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How Scottish Football Fans Became the SNP's Most Effective Opposition

Primarily aimed at stamping out sectarianism, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OFBA) ranks among the SNP's most divisive pieces of legislation. Questions are now being asked about whether the act should be scrapped altogether.

by Graham Ruthven
16 January 2017, 5:21pm

Photo: PA

Celtic and Rangers faced each other on New Year's Eve in a match that came with all the usual trimmings: unsavoury chanting, increased police presence, flying tackles, boos punctuated by phlegmy insults and, of course, sectarianism.

But that final point can be difficult to define. The Scottish government have tried, introducing the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OFBA) in 2012 to combat sectarianism. Five years later, it is deemed one of the most controversial pieces of legalisation passed by the devolved government at Holyrood. Steps are now being taken to scrap it.

The OFBA was designed to criminalise offensive and threatening conduct, including sectarian behaviour, related to football. But it soon came under fire from clubs, fans and politicians, with Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Murdo Fraser among its harshest critics. "This is bad law," Fraser has declared. "It has united football fans, commentators, lawyers and the judiciary in opposition – it is unworkable and creates tensions between fans and police." Meanwhile, Labour MSP James Kelly believes the act has "damaged trust between football fans and the police without doing anything to combat sectarianism and intolerance".

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