "racist". The Scots and the English are the same race.'

    What about the Irish?

  11. Indy

    You now seemed to have settled on the argument that because certain expressions of culture may possibly result in disorder from people who hate said culture, then the people expressing that culture should be required to have their behaviour changed.

    Not only are you advocating a seriously dangerous precedent vis a vis other minority groups and hate groups, but as I have pointed out several times now. The requirements you espouse to change that behaviour involve the criminal justice system. Considering that the vast majority of these people would never ever see the wrong end of the criminal justice system, is this really wise?

    To be specific, Celtic fans singing Irish folk and political songs will now face criminalisation. Surely this is an absurd state of affairs, whereby people like you are happy to support this rather than face upto those whose anti-Irish/Catholic bigotry will now be rewarded.


    The inability of top cop Les Gray to specify what songs are offensive never mind why underpins this whole debate. To add to this absurdity, we had another top policeman and former referee - who was involved in the referee's strike brought about by Celtic exposing their institutional corruption against them - report Celtic to UEFA for 'illicit chanting' - whatever that means. In the long history of UEFA this is indeed a first, no local officials never mind police have ever done such.

    Despite the percieved agenda of the police in this instance and instances of recent political policing, we expected UEFA to laugh this nonsense out of court. Yet, yesterday UEFA have seen fit to fine Celtic 15,000 Euro for what we don't as yet know as the charge of 'illicit chanting' remains to be explained. Unbelievably clubs reported for racism and discriminatory chanting from across Europe have been given raps on knuckles and smaller fines. @Illicit chanting' must indeed be bad.

    I am at this point bewildered by the lack of clarity, and despite the laptop loyal joyously proclaiming celtic as guilty over the back pages of their tabloids this morning. We have not the faintest idea what we are guilty of, nor are the media doing their job and asking that very question.

    Paranoia is perceived injustice sans evidence of said injustice, so I believe.

  12. Just in;

    Celtic will not appeal fine.

    This actually serves to confirm what many of us believe. Celtic plc were complicit in this whole affair. They have been driving a pro-British agenda for as long now, in fact ever since the labour party in Scotland became so pro-British. We have witnessed the scandal of poppies forced on us and to donating money to help for heroes and the Earl haig fund jingoism. Not to mention using the manager as a pawn to come out against people singing as yet undefined songs.

    Perhaps the SNP have been used inadvertantly here as well, passed on information by the plc, which is at odds with the wishes/beliefs of the fans.

    Feckin ragin!

  13. LPW, you seem to agree with the idea espoused by Old Firm fans that there needs to be a list of banned songs, so that they know what they aren't allowed to sing. But this would clearly be a fruitless endeavour, leading to the law forever chasing the tail. No sooner would a song be placed on the list than a new one emerged, and when that one was placed on the list, another would appear, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

    Let's be clear here: Old Firm fans think there should be a list of banned songs because they want to know which sectarian songs they can continue to sing. That's the crux of the matter. They're not interested in following the spirit of the law by stopping the singing of sectarian songs, they just want to know how they can avoid jail while continuing to sing about the IRA or the potato famine.

    If this was about making people stop singing racist songs, would we seriously be entertaining the idea that there would need to be a list of racist songs which can no longer be sung, or would we be happy with the idea that songs that have clearly racist overtones must no longer be chanted?

    Besides which, this is not about banning songs per se, it's about making sure people aren't singing them in situations that could lead to public disorder. If a group of Irish people want to sing Irish folk songs amongst themselves at a private party in Glasgow, then fair play to them. But if thousands of Glaswegian Celtic supporters want to sing them at an Old Firm match, then that's clearly a different matter altogether. The songs themselves haven't changed, the setting has. So it's not about the songs themselves, it's about the context in which they're sung. As a result, why ban the actual songs themselves?

    There's that Aberdeen fans' song called In Your Glasgow Slums. If it was decided that Aberdeen fans singing songs about Glasgow slums was inciting public disorder, I wouldn't need a list of banned songs to tell me that singing In Your Glasgow Slums at Parkhead/Ibrox was looking for trouble. And if such a song were placed on a list and Dons fans then started singing a song called Up Yours You Weegie Minkers instead, it wouldn't require much brain power to know that singing it would be committing the exact same crime as singing In Your Glasgow Slums. Except that until it was added to the fabled banned songs list, the police couldn't do anything about it.

