An alternative way of tackling sectarianism

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.

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39 thoughts on “An alternative way of tackling sectarianism

  1. These plans might work, in 10 or 15 years or so. But what about those bigots who have left school, don’t go to church, don’t get involved in the community. How do you reach them?

  2. Surely a first step to stopping sectarianism in our schools would be to stop segregating children into ‘protestant’ (aka non-denominational) and catholic schools at five years old. It’s a pretty blatant institutional driver that you’re in some way different to the kid next door who goes to a different school.

    If we have all the children from one area in one school, the valid points about integrating them are more likely to be effective.

  3. Right… now where was all of this during the consultation period for the current bill?

    1. It was obviously lodged underneath the hands that were getting sat on furiously when the opportunity to present this as an alternative option at the consultation stage was underway…

      Similarly the opportunity to offer ANY alternative was (in James Kelly superlative style) SPECTACULARLY avoided, for some strange reason best known to those Labour members on the justice committee

      Dear Mr Kelly

      “We dont agree with you [SNP] and we dont want to engage in the process to allow us to offer a change….”

      How does that work then and how does that sit with the constituents that you represent?

      In your opening paragraph (above) you state

      “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.

      3 quick points –

      The SNP bill passed (hardly fatally flawed as you put it)

      Can you please explain to us who exactly is at risk of having harm done to them as a result of this bill? (Anyone, of any side, shouting or singing sectarian obscenities, or acting in a provocative or inciteful manner, by any chance?)

      The Police and Mr Mulholland support this legislation…. Why?

      1. I should have added one further point…

        Could you please explain to us Mr Kelly how you can claim in the article above that the bill is ‘completely unamendable’, when you, yourself, made no attempt to amend it at the consultation stage?

        I’m just asking and would appreciate your thoughts

  4. Craig,

    no chance of that happening. Labours vote would reduce from 26 per cent to under 5 per cent.

    1. What a bizarre statement. Antipathy towards state funding for religious schools crosses party lines. And the party with most to lose from the religious vote just now is the SNP, which has spent a decade forging closer ties for electoral gain. Surely it would be far healthier to keep the dogma of religion out of the compromise of politics?

      1. I agree that religion should have no place in politics.

        It has to be said however that Labours core vote is amongst the catholic population of the West of Scotland and they have for years spread scare stories about a Protestant Independent Scotland.

        Even they are starting to see the lie in that arguments as we are all Scots and we should all share in the huge natural resources that Scotland offers.

        As someone who lives and works in the North East I have all the benefits of the oil bonaza.

        It is such a pity that West Central Scotland has seen none of these benefits as successive Labour Westminster Govts have happily allowed
        those resources to go straight to London.

        I am strongly on the opinion that without Scotland the RUK service economy would go into meltdown without them having the ability to tax and spend from the North Sea.

      2. So what is the answer?

        “Could you please explain to us Mr Kelly how you can claim in the article above that the bill is ‘completely unamendable’, when you, yourself, made no attempt to amend it at the consultation stage?”

        What is fatally flawed about it?

        Why did you not put amendments to it?

        1. It introduces two new offences, one of which is unnecessary because it duplicates existing law and the other of which is a dangerously illiberal restriction of free speech. Neither of these things could be amended to make them better – they simply need to not happen.

          This has been explained before, I hope it’s clear enough now. This is bad, unnecessary law, and you only need to read the pro-SNP Iain MacWhirter in the Herald to understand why it’s been such a huge mistake:

  5. Lets keep religion in the RE classroom and stop the seggregation of 5 year olds based on their religion.

  6. Labour had over fifty years of uninterupted power in scotland to seriously tackle bigotry in scotland,why didnt they??

    1. Do you think bigotry can be “tackled” by government? The best government can do is create an environment in which bigotry can reduce. Labour created the statutory aggravations framework which enables consistent prosecution of sectarian offences, and funded Nil By Mouth and many other grassroots organisations working to eradicate sectarian bigotry. It is ludicrous and offensive to blame Labour for this problem.

      1. I am not blaming labour for the propblem of bigotry,what i am blaming them for is their lack of serious action over fifty years to destroy it.

        1. Labour took serious action against sectarianism between 1999 and 2007, and against other bigotry too. It is the SNP which did nothing in the last session, which is why they have ended up with this send-a-message legislation now to try to recoup lost ground.

          1. What about the years prior to 1999? when labour in scotland did zilch.For if they had seriously attacked bigotry in all those years, then maybe we wouldnt still be suffering this cancer in scottish life?Or maybe they seen it as a useful tool to keep the scots fighting amongst themselves?and not seeing the bigger picture eh!

