Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Referendum on the OB: Discussion piece from @contentiouspest


The following is a piece written by an opponent of the Offensive Behaviour Act and we would welcome your thoughts on his proposals.


Aberdeen SNP conference: Free to listen inside but prevented from speaking outside, a new Scotland awaits!  Wider implications?
 
For me there are a few important points to make note of in the aftermath of football supporter efforts to highlight an offensive & harassing act at a venue where the very focus ironically' was on freedom.  Beginning with the OB act an act which was imposed following a football match now seen as much ado about nothing much at all. It was hurried in, designed by an SNP led Scottish government to protect citizens from alleged offense and/or harassment at or travelling to or from a football match.

Communication scrutiny was thrown into the mix to bolster a tale of much needed government control thereby creating the Offensive behaviour & threatening communications act.  The latter I submit which could quite easily have been applied/enforced during any of the Nicola Sturgeon televised debates so far.

Yes indeed there are a few important points to note in the aftermath of FAC visiting Aberdeen.  
They highlighted by their very presence what is an offensive & harassing act shown by the actions taken against them 'the protesters' to subdue their right to challenge it. Democracy, any democracy, is built on certain freedoms and at the forefront of those freedoms are one's freedom of movement, speech & freedom of expression.  All three appear to be under attack by this offensive behaviour & threatening communications act and that act is indeed showing a widening of it's remit.

As far as I am aware there was no plan to travel too or from any football stadia arranged for this Aberdeen trip. It was meant solely to highlight the failings of a malfunctioning football act & therefore any implementation of an OB type football regulation against such a gathering would I believe, be flawed in applying those very laws to prevent it.  Resistance shown to those who traveled to Aberdeen to communicate their concerns over the flawed thinking in the implementation of the act in my opinion, prove a point in case. 

Travel too (movement) placards shown (expression) suppression of views (speech) were challenged by those operating the laws for the creators of the law. Acting on behalf of politicians unwilling to address it's faults.

It's said the number of convictions or episodes of complaint regarding offence or harassment pertaining to football cannot be manufactured to suit and it's said the figures are so low they actually lay waste to any need for such an act (in it's entirety) to begin with.  It would seem especially so when considering the vast numbers in attendance at football matches or otherwise involved in the sport.   A drop in the ocean and a hammer to crack a nut immediately spring to mind.  Or political posturing for self interest & commercial reward ?

For many the only game of shame that football supporters should be concerned about is the political one.  Placards on the day were held aloft, some of which requested 'END FAN HARASSMENT' .

It is interesting to note according to those present from what I have so far read, that restrictive forms of harassment were deployed on the day in a type of role reversal of the very act brought in, initially it's said, to deny it's growth. I am led to believe although not myself being present, that irritation or harassment began before a wheel had been turned on the road to this SNP conference. 

It's said it then continued on route to Aberdeen with the worrying prospect of a welcome committee suspected of not being too welcoming at all. One wonders if all activists, protesters or concerned citizens/voters would be worthy of similar attention?

It's said that that warm welcome unbelievably hit a strange climax 'without much relish' over the prospect of a few double cheeseburgers for hungry mouths at a commercially viable 'food-bank' as (Big Mac) McAskill's boys reinforced the very fan harassment his office is supposed to prevent by rolling out prohibitive laws on peaceful demonstration or movement in an attempt perhaps to save Independence campaign blushes.  Not an almighty issue as chicken burgers would lay waiting in the 'wings' for a later snack, If my guess would be correct.  These restrictive tactics though serve only to validate football fan concerns. 

You see a refusal to engage protesters without trotting out regulations designed to suppress and prohibit that very engagement, prohibitions placed against ordinary people who are themselves expected to visit a ballot box in support of these self same legislators, is for me a quandary indeed. 

The more the political disengagement on this FAC issue or 'indeed any other' regardless which are the most important to you the reader, the more one must question what sort of Government a Scottish people should expect waiting in those very wings come Scottish Independence. A non listening one?  It has a distinct dictatorial feel about it to my mind.

The FAC issue may be seen as small and merely nuisance value in the thoughts of many in Scottish society, perhaps those not attuned to a footballing mantra. But for me it is much more than that.

There are those who may feel footballing concerns are not much for them to be worried about but when one advances the same 'do as we say' logic on other issues, issues individually serious enough for them to take notice, the bedroom tax for instance, then the future outlook could be a rather bleak one indeed. Where is the route to challenge?