    I'm not going to claim the bill is perfect, but on this point in particular, I think you're wrong.

  14. Tony, Celtic fans such as yourself just need to get used to the idea that the rest of Scotland is sick of the sectarianism you and the other "ugly sister" peddle. We're not interested in this rubbish about anti-Irish/Catholic prejudice - we just want you to stop playing your part in the silly game that is Who Can Hate The Other Side More which Old Firm fans participate in.

    You can't sing Irish folk songs at football games anymore? Oh boo ho, pass me a tissue and go to an Irish Folk Music night at a pub instead. You can't sing political songs? Forgive me, but I thought singing at football games was about chanting football songs, not political propaganda? Everyone else seems to manage it just fine, so what makes Celtic fans so special?

    I think most people would agree that Rangers fans are the slightly worse perpetrators, but sectarianism is by no means purely a case of Rangers fans indulging in anti-Catholicism. You Celtic fans are not victims, you play your part as well. There are heidbangers on both sides, and the rest of us are fed up with it.

    The only absurdity is that we are even in a situation in the 21st century where we have a problem with sectarianism. It wouldn't be the case if both sides of the Old Firm would just grow up.

  15. Doug

    Sorry to burst the well worn "wan side is as bad as the other" school of mythological thinking but a Scottish Court has quite rightly set a precedent that singing songs supporting Irish Republicanism is not 'sectarian'. So if you or any others have an objection to irish folk/political songs, let's here it free of ignorant conjecture. Celtic fans unlike others do not sing discriminatory songs, hence the latest as yet unexplained 'illicit chanting' stitch up.

    The reason Celtic fans want a list of songs is that we need to decipher if the charge against that particular song can be proven, we think not. Political songs, some 90 years old are not easily changed, and neither are they subject to your whimsical analogies with Aberdeen songs. That would be disrespectful to the song. However if people continue to question the motivation in terms of their own snobbery then I am not surprised that you come to that conclusion.

    It seems that we are to be subject to the whims of bigots, those with an agenda and kangaroo courts.

  16. Here was me responding to your first comment to Dug and was worried I may have mis-judged your motivations, seems not.

    >>We're not interested in this rubbish about anti-Irish/Catholic prejudice<<

    That is coming across loud'n'clear I am sad to say from many of my fellow SNPers. Hypocrites all!!

    >>I think most people would agree that Rangers fans are the slightly worse perpetrators, but sectarianism is by no means purely a case of Rangers fans indulging in anti-Catholicism. You Celtic fans are not victims, you play your part as well<<

    Put up or shut up!

    List me the songs that Celtic fans sing that are in any way discriminatory?

    Just another ignorant comment from those who don't want to deal with the issue.

    I think I will now depart the field as I am not in the calmest moods.

  17. Tony, there is only one agenda at play here: stopping sectarianism. The fact you're even speaking about how the words to 90 year old songs can't be easily changed merely highlights the fact that Celtic fans such as yourself are completely missing the point. Why are you even singing Irish Republicanism songs at football games anyway? Why can't you stick to singing about the game in front of you, like everyone else does? What's wrong with pointing out en masse that the referee likes to indulge in self-love, or that the fans on the opposite side of the stadium appear to have lost their voices?

    You want a list of songs so you can go through them, nit-picking as to why they're banned? Again, that's not the point of all this. If such a list existed, we would then have the tedious situation of Celtic fan groups petitioning the government non-stop about why this song is banned, or that one, or that one. As I say, it's not about banning particular songs, it's about making you change your behaviour.

    If you're so concerned about Irish Republicanism, go and petition your MP to get the UK government to relinquish it's hold on Northern Ireland, then petition Stormount to get them to reform a single Irish state with the Republic. Singing about it at Old Firm matches isn't going to do anything.

    And if you're so concerned about anti-Catholic prejudice, why not form a protest group to petition Glasgow City Council to ban Orange marches? God knows you'd get a load of support from those of us who live or have lived in Glasgow and had to put up with their ridiculousness.

  18. Groundskeeper Willie13 December 2011 at 13:28

    I can't help thinking that an independent Scotland would be an uncomfortable place for those from an Irish Catholic background.

    There again that's what the founders of the SNP were aiming for so I don't suppose anyone should be surprised.

