Scottish football fans could be arrested the next time they sing "offensive" or "sectarian" songs at football games, if their government succeeds in passing proposed legislation. In fact, fans could even be prosecuted for singing the national anthem.
According to a report on Scotsman.com, the government, led by the Scottish National Party, introduced the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication Scotland Bill, after the "shame game" between Scottish clubs and traditional rivals Rangers and Celtic in March 2010.
The bill was approved, in its second reading, on Tuesday and will now be presented to Parliament for the third reading in mid-December. It is expected to become law by mid-January.
Although the measure has drawn lot of criticism from the opposition and from groups outside the Parliament, law enforcement agencies have welcomed the step. However, in addition to the controversial nature of its contents, there have also been claims that the SNP government has rejected amendments made by opposition members and forced the proposed legislation through.
Patrick Harvie, a Green Party member, charged the government ignored a growing chorus of objections, prompting him to claim also that the measures had been "steam-rollered" through Parliament. The SNP did, however, did agree to insert a new freedom of expression clause into the bill on Tuesday to allay wider concerns.
There is also a lot of confusion about the nature of fans' behaviour and the possibility of illegal actions as fallout of the bill. First Minister Alex Salmond is looking for a broad consensus before implementing it.
Earlier, Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham, told the Parliament's Justice Committee that fans who cross themselves or sing the national anthem could face arrest if they were behaving in a way that could be construed as threatening, offensive or inciting public disorder.
Labour MP James Kelly on Tuesday demanded the government should wait a while longer and discuss the problem of sectarian behavior with all the stakeholders, including the churches, football clubs and other groups.
The freedom of expression clause that was agreed to on Tuesday covers communications, such as messages sent over the Internet which may contain insults or abuse of religious beliefs. However, it does not include online messages which are threatening or likely to cause public disorder. Also on Tuesday, the SNP added two new offences to the bill.
The first offence targets sectarian and threatening behaviour in and around football matches which is deemed likely to cause public disorder. The second relates to threats intended to stir up religious hatred over the Internet or other similar communications. Those convicted under the legislation could spend up to five years in prison and be banned for life from football grounds.
The proposed law was introduced after the Scottish Premier League game between Rangers and Celtics, at Parkhead, which saw the former club's Assistant Manager Ally McCoist and the latter's manager, Neil Lennon, arguing on the touchline after the match. Three Rangers players were sent off during the match and 34 fans were arrested from the ground. The following month, parcel bombs were sent to Lennon and two high-profile fans of the Parkhead-based club.
Salmond intervened, bringing footballing authorities and law enforcement agencies together, in an effort to tackle the issue. Meanwhile, ministers will also meet to define "offensive behaviour" to include support for organisations listed in the Terrorism Act.