You see the politicians (most of them) will listen when it involves votes that may guarantee them power & perhaps that is a thought to be remembered come referendum day.

Referendum now there's an thing.

Would this Government be so ready to offer a football fan referendum on the removal of an act rather than an early review sideshow where ultimately the long grass can inevitably come into play until of course one's vote for power position is required again ?.

I doubt such a referendum would be entertained but as they say, if you don't ask? Perhaps such as Mr McMahon could propose such a motion? Besides such a Referendum refusal in itself could provide an example of those expressive denials.  Denials of those freedoms of speech, movement and expression, rights that this very government would demand from a deaf and suffocating Westminster government who have been so long & so very out of touch with citizens across the UK but particular to those of a Scottish persuasion.  Oh the Irony.

You see for me the potential is there for Scottish people voting for freedom but instead ending up voting for a freedom that feels rather more like imprisonment. The voice denied.  With Government imposed restrictions on free movement and an unwillingness to listen or act on complaint & in denial of it's citizens concerns, then what type of freedom would that be?

The numbers who made this Aberdeen trip or who previously gathered at Gallowgate or George square or others that have taken to any and all arranged events may not have been enough in number to make National news (by National I mean UK national) but their worthy efforts still manage to produce enough of a tizzy from authority figures to confuse who is actually harassing whom. You see using an act itself as a legal tool to remove or at least curtail the most fundamental basic rights and one's right to demonstrate those, cannot easily pass unnoticed.

At present this is still a free society is it not?  This imposed anti football fan act is for me is an example of what power in the wrong hands can do.  It brings into question the very nature of conference.  It brings into focus a bleak future vision, that of an Independent Scotland where people are no more than commodities and an end to a means for the powerful to deny them their long established rights.

The FAC campaign should have the attention of every football fan and a wider audience still.  This act and the refusal to retract or adjust it's parameters merely opens up a window serving notice of the potential for similarly felt future injustices against citizens of the Country. Now that's Independent all right, Independent of thought.

This act is not only a Celtic supporter issue although on appearance it could be seen to be that way, but then Celtic supporters feel they are the most selected and offended against group affected by this act. They feel singled out for a special attention and those feelings in themselves stir questions as to why that could possibly be?

A rather more serious road of questioning for a potentially Independent Scotland and it's government to travel along.

So.

: Referendum for Scottish Independence ?

: Referendum for football fans on OB & TC acts ?

  Why not both from a Government of the people for the people in waiting ?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

FAC goes to Aberdeen and gets a Section 12 Notice: Day Two



The plan by FAC to organise a protest at SNP Spring 2014 conference was made a few weeks before the event.  It was advertised on social media and on websites belonging to the organisations which make up FAC.  Nothing too earthshattering here it has to be said – pretty standard stuff for single-issue campaigns such as our one against the Offensive Behaviour Act.  On the Thursday before the event (which took place on weekend of 11/12 April) the police emailed one of the organisers on her work email address instead of using the FAC email address which was widely available via the publicity for the event itself.  Despite this, the organisers co-operated fully with the police in terms of outlining their arrangements, plans and expected numbers.  We were a bit surprised when they told us they had ‘intelligence’ which suggested that smoke bombs would be let off, but ignored it as the nonsense it so patently was.  They made a few more calls but there were no real issues to discuss and it all felt like overkill really.

The Friday protest which was made up of a small number of local activists passed off fairly successfully with the police directing the group to a suitable spot near the entrance to the venue and some delegates coming out to speak to the protesters (see earlier blog). 

On Saturday the bus left Glasgow city centre with a very disappointing turnout (which has to be discussed at an appropriate time)  Our members boarding the bus noticed they were under surveillance from  two men in a Grey Astra which had gone round the Square a few times then parked near the departure point. The occupants of the bus suspected the occupants of the car may in fact be police officers; some people expressed concern that they may have been filmed or photographed entering the bus, others suggested that they may be there to observe the large number of Dundee Utd fans who were gathering outside the Counting House waiting on it opening. So everyone on the bus was prepared to accept that the heavy police presence was to do with fans of the other clubs playing a match later that afternoon – no paranoia on our bus! The bus set off and joined the M8 when one of the passengers noticed the Grey Astra was following the bus; we then realised that this was an unmarked police car.  Further confirmation came when the bus left the M8 at junction 9 to pick up some more people on the Edinburgh Road, the Grey Astra followed and parked up in a car park near the pickup point. We don’t know exactly how long the car followed the bus; it was still there by time we got to Gartcosh.   A bit crazy we thought – especially since our number consisted of people aged in every decade from the 1st to the 6th – hardly a band of hardened rioter!

