65-61. It’s not the points difference between 2nd and 3rd in this year’s SPFL premiership. It’s not even a relevant score in that other national sport where they shoot over the bar and have a tendency for the odd eye gouge and sin bin. It’s the historic results of the Scottish Parliamentary vote on 25th January 2018 on stage 1 of James Kelly’s bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012.
Following the media-dubbed “shame game” between Celtic and Rangers in 2011 which saw numerous sending offs and an infamous spat between both dugouts, the then Alex Salmond-led SNP minority government sensed an opportunity to grandstand in the approach to the upcoming 2011 Scottish Parliamentary Elections and called a summit involving both of the clubs and representation from the governing bodies of the national game. The end point of which was the subsequent drafting and railroading through parliament of the Offensive Behaviour Act in 2012, coming in the immediate aftermath of the historic majority win for the SNP in the election. The Act remains the only piece of legislation to pass through Holyrood since its inception in 1999 with only one party support and will soon become only the second piece of legislation to ever be repealed.
In response to the bill, fans opposed to the Act set up the campaign group Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC). For the last five years, its members have often faced outright hostility and in some cases unsubstantiated abuse, ranging from being called bigots and sectarian too having its members’ politics and values questioned from prominent SNP activists and in some cases politicians (Yes, that’s you, James Dornan).
FAC have used methods ranging from demos, rallies, public meetings, mass email campaigns and skilled media relations work too undermine the strawmen arguments for the creation and subsequent retention of the football act and are now well on the route to a seemingly unlikely victory. As a campaign group, the FAC have become a shining example to anyone from across and outwit the political spectrum wishing to change public policy and have handled themselves with a dignity and professionalism many in the SNP have felt short of, and naively assuming that working class football fans didn’t and would never possess such skills and values.
Today’s vote is a significant and very important step along the process to repeal the act, but a relatively long slog remains. When the SNP lost their majority in the 2016 elections, the political space and opportunity opened up for a Repeal Bill. Only when faced with this new parliamentary arithmetic where SNP representatives and supporters willing to at least attempt engagement on this issue. This after five years of complete silence and no attempt at compromise due to their unassailable majority in parliament. Five years of wrecking lives and destroying relationships between clubs, fans and the new single police force.
I say attempt at engagement because it became apparent in the process of dialogue and correspondence surrounding the repeal bill that most SNP representatives at all levels of government and party were either ill-informed and/or intentionally unaware of the details of the legislation and the disastrous effect it was having, particularly on young, working class football fans and the reputation and authority of both Police Scotland and the Scottish legal system as a whole. Only now, when faced with a parliamentary embarrassment, are the SNP prepared to acknowledge they must accept the will of the parliament and invite talk aimed at efforts to somehow amend the Act.
For those who haven’t been involved in this fight for the duration, that may seem a constructive step. It is in fact no more than a last ditched attempt to manage the situation and spin a way out of further embarrassment and political defeat.
Not one SNP MSP supported the principles of the bill at the Justice Committee and they again dug their heels in at the parliamentary vote. That’s why it’s more important now than ever that if you support the repeal bill that you keep up the pressure as it moves onto stage 2.
Keep emailing your MSP’s, particularly if they happen to be in the SNP, and ask them why they have chosen yet again in the face of mounting evidence from supporters, lawyers, human rights groups and every other political party in the country too continue to support an illiberal, unworkable legislation that discriminates against a particular section of society.
Rebuff their last ditched attempts at reform and compromise and help us press on for a full repeal. Lobby and call out the sport journalists in national newspapers who have on the whole been shamefully quiet on this issue to now give it more press coverage in the back pages.
Write to your club and/or its SLO’s and again urge support and solidarity as we enter the home straight. Arm yourself with the facts and timetable of repeal by listening into the new FAC podcast “Acting Up” which is available through SoundCloud and follow @FACKilltheBill on Twitter. Spread the word through your own social media platforms, supporters’ buses and at club matches.
To get to this point is an incredible achievement for all involved and a vindication of the hard work of the last five years. But only full repeal and an acknowledgment of the deficiencies and consequences that the bill caused, together with an apology by the SNP government is acceptable.
Only then can we attempt to have a sensible, informed, perhaps even cordial discussion across and outwit party boundaries about how best to tackle the scourge of sectarianism and anti-Irish racism that still too this day sadly scar our great nation.