CELTIC Fotball Club has joined Scotland's pre-eminent historian, leading broadcasters and figures from academia and the legal profession have called for the scrapping of the SNP Government's controversial football laws.

Professor Sir Tom Devine, pressure group Liberty, television executive and journalist Stuart Cosgrove and broadcasting colleague Tam Cowan

have joined dozens of others from public life calling for a repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The historian Professor Tom Gallagher, both co-convenors of the Scottish Green party, Patrick Harvie and Maggie Chapman, several prominent Labour Party figures, former snooker world champion John Higgins, and author and playwright Alan Bissett have also signed a petition for the Act to be overturned.

Celtic later added the club's voice to the calls, claiming the legislaton was "unworkable" and should be "repealed in the interests of all football supporters and football clubs".

Sir Tom said: "I argued strongly against this to no avail before the Justice Committee of the Parliament before its implementation.

"The legislation is likely to go down in history as the most illiberal and counterproductive  act passed by  our young Parliament to date.

"‎Pushed through by the  SNP government with no concern for the considered views of other parties and expert evidence to the contrary,  it remains a stain on on the  reputation of the Scottish legal system for fair dealing."


The petition criticises the Act, which received Royal Assent in January 2012, just nine months after the Old Firm 'shame game' which heralded it, as "an unjustifiable attack on freedom of speech and the rights’ of fans to political expression".

It also describes it as "a clumsy political response to one football match".

The move comes as the pressure group leading the charge against the Act, Fans Against Criminalisation, appear in front of the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee on Tuesday calling on the "Government to hold a full and comprehensive review of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 with a view to having this Act repealed".

It also comes on the eve of the election campaigns for the Holyrood elections in May.

The petition states: "We, the undersigned, call on the Scottish Government to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

"We do so on the basis that it is wrong to create a law which applies to one demonised sector of society, which this act does to football fans. It is by definition a discriminatory piece of legislation and we also note that the Government has failed in its commitment outlined in its Equality Impact Assessment to carry out an equalities audit in regard to this law.

"We also oppose this legislation on the basis that it is practically impossible and inherently dangerous to criminalise offensiveness. This Act is therefore an unjustifiable attack on freedom of speech and the rights’ of fans to political expression.

"This legislation was a clumsy political response to one football match which serves only to unjustly criminalise football supporters and should be repealed as a matter of urgency."

Although accounting for only a tiny percentage of convictions in Scotland over the past few years, the law has however dogged the Government with opponents continuing to fight a high-profile campaign against it.

Critics have said it points to an illiberalism within the SNP and a denial of free speech, as well as accusations of poorly drafted legislation and disproportionate policing.

In response, ministers and supporters of the Act have repeatedly pointed to opinion polls calling for tougher action on sectarianism, while last summer the Government, courts and prosecution officials all signalled they wanted to make more use of civil bans rather than criminal punishments for those who flaunt the controversial legislation.

A Celtic spokesman said: "We have consistently opposed this legislation from the outset as it has been used to create a general presumption that different laws should apply to football supporters as distinct from society as a whole.

"We reiterate our position that the Act should be repealed. 

"We encourage and promote positive behaviour within football at all times and welcome any attempt to do likewise. 

"However, this Act is unworkable, and once again we call for it to be repealed in the interests of all football supporters and football clubs."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Since the introduction of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, religious crimes are down, race crimes are down, crimes in relation to individuals' sexuality are down and we’ve seen a decrease in crimes of offensive behaviour at or in relation to regulated football matches in Scotland showing the Act has delivered real improvements.

“The Act sends out a clear message that Scotland is a country which will not tolerate any form of prejudice, discrimination or hate crime, and it gives police and prosecutors an additional tool to tackle this behaviour."

Other signatories include George Galloway, co-founder of the Rangers Standard Alasdair McKillop, River City actor Gary Lamont, academic Stuart Waiton, Professor Willie Maley, Maureen McBride of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and several leading solicitors.