Anyway, the rest of the journey continued quietly enough and we reached the AECC in Bridge of Don just after 1pm.  As we approached the roundabout outside the venue we could see police officers waiting and radioing forward.  As we pulled to a halt we were met with a number of officers and some of the conference security people.  A sergeant approached to greet us and one of our organisers was handed a typewritten sheet headed ‘Strategic Intention’ (link to follow).  Our woman just folded it and put it in her pocket!  We were told that they would ‘escort’ us up to a place in front of the entrance but that the venue security people wanted a word first.  In the spirit of co-operativeness, for which we are known (!), our rep approached the dark suited securocrats who had a very important message to convey.  I quote ‘We have babies and young children here, so could you please not cover your faces because it will frighten them.’   That is a verbatim quote – I kid you not!  Our rep just shook her head, told them not to be so stupid, told them we had children with us too; asked if that was all they had to say, and walked away!

We had carried with us 3 pensioners and a 12-year old who were just coming along for the ride and our driver was going to drop them in town and then come back for them.  The police seemed a bit upset that he was moving the bus again but finally agreed to ‘let’ him do it.

Anyway, off we trooped, now joined by the guys from Aberdeen who were there for the second day, and made our way round to an area enclosed by crash barriers facing the front entrance.  One of our number stepped away from the group to head to the front entrance to stub a cigarette out on the ashtray.  Immediately a female police officer rushed towards him and laid her hands on him to push him away.  He had to explain what he was doing before she would step back.  Another of our number had also stopped to wait for him coming back and she was approached to ask why she was separate from the group (which was then radioed in to someone).  

By this time the rest of us had arrived at the designated area and were just about to put our banner up and sort out the placards, when another senior officer arrived, Chief Inspector Nick Topping.  He called us over and advised us that Police Scotland were issuing a Section 12 Notice under the Public Order Act as he feared that a public procession might take place:  he specifically mentioned the possibility that we might go to McDonalds along the road!  He indicated that the effect of the Notice was that we could only move from that area in groups of ‘no more than 5 or 6’ .  He was asked if any other protest group had been issued with this Notice, for instance UNISON who had been there earlier that day, and he replied no.  He said that he was acting on the orders of Chief Superintendent Watson, Aberdeen division.

He then left accompanied by assorted flunkies, leaving us in the capable hands of two very affable chaps in uniform who stayed so close to us all day that I feel quite lost without them today!  We then proceeded to the business of the day, which was to let the SNP delegates know what their leadership had done in their name.   A number of them approached us to ask what it was about.  The really scary thing over the two days was the dawning realisation that many SNP members have no clue about this Act and the damage it is doing.  John Mason MSP approached us, as he always does, and peddled his ‘we introduced this to protect the Irish and the Catholics’ line.  Note to John:  this is becoming very tiresome, so please try to think up a new one which actually fits with the facts.

Some SNP activists were less than pleased about our chants etc.  One elderly lady...well, woman, shoved her face into a protester in a very aggressive way in front of the police.  The police officers moved in as though to protect her and not the victim....same old, same old!  We filmed delegates and asked them how they liked being filmed while going about their lawful business.  All the while we were being filmed by police officers from inside the building; we saw them and filmed them back!

During the protest we were also approached by a number of journalists from different countries.  From the UK we had the Guardian, the Sunday Mail and the Sun.  We spoke extensively to the real journalists but the Sun reporter was sent packing across the road with the words ‘Justice for the 96’ ringing in his ears.  Despite loads of photographs being taken by the press, none seem to have made it into the Sunday papers.

At 3pm we knew that Alex Salmond, who like his Deputy Leader did not arrive at his own conference via the front door, would be speaking.  One of the organisers called the group together to outline what we wanted to do next ie take a wee break and then prepare for all the SNP delegates leaving at the end of his speech and therefore the conference.  The two police officers seemed a bit miffed that they were not invited to that particular briefing and tried to edge closer, asking as they did, ‘Is there a move on?’.  However, they did provide us with bottled water later on, so they mustn’t have been too upset.

