Coming to a Scottish Parliament near you soon!
When the Offensive Behaviour Act was voted on to the statute books you will recall that the SNP government, having said that they ‘wanted consensus’ were humiliatingly left to force through the Act using their 7 vote majority. They could not convince a single other member of the Scottish Parliament to vote with them. However, the opponents of the Act were able to get a review clause built in which meant that the Act must be reviewed within two year of operation.
Most of us believed, not unreasonably, that given the Act was introduced in March 2012 that this would have been done in March 2014. No, it was then interpreted to mean two full football seasons so they counted that as 2012-13 and 2013-14 and then added another year on for good measure! However, they now must have the review no later than August 2015.
We were aware that the government had commissioned some research from the University of Stirling which we understood would be used to inform the review. We also assumed that the review would consist of discussions directly with those affected by the Act ie football supporters. In this regard, we believed (and still believe) that FAC had a particular role to play given the amount of data and information that we are able to bring to the attention of MSPs.
However, it would appear that our evidence as the only group which has consistently since 2011 campaigned on this issue and has, from the outset, declared its intention to provide quantitative and qualitative data to MSPs at the appropriate time is not relevant or important.
Quite incredibly it would appear that the Stirling research is the review!
We are not aware of any other example of a piece of academic research being used in this way and we are aware that the researchers themselves were not aware that their research would be used in this way. So, as things stand, as far as we are aware, the research team’s judgement in terms of how they collected and presented the data they collected will be all that MSPs will be presented with – in fact there is no certainty that there will even be a parliamentary debate on the matter!
We have asked what the format of the review will be and there appears to be no form of public consultation or evidence gathering beyond what the Stirling team choose to present (see below) FAC was not invited to take part in this research as an organisation until February of this year when the interim report had already been submitted to the Scottish Government.
This fact was met with some surprise by the Scottish Human Rights Commission when we met with them last year at a point when we had had no contact with the research team and none was arranged. Nevertheless, we met with the team in February in a hastily arranged meeting and had some discussions with them. However, this is clearly not the same as presenting our evidence directly to Parliament. Having our views merged in a report which necessarily must be compiled using the judgement of the academics involved (ie weighted by them in advance) is not the same as having our evidence assessed by politicians. To be fair to the academics, they are clear about this and did not themselves understand that their work was to be used in this way. We have written to Michael Mathieson, the Justice Secretary and received a reply from a civil servant. We reprint it in full below:
Question 1: Is the Stirling research simply going to be sent to MSPs to be followed by a debate in chamber?
The University of Stirling report, which covers Section 1 of the Act, will be carefully considered by Scottish Ministers along with the evaluation of Section 6 on the threatening communications offence. The Scottish Government will respond to both reports. The decision on whether there will be a debate in the Scottish Parliament is a matter for the Parliamentary Bureau which is responsible for proposing a programme of business to the Parliament. Information about the functions of the Parliamentary Bureau is available on the Scottish Parliament’s website at:
Question 2: Is there going to be any opportunity for citizens or organisations to make submissions on this issue?
There have already been a number of opportunities for citizens and organisations to make submissions in relation to the review of the Act and all of these will be fully considered as part of the review process. There were two online surveys carried out in the summers of 2013 and 2014 to assess supporters experience of attending football matches since the introduction of the Act. Each survey attracted in the region of 2,000 replies and supporters of all 42 SPFL clubs have participated.
In addition to those surveys, supporters from a number of clubs have participated in a range of focus groups. If you, or any other representative from Fans Against Criminalisation, feel you have any additional points you wish to make which were not covered during your session with the research team, you may wish to get in touch with them directly setting out any further points you wish to make in writing.
Question 3: Is our organisation, Fans Against Criminalisation, the only body set up to oppose this Act, going to be able to provide our evidence to Parliament or one of its committees?
This falls within the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. You may wish to consider writing directly to the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on this point as they have taken the lead in scrutinising the Act from a parliamentary perspective. You can do so by writing to: Christine Grahame MSP, Convener, Justice Committee, The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. EH99 1SP.
So there you have it, a piece of legislation, poorly drafted, hastily introduced, horrendously implemented, and now undemocratically reviewed! It really does tick all the boxes. However, the fight is not over yet. Please visit your MSP and ask her or him if the following:
- Do you support the abolition of the Act?
- Will you and/or your party ask for a full parliamentary debate on this issue by August?
- Will you and/or your party insist that the Justice Committee hear our evidence?
In addition, keep an eye out for a series of planned action by FAC over the next lot of months. If you do not pull out all the stops now we will be saddled with this abomination of an Act for an indefinite period to come. It is up to you.