          2. Stop deflecting the argument onto a criticism of the Labour party of decades ago. At stake here is the future of Scotland, not its past. The SNP’s creation of ill-defined, illiberally conceived new crimes to “send a message” is simply bad law. Do you agree or not?

          3. No. Sending a message is a valuable action in itself, as is closing loopholes in the current law which have been identified by the police and the Lord Advocate. And I’ve yet to hear a single actual sensible objection to the bill, rather than hysterical hypothesising about ludicrous imaginary scenarios. When someone ACTUALLY gets sent down for five years for humming “God Save The Queen” to themselves on a bus, get back to us.

  7. I will say this because I think it needs saying but don’t really want to start a massive row.

    I understand the logic behind arguing for a wholly secular state system in schooling. But any attempt to change the current set-up would be taken by many people as a sectarian attack in itself. The logic behind it would be seen as blaming the victim for the crime. Catholics are attacked – so let’s abolish Catholic schools.

    Can I emphasise that I do not think that is the motivation behind most people who want to take religion out of schools altogether. But that is still the way many people would take it. It would be profoundly damaging and divisive and that’s why it won’t happen at this time. In the future maybe, but now.

    1. All scchools should mixed,seperate schools protestant or catholic should be closed forthwith, as wether some people care to deny it they sow the seeds of difference at an early age(,us and them).Divide and rule anyone?? a true british control tool used all over the world by the empire.makes you proud to be british eh?

  8. I agree with docking points from clubs whose fans are involved in sectarianism, but do politicians even have the power to make this happen? All the ideas about education are very commendable, but this can only really help future generations not the current one. Some parts of this country (it is certainly not a Scotland wide issue) have major problems with sectarianism and bigotry that really need to be tackled NOW. While the new laws brought in by the Scottish Government will not completely solve the sectarian problems, doing nothing is simply not an option and those who wish to standing by and do nothing are in my view guilty of condoning its continuation in the future.

    I also have to say that separate schooling which divides children from the age of 4 or 5 does little to help. In the North East of Scotland where I live, pupils of all religions all go to the same school and sectarianism is non-existent here. Either we should have totally integrated schools where all religions are welcome to play a part, or have a completely secular education system. I also think it’s time we as a nation take the step of saying that Orange and Irish Republican marches are a relic of the past that don’t belong in Scotland and don’t belong in the 21st Century. I find it unfortunate that Labour seem to be playing party politics over this issue rather than trying to help resolve it.

    1. “I agree with docking points from clubs whose fans are involved in sectarianism, but do politicians even have the power to make this happen”

      I thought this sounded good too, but then I asked myself ‘Who would be judge and jury’ other than, well, a judge and jury, which brought me back to the courts, police etc…. and their support for the sectarian bill….

      I’ve asked all my friends and colleagues about the sectarian bill. As none of them are bigots and don’t spend time abusing people, never mind in a sectarian manner, unsurprisingly, none of them object to it.

      Best solution is Scottish independence; you’re going to look very stupid at Irbrox waving a flag (union jack) of a state that no longer exists…

      Britain’s shame (union jack + red hand of ulster [on st georges cross] vs irish tricolour) will die with Britain, just as it has in Eire.

      1. With respect, I imagine what your friends are saying, as are most people, is that action should be taken against sectarianism. The job of political parties is to ensure the action is right, not just that something is done. The SNP are past masters at the sort of populism that carries people along without too much thought, but what Labour (and the Tories, and the Lib Dems, and the Greens) are saying here is that there are serious problems with the new law. Of course your friends don’t have the time and inclination to bother about legal technicalities, but that is why we have a representative democracy – we pay our representatives to take the time to consider the technicalities.

        The SNP have made a grave mistake by choosing to tackle this in a populist manner. Scots will pay the price.

        1. “but what Labour (and the Tories, and the Lib Dems, and the Greens) are saying here is that there are serious problems with the new law”

          …yet are unable to specifically identify what those problems actually are, and unwilling to put down any amendments that might fix them. Why? Because they’re scared witless of losing control of Glasgow City Council, and see the possibility of grabbing a few vital votes from the thousands of bigots on both sides in the coming election by opposing the bill, but doing nothing to put a better bill in place.

  9. Equally, faith schools are common as muck down south and sectarianism isn’t nearly as bad a problem there, and sectarianism was much worse here before the separate schools system started. I agree that the school situation needs dealt with, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that’ll solve the problem – it can lead to an awful lot of laziness, absolving the rest of society from the need to do anything.