The next half hour was a massive success for our group.  The delegates exited into the late afternoon sun all pleased with themselves, with their backs sore from all the slapping, only to be confronted with a group of well-organised, vocal and well-focussed (!) demonstrators.  They were greeted with chants of ‘What do we want?’  ‘Axe the Act’ , ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now; SS-SNP;  Alex Salmond, Alex Salmond, we know you sneaked in the back;  SNP!  Shame on You; we sang Let the People Sing; we played music over the loudhailer; our man on the loudhailer kept up a running commentary on all that was wrong with the Act; he pleaded with delegates to question their leadership about whether this Act would damage their chances of delivering a Yes vote.  Towards the end we spontaneously burst into a rendition of Roll of Honour.  No one was offended and, even if they were, it is not an offence anyway, since we were not ‘in the context of a regulated football match’ .



One of our friendly minders asked to be given 5 minutes notice of our departure time so that they could come with us.  We duly packed up, leaving the area free of all litter, and headed back towards our bus only to find that our bus was blocked in by a police car, making it impossible for us to move. One of our members spoke to the officer in the car and asked why they were there, saying ‘are you here to escort us off the premises’ to which he replied ‘yes that is our instructions’.  Our man then told him that we didn’t feel the need for an escort and, in actual, fact we would be picking up our wee pensioner group in town and then we might, as law-abiding citizens, decide to stop for a bite to eat or a few pints, but that we hadn’t decided.  The officer then boarded the bus and asked the driver where we were picking up the other group, but insisted on scouting us right up to a roundabout about a mile from the conference centre. Another officer then told us that the ‘next time we came up he would expect at least 3 days notice’ – I never thought of it at the time but I should have told him to consult the published fixture list.

The rest of the journey home was uneventful and involved a pretty good sing-song on the bus.  However, one of the local boys was stopped by the police on his way home and told this was a ‘routine’ stop but they took the trouble to let him know that they knew where he had been.  He questioned them on their right to stop him and for his trouble was called a ‘smart-arse’.  That particular incident will be the subject of a complaint to the Aberdeen police.

All in all, it was a pretty successful day but it was a long day and it all fell on the shoulders of a very small number of people and that is not right.  We will take legal advice about the Section 12 Notice because we are fairly sure it was a disproportionate action and therefore unlawful.
FAC will review these events and decide the next steps to take in the campaign.  The next Open Meeting will take place on 14th May and I expect it will be discussed there as well.

In the meantime, the fight goes on.....

Friday, 11 April 2014

Personal Account from one of the FAC protesters at SNP Conference today (Friday 11 April 2014)

Today a small group of Celtic supporters from Aberdeen and the surrounding areas met at the AECC to protest against the Offensive behaviour and threatening communications act 2012 at the SNP party conference. The reason behind this protest was to not only highlight the continuous criminalisation of football fans in Scotland, but to raise awareness and put pressure on the SNP to conduct an early review into the act as it is clearly not working. MSP's across the land have shown their concerns regarding the bill and would also like to see an early review, yet the SNP believe 5 years is a reasonable time to hold one.

Before things kicked off today there was concerns raised from Police that those in support of FAC today would be in posession of smoke bombs. This was completely untrue and certainly no one attending a protest against the treatment of football fans would jeopardise that in any way. When the group arrived at the AECC, the police were quick to assist them and let them know where they would be allowed to carry out the protest.  We did notice that while the police officer was talking to us, two of his colleagues were filming us from inside the building.  We asked why this was and were told that it is 'standard procedure'!  I suppose it is no more than we are used to now, after two years of this Act.

Throughout the protest there were numerous interactions between the group and SNP members who were quick to come over for a chat. What surprised most was that those who were unsure about what FAC were protesting about, was that they thought the bill hadn't been introduced yet. Not many people outside of football seem to know about this, so educating those today will certainly do the campaign some good. A few of the members also showed support for the campaign stating that the bill is "not fit for purpose" and "football fans should be looked after, not targetted". 

Journalists from "The Financial Times" and "The Scotsman" asked for more information but the group decided it was best left for some of the organisers of FAC to deal with tomorrow. 

Thanks to all who attended today and the effort put in standing for 3 hours waiting for Nicola Sturgeon MSP and her colleagues, who saved themselves the embarrassment of being challenged by FAC supporters by sneaking in a rear entrance to the building. Shame on you!


