More and more people are now asking if the Scottish Government is going too far in its attempt to halt “offensive behaviour” at football through incessant policing and harassing of supporters.
Those who appear to be suffering the most are Celtic supporters, though Rangers fans also have some gripes.
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This attempt at cleaning up Scottish society has turned into a nightmare, cutting to the very heart of civil liberty.
I deliberately place “offensive behaviour” in inverted commas because the nub of all this is an interpretative minefield regarding fans’ behaviour, wherein clarity is proving near-impossible.
The recent case of the Green Brigade at Celtic, a large and noisy group of supporters, some of whom have Irish republican sympathies, has highlighted once more Scotland’s alleged “police state”.
Various QCs, MSPs and other commentators have expressed concern at the way this group is being monitored by Strathclyde Police, to a point, it is being alleged, of outright harassment.
Just what is going on here? Why has there been this surge in such intense scrutiny of supporters and the way they behave?
The momentum stems from police attempts to implement the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act 2012, a piece of legislation that many - this writer included - had doubts about.
The act seeks to do what it says on the tin: stamp out “offensive behaviour” such as bigoted or sectarian expression.
There has been plenty of that around the Old Firm over the years, so to that end all decent-minded people felt that the law should crack down on bigots.
But what of political chanting at Ibrox or Parkhead? Indeed, how do you define political chanting? For example, should some of the Irish republican songs chanted by Celtic supporters be defined as “political” or “sectarian”?
It is on this blurry point that Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociologist at Abertay University in Dundee, has waded in. Waiton deplores the Offensive Behaviour at Football act and is highly critical, to a point of being derisive, about the treatment of the Green Brigade.
For my part, I wish the “Irish stuff” which can be heard from Rangers and Celtic fans could be binned. More often than not these chants are sung by supporters who are singularly clueless about the history and politics of Ireland.
I also hear both sets of Old Firm supporters singing about something more specific: the IRA. I need not point out who sings for and who sings agin. Again, I’d rather all this was junked.
But the point here is, where does the offence lie, and why? Also, is this stuff political or is it sectarian?
Moreover, no matter how you define it, football club supporters the world over espouse causes or beliefs which go way beyond the game: in Spain, in Portugal, in eastern Europe, in Latin America, as well as here in Scotland.
I’ve said it before, if you were The Global Policeman I’m not sure where you would start, let alone finish, with this. At Barcelona? At Real Madrid? At Rangers and Celtic? At Inter Milan? At the rival Viennese clubs? The list is endless.
I make a clear distinction between this stuff and the more blatant cases of bigotry, racism, anti-semitism and the like. These things we can and should stamp hard on, with no “police-state” argument being raised.
I’ve written often about offensive behaviour at football and have no doubt that bigotry had to be tackled. But I can also see, as Stuart Waiton and others are claiming, that the Scottish police are now in a dire situation as they seek to corral supporters while trying to define right and wrong.
Someone said to me: “A law never works if it cannot be objectively measured.” This absolutely captures the problem of the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation.
We got a glimpse of the mess the Scottish government was getting into when, in June 2011, Roseanna Cunningham, not having realised how much she had chewed off, had to frantically backtrack and delay the processing of the bill.
That day it took a mere half hour of questions to realise that Alex Salmond and the SNP, wobbling towards their legislation, hadn’t quite appreciated the acuity of supporters who wanted to defend their right to hold political or cultural positions in song and slogan.
The Offensive Behaviour bill was duly delayed. But its final clarity, when put on the statute book last year, was scarcely enhanced.
It has all become quite a dog’s breakfast. Meanwhile, football supporters in Scotland feel like they are under a type of surveillance once associated with life behind the old Iron Curtain.