    Scotland: The black country with the cold heart.

  19. Yes Tony it is about changing behaviour and I think the comments here show why.

    We are getting stuck in a loop again, which is in itself full of sectarian remarks, I don't mean you.

    Everybody has got to move on from this. Everybody. If it takes criminalising songs and chanting to do it then that is what it will have to take because this is just completely dysfunctional in a modern country.

  20. Indy

    >>Yes Tony it is about changing behaviour and I think the comments here show why.<<

    Agree entirely................so why aren't we directly seeking to change the behaviour of those who hate expressions of Catholicism and or Irishness whose manifestations result in so much violence and often death? Instead we are again getting a catch-all including non-discriminatory and thus far non-criminal expressions of political beliefs.

    >>Everybody has got to move on from this. Everybody. If it takes criminalising songs and chanting to do it then that is what it will have to take because this is just completely dysfunctional in a modern country.<<

    Wow, this attitude is only normal in an abnormal society. Then again Scotland, Glasgow in particular with more orange marches than the whole of the six counties put together is far from normal. Yet the victims of this hatred will ipso facto be criminalised to appease said haters and adherrants should they dare to express themselves.

    Did you mention dysfunctional? And how will we get to move on when our relations and friends are being criminalised? How do I campaign for next years council elections on that basis?

    We are getting beyond bizzare now.

  21. Doug

    Unless you put up evidence, will you please stop putting the lazy charge of sectarianism against my name please. I would not support a club that had anything to do with such.

    What has it to do with you or anybody what me or mine sing at fitba? Are fitba songs in your view calling somebody a wanker? Or even the smash hit Green Brigade inspired 'Just can't get enough' which Celtic plc have marketed shamelessly and is now a hit at sports stadia the world over?

    We are not (currently) breaking the law, offensive? perhaps............but only to those who have issues with expressions of Irish culture or the fact that Irish people freed themselves from despotic and at times genocidal rule.

    >>As I say, it's not about banning particular songs, it's about making you change your behaviour.<<

    Indy, nor the SFA, UEFA, the laptop loyal, nor even Celtic plc has never been able to point out exactly what is wrong with my behaviour, maybe you could? Then I might be able to fix it.

  22. Tony's 12:17 post is evidenced by the Celtic board, like respondents in the survey, behaving as if the law has been changed.
    They adopt a different approach to domestic and European games.
    The owners' agenda is the promised land of the English league system.
    Thus they find themselves fellow travellers of the more backward sections of the Rangers support.

    The clear cut racism and bigotry of some Ibrox chants has been ruled on, doing some of the Ibrox board's work.
    They are not, however, about to be assisted by the Celtic fans.

    Celtic supporters and Rangers fans are not mirror images of each other. However inconvenient that may be.

    I agree with those who say the whole thing is a brewed up storm in a teacup. What we have to ask is why, and why now?

    "I'd rather wear a turban than a sash" - dropped by Celtic supporters when the racist nature of it was pointed out.

    Persuasion, not criminalisation.

  23. "Indy, nor the SFA, UEFA, the laptop loyal, nor even Celtic plc has never been able to point out exactly what is wrong with my behaviour, maybe you could?"

    Ooh, I know this one: shut up about ancient Irish history at Scottish football matches.

    Though I must admit, since I've personally explained it to you at least a dozen times, on top of all the other people who've done it too, including in this thread, it seems fair to assume you're choosing to turn a deaf ear and/or your question is rhetorical. So why are you wasting everyone's time mumping and griping about it for the billionth time?

    Nobody here hates Catholics. Rather, we hate arseholes - a wide-ranging category of people which includes ANYONE of ANY creed who thinks songs about ancient Irish wars and politics have any business in a Scottish football ground. If that's you, you're an arsehole. Do let me know if I can make it any clearer.

  24. Stu

    The point, that I am sure that for intellectual reasons you cannot fathom is that being an arsehole is not a criminal offence. If it were well.........I'm sure you would have learnt not to bend over for the soap by noo.

    Don't know what makes you think that you add anything but boorish ignorance bordering on outright bigotry anyway Stu. best go and abuse foreigners and single maws with others of your ilk. Leave matters of import for those willing to reason it out.

