Anti-sectarian bill is fast tracked through Scottish parliament

SECTARIAN hatemongers are being tackled by new tough prison terms.

The Scottish government has published its proposals to crack down on football-related hatred.

Holyrood’s new bill aims to stamp out abusive behaviour – whether supporters are watching matches in a stadium, pub or even commenting online.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill would raise the maximum jail term from six months to five years.

Roseanna Cunningham, minister for community safety and legal affairs, said: “Racism, bigotry and sectarianism are not welcome in Scotland, it is totally unacceptable and those who perpetuate this hatred will be punished through the full force of the law.

“These new laws will send out a clear message that there is no place for bigots in a modern-day Scotland.

“From the start of the new season, anyone who peddles sectarian hatred could now face up to five years in jail.

“The events of last season were unprecedented and they need to be met with an unprecedented response”.

The bill could be passed by June 30 and in place for the start of the football season.

The draft legislation includes two new offences, the first relating to stirring up religious hatred at or around football matches in a way likely to cause public disorder.

It will also apply to pubs which are showing the games on television.

The second addresses the use of new technology to air old prejudices.

It bans communications anywhere, including on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which involve a threat or incitement to stir up religious hatred.

But the legal profession and Holyrood’s justice committee raised fears the laws were being rushed through too quickly.

Bill McVicar, of The Law Society of Scotland, said: “Without consultation there is the risk the legislation could be passed which either does not meet its objective or is inconsistent with existing law, making it unworkable.

“It could also result in legislation that is open to successful challenge”.

And justice committee convener and SNP MSP Christine Grahame said the timescale for passing the bill meant it may not get the proper parliamentary scrutiny.

She wants a “sunset clause” into the legislation, requiring MSPs to revisit it at a later stage.

Rangers and Celtic football clubs welcomed the bill.

Strathclyde Police assistant chief constable Campbell Corrigan also backed the legislation but warned: “You do not solve a problem like this by arresting your way through it.

“In fact, arresting people should be a last resort – we should be doing everything we possibly can to eliminate the problem itself, not just relying on police officers and the courts to, hopefully, make it go away”.