Anti-bigot laws passed by the Scottish Parliament


From Democracy Live: Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham defends the new legislation

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New laws to tackle religious hatred and bigotry related to football have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, despite a lack of opposition support.

The new Act aims to tackle the issue with jail terms of up to five years for behaviour which could cause public disorder in and around matches.

But Labour, the Tories, Lib Dems and the Scottish Greens said the bill was "railroaded" through by the SNP.

They said it was "bad law which risks doing more harm than good".

Despite opposition, the majority SNP government's Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill was passed by 64 votes to 57.

The legislation, which has won backing from police and prosecutors, aims to stamp out abusive behaviour, whether fans are watching matches in a stadium, in the pub or commenting online.

What does the bill do?

It creates two new offences - one dealing with offensive behaviour relating to football games, and a second on threatening communications.

Penalties range from a £40 fixed fine to a maximum of five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The first offence deals with sectarian and other offensive chanting and behaviour likely to cause public disorder.

It covers conduct around football matches, inside grounds, and those travelling to and from stadiums - as well as fans watching games elsewhere, for example in pubs or on big screens outdoors.

In law, the legislation aims to take into account "expressing or inciting religious, racial or other forms of hatred" and "threatening behaviour or behaviour which would be offensive to any reasonable person".

It also creates potential for the imposition of football banning orders in every case.

The second offence deals with serious threats - including murder - made on the internet and elsewhere, and threats intended to incite religious hatred.

That would take in posts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as specific websites, and actions such as sending bullets or images depicting serious harm in the post.

Scottish ministers say the legislation will not stop peaceful preaching or artistic performance, nor will it criminalise satirical jokes about religion or non-religious belief.

They also insist it will not stop peoples' right to criticise religion or non-religious beliefs, "even in harsh terms".

Decisions on sentencing in each case are a matter for the courts.

Source: Scottish government

Earlier, about 20 football supporters wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan "fans not criminals" were excluded from the Holyrood chamber after parliament bosses told them they were only allowed in if they took them off.

The legislation will create two new offences relating to behaviour deemed to "incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred".

Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham said she was pleased the legislation would soon become law.

She said: "This bill sends out an important message about the kind of Scotland we want to live in, because the vast majority of people in this country have no time whatsoever for the kind of mindless bigotry that has attached itself to the small minority who only damage and undermine our beautiful game - or those who peddle hatred by sitting behind a computer screen posting threats of harm on the internet.

"This is the 21st century, and this kind of behaviour is simply not acceptable, so action had to be taken.

"The passing of these important new laws sends out a powerful message to the bigots that this behaviour will not be tolerated in a modern Scotland."

Ms Cunningham added: "There has been a lot of debate in recent months about this legislation, but we've listened, we've acted, and the experts are firmly behind it.

"Scotland has shown the courage of its convictions and has taken the action needed."

The bill was brought forward in the wake of several high-profile football-related incidents, including trouble at Rangers and Celtic games.

All four opposition parties at Holyrood and independent MSP Margo MacDonald released a joint statement.

It said: "Members of all political parties are determined to wipe the blight of sectarianism from Scottish society.

"It is of real regret that the first piece of legislation passed by this new parliament has been railroaded through by the SNP.

"The SNP has used its majority to force through bad law that risks doing more harm than good. It sets a worrying precedent for this parliament."

The opposition statement added: "The SNP has failed to make the case for the legislation both in parliament and out - with football fans, religious organisations, anti-sectarianism organisations, children's charities, the Law Society, the Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Justices Association all raising genuine concerns with the SNP legislation.

"We believe a far more effective response is to focus on education and young people, working with the churches and football authorities on positive, practical, evidence-based measures that tackle the root causes of sectarianism as well robust application of existing laws."

Dave Scott, campaign director of anti-bigotry pressure group Nil By Mouth, said: "The debate around this bill has polarised the political parties but it has now become law and only time will tell how effective and enforceable it proves to be.

"However sectarianism goes far beyond football and facebook."


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