  25. "Don't know what makes you think that you add anything but boorish ignorance bordering on outright bigotry anyway Stu. best go and abuse foreigners and single maws with others of your ilk."

    I'd love to know what ilk that was.

    You asked what was wrong with your behaviour and I helpfully explained it to you in the clearest and least ambiguous of terms. So Heaven knows what you're being so pissy about, let alone what gives you the right to spew out disgusting allegations of racism in response. Bigotry is hating people for what they are. I only hate people for what they do.

    If you want to advance understanding of Irish republicanism, go and write a fucking book. Singing it at St Johnstone fans isn't going to work.

  26. The SNP are just simply wrong about this, they have over-reacted to media hysteria & are using a wheel to break a butterfly. There already exist laws *which are not used* to combat football related sectarianism, or just general bad behaviour by anti-social tribalists to be more realistic. I don't think they have a clue what they are doing because I don't think they understand the culture they are trying to change. That may be to their credit in one sense, but in another sense it makes them very dangerous.

  27. "There already exist laws *which are not used* to combat football related sectarianism"

    The police and courts say there aren't. Mm, who to believe?

  28. I choose to believe the common sense I was born with. There are already laws which exist to police anti-social behaviour. Any law which relies on an individual perception of what may or may not be offensive is a very bad law, as we don't all have the same perception.

    If you cannot define the behaviour which is actually offensive then it is stupid in the extreme to criminalise it.

    This law will be struck down by the courts. If not in Scotland then in the Supreme Court. I will welcome it when that happens.

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. "This law will be struck down by the courts. If not in Scotland then in the Supreme Court."

    On what grounds? The human right to shout "Fuck the Pope" with the intention of starting a riot?

  31. Groundskeeper Willie14 December 2011 at 09:42

    RevStu said...

    'On what grounds? The human right to shout "Fuck the Pope" with the intention of starting a riot?'

    That's already a crime.

    The proposed legislation is vulnerable to challenge on the ground that it's so wide ranging that it's unclear what is and what is not legal.

    The point LPW made on telly was that the SNP claim this legislation is needed because the courts have restricted the scope of breach of the peace.

    Their solution has been to introduce legislation that suffers from the same flaw and is therfore incompatable with ECHR. There again this is Scotland and we should be exempt from the provisions of the Convention because, er, the man who drafted it was born in Scotland (I think that's the gist of Salmond's argument).

    Beyond the specifics of the legislation the concern is the intolerant and authoritarian mindset it betrays, a concern compounded by the zealous conviction of those determined to force the legislation through.

  32. Les Gray was on Radio Scotland this morning positively salivating about his common sense approach to songs and scenarios that he refuses to outline. He was crystal though on one thing that polis will be gaoling people in pubs and licencee's will be affected. I wonder if the many high profile bands and singers, as well as promoters and clubs are aware of this?, I wasn't

    Humza last night on STV was very big on context and incitement. Ok, we may well be able to criminalize the actus reus in theory, but not even psuedo bigots like mad Stu could prove that the Irish folk/political song I was singing was designed to incite any passing atavistic knuckledragger. Thus to prove mens rea, the prosecutor would have to prove that the offended to potential disorder understood the words of the song, the sentiments and articulate why this was relevant to get his/her atavistic blood to boil.

    We in the SNP are scoring an own goal here, not because of the reasons I have consistantly outlined but I now know for a fact that we have lost a whole swathe of young people who have and would otherwise naturally vote for us. We here a lot about uncertainty and confusion from detractors over the Constitutional question, most of which we can easily dismiss. Not so in this instance, we are bang to rights here.

  33. I'm a "pseudo bigot" now? That's a new one on me, I must say. Is that what you meant by people of my "ilk"? Any chance of telling us what on Earth a "pseudo bigot" might be?

  34. Groundskeeper Willie14 December 2011 at 10:31

    Les Gray is the guy who descibed parents who dressed their babies in Celtic or Rangers babygros as sectarian.

    The guy's as thick as pig shit.

    A useful idiot.

  35. "If you cannot define the behaviour which is actually offensive then it is stupid in the extreme to criminalise it."

    Define homophobic behaviour.

    Define racist behaviour.

    I find it odd that there is a general - and legal - assumption that we all know what homophobia and racism are but the argument is made that we are incapable of understanding how other forms of offensive behaviour such as sectarianism manifest themselves and therefore they need to be defined to the nth degree.

