As an avid football fan and regular match attender I take the issue of sectarianism very seriously.
However, many constituents have also raised their concerns regarding the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.
Let me first make it clear at the outset that I consider sectarian behaviour and hate crime to be a blight on society in Scotland and it should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
However, I do believe there is a compelling case for the repeal of this ill-considered and badly drafted law.
It is clear that pre-existing laws against ‘breach of the peace’ and ‘threatening or abusive behaviour’ already covered the types of offences that this Act was designed to tackle.
The latest recorded crime statistics show that the vast majority of these crimes continue to be charged under pre-existing offences – highlighting that the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is unnecessary.
There is also considerable opposition to this law from the legal profession and stakeholders.
More than 3200 football clubs and members of the public took part in the recent consultation on the legislation and a hefty 71 per cent of respondents backed the repeal of Sections 1-5 and 62 per cent supported the repeal of Sections 6-9.
A senior judge has said provisions of the Act were ‘horribly drafted’.
The Law Society of Scotland have concluded that the new offence ‘does not improve’ on existing offences, and that all 287 charges brought under Section 1 of the legislation in 2015-16 ‘could have been prosecuted under pre-existing legislation’.
On this basis, they said the legislation ‘has not been fundamental to tackling sectarianism’.
The 2015 Morrow report emphasises that the impact of sectarianism varies from community to community and that it is not a one-size-fits-all issue.
We need an enduring change in culture and attitudes.
That happens in homes, classrooms and communities.
It is facilitated by the work of charities and third sector organisations such as Nil by Mouth, and we need to see and support more of that community-led activity.
I have regularly enjoy attending football matches since my childhood and more recenlty with my children, I believe the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act unfairly targets those civilised, law-abiding fans who simply want to enjoy Scotland’s beautiful game.
For the reasons set out above, I plan to vote in favour of this Act’s repeal when next presented with the opportunity.