Scotland: The Demonization of the Footballing Class

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It is not until someone asks you how you would fix football that you realise just how broken it is. There are issues over fairness, affordability and sustainability. All deserve being raised and Labour Football is leading the charge with their living wage campaign.

However as a Glasgow Boy raised in the stands of Celtic Park I’ve become increasingly struck by the differences in attending a match north and south of the border.

There is a ban prohibiting the sale of alcohol within football stadiums that has been in place since 1980. There are also the extra powers afforded to police via the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, introduced by the SNP during the current Scottish Parliamentary session.

Both of these differences are the result of legislation introduced by politicians following strong lobbying from the police. Both also result in the majority of football fans being treated in a manner that is different from any other sports fan across the country.

Sectarianism is a problem in Scotland. So too are crimes in which alcohol is a contributory factor – including a number of domestic abuse cases. What they aren’t, however, are problems simply confined to football terraces. They are in our school playgrounds, local pubs, and households.

To simplify them as problems amongst football fans results in a failure to address them at their root causes. We owe it to society to look at these issues and tackle them in the round, not by piecemeal legislation or through simplification of the problem.

The SNP had the opportunity to rectify this. There have been repeated calls from fans, opposition politicians, anti-sectarian charities and even judges for a review to the Offensive Behaviour Act, yet still we wait.

When two thirds of football fans expressed their desire for the alcohol ban to be reversed the First Minister hid behind the police who, according to Alex Salmond, are “not minded to see any relaxation” in the law.

Yet it is politicians that make our laws, the police only enforce them. Whilst their views and experience should be taken into consideration so should those of the clubs, their fans and the public at large.

At the very least Parliament and society should be willing to have an open and frank debate on these issues. Society has moved on dramatically in the 34 years since the alcohol ban was introduced yet football fans are still paying the penalty for past misdemeanours.

These are football fans including you and me who, when Saturday comes, place a scarf around their neck and go to cheer on their club. They are the fans behind the very doors that Labour activists across the country will knock on come election – or referendum – time.

Their loyalty to their club goes far beyond their loyalty to a political party. That, though, should not make them an acceptable casualty for electoral gain.

Scottish Labour has the chance to pick what side they are on. The SNP already have and it isn’t the side of the fans.
Jamie Smyth is a Celtic fan and member of Linlithgow CLP, he is also a board member of Labour Football.

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