    Because, although I said to LPW that it was hard to be accidentally homophobic or racist, on reflection I actually think it may be slightly easier to be racist or homophobic accidentally than to be sectarian accidentally. I think there is certainly more confusion among people about when a particular comment or action could be racist or homophobic than there is about whether a particular comment or action could be sectarian.

    It would be interesting indeed to apply the same kind of logic to the definition of homophobia that is applied to the definition of sectarianism. Would it be homophobic to sing Monty Python's Lumberjack Song for example? What if fans were in the habit of chanting that a particular football player was "the only gay in the village" - is that homophobic? Where does banter end and abuse begin?

    I think that point where it is no longer banter but has become offensive and abusive could actually be much harder to identify and define when looking at racism or homophobia than with sectarianism. Yet people accept that racism and homophobia exist as legal concepts without demanding that they are exhaustively defined, yet find it hard to view sectarian or other forms of offensive behaviour in the same way. Not sure why that is.

  36. And yet Indy Celtic fans do not stand accused of sectarianism outside of the laptop loyal, the lazy/ignorant or those with an agenda. Hence the as yet unsubstantiated charge of 'illicit chanting'.

    Sectarianism is of course easy to understand in that it is discriminatory of other sects, be they religious, racial, national sexual etc. Again something Celtic fans would be hard pushed to be accused of, and yet we will be criminalised. However will my fellow Tartan army comrades fall foul? I reckon they would, but would they be inciting anyone?

    It is a tangled web.

  37. 'And yet Indy Celtic fans do not stand accused of sectarianism outside of the laptop loyal, the lazy/ignorant or those with an agenda"

    "It's no' us! It's them! It's all them!"

    Your powers of self-delusion are a constant source of both amazement and hilarity. Anyone arguing with you is automatically a "bigot", or a "pseudo-bigot" (whatever that is), or a member of the "laptop loyal". You see evil bigoted hate-filled Protestants everywhere you look, regardless of the evidence.

    But I'm probably wrong. There's nothing "sectarian" about songs supporting the IRA at all, no.

    You're part of the problem, Tony, not the solution.

  38. "Again something Celtic fans would be hard pushed to be accused of, and yet we will be criminalised."

    Awesome foresight there. Got any lottery tips?

  39. Well as I said Tony there were regularly public order issues associated with the annual England/Scotland fixture, which was certainly exacerbated by the singing of particular songs and particular chants etc. Those problems were ended when the decision was taken to end the fixture in 1989 and now it no longer takes place. Since then I am not aware of any further public order problems around Scotland games.

    That is not a feasible solution here though, is it? And neither - in my view - is it a solution to start docking points from clubs because that is like a kind of collective punishment. Since it is only a very small minority of fans who set out to antagonise and offend, whatever action is taken should be targeted at them and not at football fans who have done absolutely nothing wrong.

  40. Indy do you suggest no need to prove mens rea in a charge of sectarianism?

    My earlier quote demonstrates one can be accidentally and unintentionally racist.

    We are not in a state of emergency.

    For all the numbers attendant, a football stadium is private property.
    One has to go to a lot of trouble to be exposed to these chants. But when looking to take offence one most certainly will.
    It's obvious from the contributions that few on here go to football matches, and are talking about chants they've never heard and whose words they do not know.
    But offended of Tunbridge Wells they are determined to be.

    "Northmen, southmen, comrades all,
    Soon there'll be, no Protestants at all" - chanted as a prelude to "A Soldier's Song" at Parkhead. Since dropped.
    Read the lyrics of "A Soldier's Song".

  41. "Since it is only a very small minority of fans who set out to antagonise and offend"

    Most of what you say is common sense and bang on the money, but I have to take issue with this. The truth is that it's only a very small minority of Old Firm fans who set out to antagonise and offend in a specifically sectarian way.

    And frankly, I wouldn't even like to have to stand up for that assertion in court, far less one that claimed most of them didn't set out to antagonise and offend at all.

  42. Yes, people could potentially be accidentally racist or indeed homophobic - that was the point I made earlier. I actually think there may be less clarity around what constitutes homophobia for example than sectarianism.