  10. Duncan, with all due respect….

    Will ordinary Scots pay the price or will sectarian bigots pay the price, or do we do nothing legislatively and let society pay the price?

    Might I suggest that the reason the opposition parties are making so much noise about this particular piece of legislation is that the makes for good soundbite politics and is easy to criticise…

    Full marks to the SNP for tackling the sectarian problem head on…

    How much simpler would it have been for them to not bother their backsides and sit back and count down the days to the referendum, without rocking the boat?

    Where’s the electoral advantage in them doing what they are doing?

    1. What frustrates me about this more than anything is this attitude.

      First of all, were you aware (I know the public largely aren’t) that a new offence (section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010) was introduced last year and covers precisely sections 1-4 of this new bill? Were you aware that when this was raised in committee opposition members asked for data from the new section’s use to see if it was working and were told that no data was available, but the SNP majority approved the bill anyway without any data?

      This is categorically not the SNP tackling sectarianism head on. This is the SNP seizing an opportunity to make new criminal law for the purposes of PR.

      It’s bad law. Almost every expert on the subject says so, every opposition party says so. Very reasoned arguments like the one I set out above have been made, and the SNP have reverted to doing exactly as you have done – something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done.

      1. Would you say the police are experts?

        Remember every opposition party voted for the Edinburgh trams, hardly a credible claim to fiscal or monetary rectitude?

  11. I’m perfectly aware of the legislation introduced last year

    I’m also perfectly aware that the opposition parties are against it, but aren’t they against everything proposed by the SNP?

    Just asking….

    I’m also aware that the police are in favour, some legal friends I know are also in favour (old firm supporting might I add), Paul McBride is in favour, Frank Mulholland is in favour, amongst many others

    Who and what exactly are you seeking to protect?

    1. Excuse me? You think I’m seeking to protect someone or something? Point to any justification for that smear or withdraw it. I am arguing honestly here, have the good grace to do the same.

  12. Apologies…

    I’ll rephrase my last question…

    When the police and leading legal experts in this country have stated that the current breach of the peace legislation does not go far enough in regards to providing an effective deterrent and legal process to bring sectarian bigots to book, why are the Labour Party not heeding their advice and presenting a united front from the parliament to address these problems?

    We saw it with the minimum pricing legislation where every interested party from health workers to doctors, from the police to the legal profession all backed the proposals, and even after the insertion of a sunset clause it was not enough for your party…

    Why did your party not engage with this process constructively?

    You could have engaged with this legislation and sought amendments where you did not agree…

    Instead, once again, your party chose to gripe, ‘it’s no fair, it’s no right’ from the sidelines…

    I am asking why?

    And once again, where is the electoral advantage in the SNP pursuing this poisoned chalice?

    1. S38 hasn’t even been tested! How can it have been judged not to go far enough?

      Set aside all the anti-Labour nonsense and answer me this: do you think this is a good law? If so, how will you judge its success, as distinct from the effects of legislation introduced last year?

      As for electoral advantage, apparently a majority of Scots support this law on the basis that “something must be done” – so it’s hardly a poisoned chalice. But is IS bad law.

  13. I’d like a little more detail on the Labour objections to the new bill. We are told that ‘key stakeholders’ are opposed to it. I have no idea what ‘key stakeholders’ means. It clearly excludes the police, who will be right up at the sharp end of enforcing the law, and I would have thought they held a lot of key stakes.

    The fact that all 4 opposition parties are opposed tells me nothing. All were equally opposed to the eminently sensible alcohol pricing measures as well.

    Mr Kelly’s proposals appear sensible and well though, perhaps they would have been better raised during the Parliamentary debate? Duncan Hothersall tells us we must not mention all the wasted Labour decades when they could have been introduced, so I won’t. However, can someone explain why Mr Kelly’s belated interventions could not work alongside the SNP new law? Sticks and carrots, as it were?

    1. Mr Kelly’s proposals appear sensible and well thought-through – as I meant to say.

  14. Sectarianism is rife in west central Scotland, it is disgusting, stupid, out of date and should be treated as CRIMINAL, the same way rascism is.

    Why bring this up now? Do you really think this soft approach will work?
    I think it would be a waste of pupblic money.

    Get hard on soceity’s bullys, why didnt Scottish Labour add to this bill, are we behaving like David Cameron is in the EU?

  15. 50 years Labours had.Labour has had 50 years to sort sectarianism.i’m not for hanging about any longer.

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

    Ah. Fatal flaw. This would require we put faith (pardon the pun) in Celtic and Rangers to clean up their act. It would also involve having some sort of faith in Scotland’s ruling bodies.

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