With the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill progressing through Parliament last night, JAMES KELLY MSP reminds us of Scottish Labour’s alternative action plan.


Scottish Labour is 100% determined to tackle sectarianism, but unfortunately the SNP’s flagship Bill is fatally flawed and risks doing more harm than good.  The SNP has spectacularly failed to make the case for the new laws it proposes and the Bill is completely unamendable.  It is a sad day for the new Scottish Parliament that the first Bill passed was railroaded through by the SNP, in the face of the legitimate concerns raised by key stakeholders and all four opposition parties.

Scottish Labour has put together a practical action plan that we believe, by focusing on education, young people and working with the churches, will help wipe the blight of sectarianism from Scottish society.  Our package of practical measures recognises that sectarianism does not stop at the stadium gates and demands a much more sophisticated response and none of the proposals require new legislation.

The Action Plan calls for a review of how anti-sectarianism can be taught in schools, a “stamp out sectarianism” campaign and a national summit for teachers, youth workers and other interested parties.

What unites football fans across Scotland is a passion for the game and a love for their club. There can be few greater feelings for fans than seeing your team go top of the league. Under these tough new rules, the behaviour of fans could mean the difference between winning and losing the league. With stakes that high, we are confident that this proposal, at part of a package of measures, will drive a drastic improvement in the behaviour of the minority of fans that behave in a bigoted, sectarian way.

If we are serious about attracting young people and families to support the game we need to take a zero-tolerance approach to bigotry.

Docking points would apply if a club repeatedly failed to get its act together. It is time for the SPL and the clubs to take responsibility and make it clear that our football stadiums are no-go zones for bigots.

This proposal is one of a package of positive, practical measures Labour is calling on the SNP government to implement, which focuses on education and young people to eradicate sectarianism and stop bigoted attitudes from taking hold in the first place.

Anti-sectarian initiatives

ACTION 1. Review and enhance the educational resources and programmes currently available with a view to ensuring that anti-sectarianism measures and teaching can be integrated easily and smoothly by teachers into the school curriculum

Education is the most effective way of challenging bigoted attitudes early in our children’s lives and this is why anti-sectarian measures should be part of teaching in our schools, for example as part of Responsible Citizenship education. Teachers need quick and easy access to resources and information so that they can incorporate anti-sectarianism into their lesson plans. The Scottish Government needs to provide schools and local authorities with a comprehensive information pack containing best practice examples and information about available resources and funding.

ACTION 2. Launch ‘Stamp Out Sectarianism’ campaign

Based on ‘Show Racism the Red Card’, the Scottish Government should lead a campaign to promote a zero tolerance approach to sectarianism at all levels of football, from the grass roots up to senior level.

ACTION 3. Hold a national summit on tackling sectarianism for teachers, youth workers and other interested parties

Key agencies, voluntary bodies, the Churches, people who are involved in youth work as well as other professionals with a stake in tackling sectarianism should have an opportunity to come together and share best practice.

ACTION 4. Draw up an over-arching Scottish Government strategy for tackling sectarianism to encourage a joined-up approach 

All efforts to tackle the scourge of sectarianism have to cut across government departments to ensure that all levels and areas are working together towards the shared goal of eradicating bigoted attitudes. We need a strategy from the Scottish Government to provide all areas of government with a co-ordinated approach and overall leadership. We think that there is a strong case for putting a single individual in charge of delivery of this strategy and to act as an ‘ambassador’ for change.

ACTION 5. Run a public awareness and education campaign based on eradicating religious intolerance but with a specific focus on anti-sectarian messages 

There is no place for any form of intolerance and prejudice in 21st century Scotland but recent events have demonstrated that we need a public awareness and education campaign with a specific anti-sectarian message from the Scottish Government. This will raise awareness of the issue among the general public and to make it clear that sectarianism should be and is taken as seriously as other forms of intolerance such as racism.

ACTION 6. Set up a fund to allow local communities and voluntary groups to bid for funding to develop and implement grassroots anti-sectarianism projects

There should be a central fund dedicated to anti-sectarian initiatives to allow communities, local authorities and voluntary groups to bid for money to implement specific programmes. Projects such as that run by the Iona Community to rehabilitate young offenders underline that great work is already being undertaken and a further roll-out to include adult offenders should be encouraged.

ACTION 7. Support and work in partnership with the Churches to promote understanding 

There is an important role for churches of different denominations to work together in our communities to promote understanding and tolerance between different faiths. We know that the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church already run many successful grassroots projects and work in partnership to break down barriers. We believe that government should support the efforts of the churches and work jointly with them to facilitate the long-term change in attitudes that we need in order to tackle sectarianism.

Tackling offensive behaviour at football

ACTION 8. Encourage the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and Scottish Premier League (SPL) to end the uncertainty over who has authority to deal with the misbehaviour of supporters of SPL clubs

There needs to be clarity regarding which body – the SPL or the SFA – is in charge when it comes to taking action against football supporters who display unacceptable behaviour and the clubs which fail to take them on.

ACTION 9. Encourage the use of Football Banning Orders to deal with sectarian behaviour

Football Banning Orders have been available since September 2006 and were specifically designed to address violent and offensive behaviour in the context of regulated football matches. These orders can be used to ban someone from attending matches for up to ten years. We would like to see these orders used more. We also want to see other current laws which are already available to deal with offensive behaviour applied more rigorously and appropriate support for our police and prosecutors should be available for them to do so.

ACTION 10. Crack down on the manufacture and selling of offensive merchandise

The licensing regime can be used to address the issue of street stall traders selling offensive merchandise around football stadiums and in other locations. The types of merchandise that would be banned would be those that explicitly promote terrorist groups or are evidently sectarian against other religious groups. We support a crackdown on those traders providing such merchandise.

ACTION 11. Improve engagement with football supporters, stewards and safety officers and work with fans and clubs to review kick-off times and offer tickets at reduced rates to promote family attendance

Football supporters should be as involved in the fight against sectarianism as possible. The vast majority of fans attend matches in order to enjoy and celebrate their club and football more widely. Their behaviour is impeccable and they do not support the actions of a bigoted minority. These fans need to be engaged in the process so that they can challenge the misbehaviour of a small number of their peers. Additionally, stewards and safety officers should receive training on how to address sectarian behaviour by fans. Reviewing kick-off times and encouraging a family atmosphere at matches by offering tickets for children at reduced rates should also be considered.

ACTION 12. Require clubs to show leadership in tackling the bad behaviour of fans and deduct league points and fines

Football clubs need to take a lead on dealing with the sectarian behaviour of their supporters. If the clubs do not take the necessary action, football clubs that fail to take action to prevent fans from behaving in a sectarian way would face a range of tough new sanctions including – warnings, fines, and if behaviour does not improve, the deduction of league points. Scottish Labour is urging the Scottish Premier League (SPL) to make the necessary rule changes to put these sanctions in place. Any money generated from fines would be ring-fenced and ploughed straight back into anti-sectarianism organisations and initiatives, such as Labour’s proposal for a new ‘Stamp out sectarianism’ campaign.

James Kelly is the Scottish Labour MSP for Rutherglen and is the party’s spokesman on justice in the Scottish Parliament. Follow him on Twitter at@JamesKLabMSP.