We wake this morning in the knowledge that the Review, promised in the original legislation, and much awaited by those of us wishing to have our opportunity to present our detailed evidence of the fundamental flaws in the Act, is, as far as the government is concerned, done and dusted. Despite the statements of the University of Stirling and the lead researchers of the Evaluation Report that their work cannot be seen as the Review itself, the Communities Safety Minister told Parliament yesterday that the publishing of this report fulfilled their requirement under the legislation. The depth of cynicism and sense of impregnability involved in pulling such a cheap stunt is really quite breathtaking and is a serious worry for all citizens.
Representatives of FAC were in Holyrood yesterday to witness the shambling and unconvincing statement by the Minister. Holyrood rules allow one question each and no follow-up to statements so he was able to take the questions put by opposition MPs from all parties and simply not answer them or answer them inadequately. In an incredible act of dishonesty Paul Wheelhouse even went so far as to infer in his statement, and state outright in his answer to a direct question from Michael McMahon, that FAC supported his plans to fund SACRO to run a Diversion from Prosecution project. The idea that we would agree with a plan to subject young people to a 10 week course to learn how to address their ‘behaviour’ in using the odd swear word or expressing their political views is laughable but that is what he told MSPs, not once but twice. This is despite the fact that we could not have been clearer in stating that we would play no part in deterring young people from actions which we did not think were criminal in the first place. In fact the words ‘We will not be doing that’ were used – no lack of clarity there, you’ll agree.
We were alerted before the session that he intended to misrepresent us and were able to corner one of his senior advisers who had been present at our meeting to tell him to make sure that no such lie was aired in the Chamber. We believe that the Advisor did do that and that a message was delivered to Wheelhouse to that effect minutes before he delivered his statement. However, when it came to that part of his speech he stumbled and seemed unsure of how to depart from his script so he just ploughed on. Then, having said it, he held the line under questioning from McMahon. We will be writing to him to ask for an explanation and a retraction of this incredible suggestion.
However, this piece of nonsense, is really of no consequence compared to some of his other comments yesterday. Among other things, he graciously encouraged the Irish community to celebrate their heritage but to be careful ‘not to offend others’ in so doing… He felt the need to say this despite the fact that his own government’s figures show that Catholics (which is still a fairly close proxy for those of Irish descent) represent 84% of the ‘victims’ in OB charges, with the Protestant community having 6 victims (12%) and one each for the Jewish and the Muslim communities. Perhaps that was his message to the Irish/Catholic community – will you stop visibly celebrating your identity because you are attracting sectarian/racist abuse!
He went on to confirm that yes it turns out that freedom of speech is being restricted for football fans but he reassured us that this was only in the context of a regulated football match! Well, there you go now, limiting your freedom of speech one venue at a time.
The presence of FAC in the chamber seemed to have an unsettling effect on the Minister. Perhaps with his rather dim view of all football supporters he thought he might get some object or another stoated off his skull during his speech. Well, he better get used to it (our presence, his cranium is safe from us) because we need to up our game and we are calling on all football supporters to get behind this campaign. We need to be where they are; we need to harass them the way they harass us, we need to spoil their selfie-taking opportunities by inconveniently getting in the shot and we need to constantly remind them that this battle is, most certainly, not over.