    And I agree about football grounds being private and people knowing what they are getting into when they go to games. And I would not care - and neither would anyone else I suggest - what folk sang, chanted and shouted if it was not for the fact that it all too often spills over into black eyes and bloody noses whether in the pub or the wife getting a doing at home. That is the only reason it actually matters.

  43. Groundskeeper Willie14 December 2011 at 15:54

    RevStu said...

    'There's nothing "sectarian" about songs supporting the IRA at all, no.'

    That's correct. The IRA weren't a sectarian organisation.

    Are you aware of the Halaka case?

  44. "That's correct. The IRA weren't a sectarian organisation."

    Fear makes for strange bedfellows.

  45. Groundskeeper Willie14 December 2011 at 16:15

    You're not aware of the Halaka case, are you?

  46. Yes, I am. It proves nothing so far as I can see.

  47. Groundskeeper Willie14 December 2011 at 17:22

    RevStu said...
    'Yes, I am. It proves nothing so far as I can see.'

    'so far as I can see.'

  48. Yawn. Do feel free to explain how one judge's decision about the highly-specific particulars of one case does indeed prove anything of any import to this bill.

    (And hey, go crazy. The bill just passed, so it really doesn't matter a damn what you think anyway. It's a great day for Scotland.)

  49. Groundskeeper Willie14 December 2011 at 17:40

    RevStu said

    It's says much about the legislation that it appeals to people like you.

    The stupid and the ignorant.

    Ask LPW to explain to you why a Scottish Sheriff decided that singing songs about the IRA was not sectarian. I have better things to do with my time.

  50. "Ask LPW to explain to you why a Scottish Sheriff decided that singing songs about the IRA was not sectarian. I have better things to do with my time."

    You clearly don't, given the amount of it you spend posting empty-headed trolling bollocks on here.

    It's funny how Labour supporters always want someone else to make their arguments for them - either you know what you're talking about, in which case get on with it, or you don't, in which case shut up before you embarrass yourself any more. Either is grand with me.

  51. ''Define homophobic behaviour.

    Define racist behaviour.''

    In a criminal sense these are hate crimes & are easily defined - the but for rule applies. But for the victim being a homosexual, or of a certain ethnic group, the crime would not have occured.

    You simply cannot apply such an easily understood principle to the carry on at a football match. This goes back to what I said earlier - I simply do not think that the SNP know what they are talking about here.

  52. Taped the politics show today and George Kerevan was waxing lyrical in vague terms about the violence surrounding old firm games, until it was pointed out to him just how few arrests are made there these days.

    Observer makes the point I have made over several threads. It is misplaced law making by the well meaning, based on ignorance and the faulty premise that 'wan side is as bad as the other' The fact that there is a callous disregard for the consequences is just a wee bit hurtful from some members of the SNP who I thought were better than that. I know that they would not take the same attitute to other minority groups.

  53. You are quite wrong about that Observer. Someone can be the victim of a homophobic hate crime for example without being homosexual.

    But that isn't really the point. The point is not about specific laws it is about the fact that, within whatever legal or non-legal context,nobody says that homophobia has to be defined to the nth degree. We don't have lists of words or phrases which are allowed or not allowed, we don't have lists of gestures which can or cannot be made. We don't have lists of jokes which can or cannot be told or songs which can or cannot be sung. I just think it is weird that people don't require that level of definition in one context but do in another.

  54. For God's sake Tony listen to yourself. There are fewer arrests around Old Firm Games these days so that means that violence isn't really a problem these days?

    Great. Then we'll give the police the night off then shall we?

    That is just the most ridiculous argument. A third of the recorded sectarian offences were related to football and if you consider how heavy the police presence is not only at matches but in the aftermath, on the streets, around the pubs etc, you simply cannot argue that there is no longer any real problem with violence around football games. Even with all the extra police officers we have they can barely keep a lid on it. That is the truth of it.

    To be sure this legislation is not a magic wand. It is just one part of a range of actions which will be taken including, crucially in my opinion, cutting off the supply of cheap booze.

    I appreciate that people may have issues with particular aspects of this bill but don't try and argue that violence is no longer a real threat. It's a very real threat.

  55. Indy

    This law is specifically targetting fitba fans, thus after listening to myself as you kindly suggested, I've decided that the evidence I presented is far more relevant than your obfuscation regarding comparing definintions on homosexual behaviour which is akin to comparing apples and orangies.............if ye'll pardon the pun.

