The Offensive Behaviour in Football Bill is a ‘Snobs’ law’
Abertay University academic and founder of Take a Liberty ( Scotland ) Stuart
Waiton is giving evidence today (6th September) at the Scottish Parliament
Justice Committee addressing the Offensive Behaviour in Football Bill.
Alongside Dr Waiton will be Pat Nevin, Graham Spiers and Professor Graham Walker.
Waiton will be arguing that this bill has been driven by a form of political
grandstanding that is more about publicity than politics. What he labels a
‘snobs law’, Dr Waiton believes will undermine the moral legitimacy of the
law and help to create a new division amongst football fans who will spend
their time telling tales on one another for ‘offensive’ singing at matches
or blogging online.
The statement that Stuart Waiton hopes to present to the committee meeting
is printed below:-
The first thing to notice about this bill is that it specifically targets
football fans and nobody else. It appears that this creature ‘the football
fan’ can be treated as somehow different from everybody else, or as George
Orwell might have said, ‘Four rugby fans good. Two football fans bad’.
In this respect the bill follows on in the fine old ‘crusty’ conservative
tradition of fear and loathing of the ‘great unwashed’ who attend matches,
and continues in the vein of criminalising these fans, using up incredible
amounts of police time watching and listening out for ‘rowdies’ shouting and
singing linguistically incorrect songs.
Interconnected to this old form of snobbish conservatism, here we find a new
form of hyper intolerant conservativism being expressed through the
‘tolerant’ political, media and cultural elites. Illustrating the
fantastical world of this new ‘tolerant’ elite, Roseanna Cunningham,
Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs argues that sectarianism is
undermining the very fabric of a tolerant Scotland – a tolerant Scotland
that she believes can be enforced by imprisoning football fans for singing
offensive songs for up to five years!
At one level of course football and football fans behaviour should be
understood as different. Where else do you find grown men and women
shouting, swearing, pointing, singing, wearing ridiculously coloured
clothes, hats and scarves, jumping up and down hugging the nearest stranger
with tear filled eyes as part of an impassioned tribal display of hate, love
and impreganable loyalty.
This is football, it is unlike any other public arena, and up until
relatively recently we have been worldly enough and indeed genuinely
TOLERANT enough to realise this fact. Indeed for many, there is no need to
‘tolerate’ football fan’s behaviour, because the passion, gallows humour,
and even the offensiveness on display in football grounds is what helps make
it the greatest game in the world.
While this bill is focused on ‘sectarian’ behaviour at football it does in
fact target any form of offensive behaviour that can be said to potentially
lead to public order offences. Depending upon your interpretation this could
result in almost any rowdy fan being arrested and imprisoned for behaviour
that has been going on at matches for generations.
Some people clearly will be offended by certain songs and behaviour at
football matches that have previously been outside the remit of the law. But
there is a problem. Part and parcel of fans behaviour towards one another
and to the opposing team IS TO BE OFFENSIVE. Offence is part of football fan
behaviour - you may not like it, but that does not mean it is or should be
criminalised. I am offended every time I sit down at a ‘ West End ’ dinner
party and listen to the prejudices about the white working classes who it is
assumed are on the verge of a racist or sectarian pogrom but I don’t expect
these hate filled intolerant individuals to have laws used to silence them.
It is worth bearing in mind that within the pantomime of football what
appears to be sectarian is not necessarily all it appears, as fans go home
to their Catholic wives, Protestant drinking mates and nondenominational
neighbours. The reality is that Scotland , especially for the younger
generations, is a largely modern secular country where religious ideology
and dogma has little or no dynamic. This is in fact why it is almost always
football that is targeted as the place of sectarianism, because it doesn’t
exist anywhere else. And if it doesn’t exist anywhere else, the reality is
that it doesn’t exist in football either.
In other words, what we are witnessing at Celtic and Rangers games is an
ersatz form of 90 minute sectarianism. It is a tribalism based on football
not religion, despite the religious association of both teams.
The political grandstanding by Alex Salmond is not the act of a conviction
politician, but the opposite, the act of a politician who has few genuine
convictions, big ideas or issues that can carry the people of Scotland .
Sectarianism has consequently become a safe moralising issue (after all, who
argues FOR sectarianism?) which feeds into the trend to ban, regulate and
control more and more areas of everyday life.
Unfortunately, one of the worst possible outcomes of the proposed Football
Bill is that it will actually create a new breed of thin skinned chronically
offended football fan; a new ‘sectarian’ divide of fans who trawl fanzines
and monitor the terraces to find opposing fans who they can report to the
A recent opinion poll suggests the Scottish public are against sectarianism
and rightly so. It does not however explain what people understand by
‘sectarian behaviour’ nor does it suggest that most Scots think fans should
be locked up for five years for being offensive at football games. On the
other hand, if the poll is to be believed, the ‘fact’ that, ‘85% of Scots
believe that sectarianism should be a criminal offensive’ is not something
that Roseanna Cunningham should be excited about, as she appears to be, for
this would reflect a profound loss of tolerance within Scotland – a nation
once built upon the Enlightened and Liberal traditions of John Locke and
John Stuart Mill.
Making ideas or thoughts into crimes is the height of intolerance and the
hallmark of a profoundly authoritarian regime.
As it happens, with much that is associated with the issue of sectarianism,
one suspects that this survey obscures more than it reveals about a topic
that has become a moralising football for the various conservative forces in
Scotland . More interesting than the dubious figures in the survey is the way
in which Cunningham appears to be unaware of the anti-democratic, illiberal
and authoritarian consequences of arguing that certain thoughts or ideas
should be illegal.
Ideas we disagree with cannot be policed out of existence. But let’s get
real and recognise that for the vast majority of fans, even Celtic and
Rangers fans, their shouts, screams, songs and insults are not part of an
impending sectarian pogrom, but part of the pantomime that is FOOTBALL.
The Offensive Behaviour Bill should be kicked into touch.