As Scottish football goes in to brief status of hiatus in the early weeks of January, fans tend to fill the gap of the winter break by discussing transfer gossip, possible singings, the dissapointment which would accompany losing their star player to the vultures circling down south, and how their squad is likely to shape up for the second half of the season. This year however another talking point for fans has once again reared its head.
I suspect that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (OBA) needs no introduction. Most fans know of its existence, plenty will have heard the arguments for and against it and too many have felt its impact having been harassed and villianised whilst attending football matches, or perhaps even arrested and charged under it. Having been first introduced in 2011 and subsequently enacted in 2012, it thankfully appears that 2018 may be its last hurrah, the year in which it is removed from the statute books and consigned to history as a warning tale for future governments about the dangers of arrogantly imposing legislation against the advice of experts and against the will of the communities set to be affected by it.
Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC) have challenged this legislation from the outset, and the support we have received from the wider Celtic fanbase has been incredible. Thousands have answered our calls at varying points over the years, by attending demonstrations in George Square, by taking part in online campaigns and by donating generously to help those facing monumental legal costs and the prospect of losing their employment as a result of being charged under this dangerously illiberal piece of legislation. We would now like to ask fans to join us in making the final push over the next few months to hopefully ensure that time is now called on the hated OBA.
When FAC was initially formed 7 years ago to oppose the introduction of this new SNP-sponsored Bill, we were made up of the 5 main Celtic fan organisations; Celtic Supporters Asssociation, Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs, The Celtic Trust, Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs and the Green Brigade. In spite of this however we never intended for this campaign to be exclusive to those of a green and white persuasion. We understood that this legislation would spell trouble for all football fans in Scotland.
It did remain clear though that the Celtic support had even more to fear than most, the SNP’s Christine Grahame was kind enough to spell it out for us in a parliamentary committee meeting; the arrest figures between Celtic fans and Rangers fans were to be evened up. If fans of other clubs were to face arrest and charge for loudly proclaiming their desire to wade knee-deep in our blood, we too would now face arrest and charge for offending people such as these by merely expressing the aspects of our social, political and cultural identity which still provoke both hatred and contempt in modern-day Scotland.
Even the SNP’s self-styled socialist firebrand Mhairi Black recently denigrated the Irish diaspora in Scotland by referring to people who identify with this community as ‘’plastic Irishmen’’. If such an offensive term was barbed towards any other immigrant group in Scotland there would have been an outcry. However the contempt that Black and elements within her party have for the Irish in Scotland is unmistakeable, which is why legislation criminalising expressions of Irish identity has been passed without pause for concern.
The reality is that Celtic fans have now bore the brunt of this. Before the legislation was even enacted the culture of policing fans was changing as the Bill was passing through Parliament, with one young Celtic fan who had never been in a day’s bother in his life, remanded in custody for a minor football related offence until his trial date months away, meaning that he was due to spend his 18th birthday and Christmas in Polmont Prison. Only political intervention prevented this from happening. When the Act was enacted in 2012, the situation became markedly worse again.
One Celtic fan was arrested at Glasgow Aiport in front of his panic-stricken family, only for his case to be dropped within weeks. Another fan was arrested for holding a banner which depicted a zombie. There have been instances of Celtic fans being charged, facing prolonged court battles, placing their financial security, relationships and employment at risk only to be found not guilty. The same people have then been charged again, put through the same process which drags on for much longer than a normal trial, with the concomitant damage now heightened, actually resulting in dismissals and breakdowns in relationships, only to then get another not guilty verdict.
In one instance, 7 Celtic fans were arrested for singing the Roll of Honour, a song which lauds the bravery of the ten Irish hungerstrikers who starved themselves to death in 1981 rather than accept their criminalisation. People such as Tony Blair, Tony Benn and Nelson Mandela have equally commended their bravery, yet to do so in Scotland is now potentially a criminal offence. For these 7 fans, the court case dragged on for over 2 years, reaching nearly 20 appearances at court. The legal costs were monumental, the damage done to each of their lives appalling. They were subsequently given an Absolute Discharge. The entire thing was a scandalous waste of time and energy.
The Celtic support has suffered a sustained attack at the hands of the Scottish Government and Police Scotland. Almost all fans who follow Celtic away from home will have some tale to tell of police harassment over the last 6 years. The experience of following our club across the country has changed dramatically. Orwellian levels of surveillance are now routine. The police give soundbites about only filming during what they perceive to be offensive songs, only to have cameras trained on our fans for almost 90 minutes straight. Supporters buses are being stopped and searched for a few cans on journeys to places like Dundee and Aberdeen with greater frequency than ever before. Fans are consistently being charged for singing songs which serve as mere expressions of our political and cultural heritage.
But we have endured. As a support we have remained as defiant as ever. The croppies have not lay down. And now we stand on the cusp of a monumental victory. MSP and Celtic fan James Kelly’s Bill for the repeal of the OBA is currently passing through the Scottish Parliament.
Having taken the time to thoroughly gather all the required evidence and scrutinise the principles of the Bill, the Justice Committee by majority has voted to support the repeal. The Stage One vote will now take place on Thursday the 25th of January. If we win this, we will hopefully be just a few months away from the final vote and repeal. If repealed, this will be the first time in history that the Scottish Parliament has repealed legislation that it itself has enacted. If repealed, the Celtic support willl have endured this onslaught and still come out on top. If repealed, the rebels will have won.
But we need to win this vote on the 25th first. To help us do that and to play your part, please take 30 seconds out of your day to click the following link and take part in the FAC email campaign to urge your representatives to vote for repeal.
If anyone needs a bit more convincing, you can watch the FAC short film here on the OBA.
And fingers crossed that should we win this first vote, we will be announcing more plans shortly to help ensure that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act does not live to see 2019.