    If true, then I am led to believe that the recently destroyed data on sectarian aggravated crimes pointed to most crimes around orange marches, and the overwhelming majority targetting those of a percieved Catholic background. We already know from British Transport polis that all of their arrests were Rangers fans, and of those arrested at Parkhead the vast majority are away fans.

    Yet we haven't targeted those responsible. Instead we have moved the goalpost to specifically target Celtic fans, as directed by Mr Salmond and given away by Christine Graham as an evening up process. Due to the fact that we could extrapolate that almost all future prosecutions would involve Rangers. There is no way in the world that those singing pro-British political songs will be targetted, and neither should they be. The simple thing to do would have been to utilise current legislation, something which the polis have not done until very recently.

    I welcome your support on specifically targetting the people who are commiting the crimes, rather than being an apologist for unjust laws that mnerely serve to attack legitimate political expression.

  56. "legitimate political expression"


  57. My cmments about homophobia/racism/etc were directed to Observer not to you Tony.

    My comments to you were in response to your statement that George Kerevan had been "waxing lyrical" about violence around football matches until it was pointed out how few arrests are made around football matches - a clear implication that violence around football matches is not really a serious problem. A mindset also shared by Observer who desribed everything that goes on around football mathes as a carry-on.

    I suggest that both of you are so focussed on opposing what the SNP are doing that you have lost a sense of perspective and proportion. You disagree with the approach that the SNP is taking. I can accept that and there may be some legitimate points being made. But what is not legitimate is to downscale the size of the problem simply because you want to portray the SNP as going over the top. You may disagree with the SNP's approach to the problem - but don't deny the problem exists.

    And while one side may not be as bad as the other, it is the interaction between certain elements of the two sides that is toxic. It is toxic, it is dangerous and it takes a huge investment of police time and resources to keep it under control and even then they don't always succeed.

    It's only a few years ago that I was over at a friend's house by the riverside in Glasgow. On the same night a man in his fifties popped out to get a kebab. On his way back he was waylaid by three football supporters. They attaked him, dragged him up the street and kicked him to death. They were football supporters, they had been singing their songs all day, they had been drinking all day, they killed someone because he was wearing the wrong colour of top. That would happen a lot more often if there wasn't such a large police presence in the aftermath o matches and you must know that.

  58. Indy

    C'mon you mention perspective, yet when I point out that despite targetting fitba matches themselves there is very little in the way of violence or arrests there nowadays. I mentioned Kerevan's obvious lack of knowledge to highlight my earlier points around the faulty premise(s) for the new law. I am being nothing if not consistant.

    Of course I wouldn't for a second decry your wider points about fitba being a focal point and manifestation of tribalism and the root cause of the hate. However would we go off half cocked in dealing with just one of the manifestations of malaria (and a lesser one at that) and totally ignore the nearby stinking swamps that cause it?

    No we wouldn't. As that would be madness, and would not affect the root cause.

    Scotland has been embarressed world wide due to manifestations of anti-Catholic hate recently. Yet this half-cocked and costly in so, so many ways law has been the result. Me and mine (and probably guys like yirsel) could have told you where the real problem lay 20, 30, 40 years ago. The figures even now reflect where the problem is, why there is no desire to deal with that? The outporings of anti-Catholicism/Irishness that coalesces around orange marches and Rangers fc is plain for us all to see.

    What message does ignoring that yet outlawing legitimate political expression send out to people like me? I am a lesser beings, or fuck off home, or even as usually reasonable guys like Doug stated earlier, he just doesn't care. Well forgive me for caring, and thinking less of those that should but by their actions so obviously do not.

  59. Belatedly to pick up a few questions fired directly my way...

    Doug Daniel,

    I don't know if you heard the discussion on this on Call Kaye. In point of fact, I can see your point vis-a-vis not providing an exhaustive list of songs and their lyrics. People are invented. The legislation could soon become outmoded.

    However, there is no reason why this Act could not have included a non-exhaustive list of songs which the parliament considered to be caught by the law, without prejudice to the generality of the section. This is not a novel approach, even in criminal statues, and could have been (from the SNP perspective) a politically useful approach to adopt, to anticipate some of the critiques lodged about this law's lack of clarity and indeterminate scope of application. I realise this perspective wasn't made clear at all in the piece above.