Monday, 7 April 2014

Lets take it to the SNP - demand an Early Review Now!

The SNP conference in Aberdeen this weekend cannot be allowed to be an occasion for back-slapping and self-congratulation while the wholly illiberal Offensive Behaviour at Football Act remains on the statute books and while the SNP government resolutely refuses to acknowledge what they know to be true:  this Act is an abomination and it needs to go!

In spite of numerous emails and pressure from many sources to review this Act, the SNP government are closing their ears and distorting the statistics to cover up the fact that the Act does not work - all it does is criminalise otherwise law-abiding young people for 'offences' that would not be an 'offence' anywhere other than in relation to a football match.

Fans Against Criminalisation are organising at protest at the SNP conference this weekend.  Buses will be leaving from Glasgow and Edinburgh and local opponents of the Act are organising to be there as we write. 

Friday protest:  assemble at McDonalds at 1pm and walk down as a group to the AECC.  Banner and placards will be there.

Saturday protest:  buses leaving Edinburgh at 9 and Glasgow (George Square) at 9.30 and leaving Aberdeen around 4.15.  If you are arriving separately then assemble at 1pm at McDonalds and walk down to AECC from there.

Please support the protest by:

  1. book a place on the bus and come with us to tell the SNP what we think of this Act
  2. make a donation to cover the cost of the buses, placards and other materials even if you can't attend on the day.
 To book a place contact us on fansagainstcriminalisation@gmail.com

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Celtic FC Statement and an Early Review

Fans Against Criminalisation are encouraged that Celtic Football Club has publicly called for an early review of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act. We agree entirely with the club’s assertion that the act is ‘’unhelpful and counter-productive’’ and that there is sufficient evidence to support an immediate review, which we feel is clearly in the public interest. To wait any longer is merely to allow greater time for this act to cause further damage to the lives of football supporters.

FAC would like to work together with Celtic Football Club as well as the entire Celtic support to continue to challenge this dangerous and discriminatory law. It is of crucial importance that there is a unified front on this issue and that there is sustained public pressure on the SNP to accept that this act simply has not worked.

Fans Against Criminalisation

Monday, 17 February 2014

Roll of Honour Campaign: assessment



Fans Against Criminalisation’s ‘Roll of Honour’ download campaign has now officially come to a close with the song incredibly reaching number 33 in the UK Official Singles Charts. Over the course of our campaign the song has also came in at number 15 on the iTunes singles download charts, number 32 in the Official Irish Charts and number 7 in the Scottish Charts.

 We would like to sincerely thank the Celtic fans for the manner in which they supported this initiative. We are immensely grateful to the thousands who downloaded the song, to those who gave up their time to help leaflet a cold and wet Celtic Park about the issue and to everyone who in some way helped to publicise our cause.

We would also like to extend our heartfelt thanks to The Irish Brigade, who generously allowed us to use their song for our campaign. The band recognise the scale of the problem currently facing football fans in Scotland and have helped FAC immeasurably as we seek to challenge the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

In launching this campaign, FAC sought to demonstrate how absurd it is that people run the risk of arrest and conviction on the basis of singing a song at a football match which would otherwise not be a criminal offence. Having now heard a short clip of this song on BBC Radio, we feel that we have made that point. It is wrong to criminalise a specific group of people in the manner in which this act targets only football supporters. It is an injustice that there is a backlog of Celtic fans awaiting trial for allegedly singing a song which could be bought on iTunes or heard on national radio.

On the issue of ‘Roll of Honour’ being given airtime, a BBC source stated “We believe it would be wrong to ban the song outright as free speech is an important principle’’. It is a great pity that The Scottish National Party, Police Scotland and our Lord Advocate do not equally value such a principle however the Celtic support have defiantly demonstrated that we will not bow down on this issue. We will continue to fight the criminalisation of football supporters and we refuse to allow our civil liberties to be infringed upon by this discriminatory legislation. The SNP would do well to take notice of the discontent regarding the treatment of football fans and call for an immediate review of this Act.

Fans Against Criminalisation

Monday, 10 February 2014

A statement from the Irish Brigade on the song Roll of Honour



It was an honour and privilege to be asked by Celtic Fans against Criminalisation’ to permit them to promote the song ‘The Roll of Honour’  to aid the funding of their campaign against the law that effects everyone with Irish roots or a love of Irish culture. Ballads have been an integral part of our culture and heritage from time in memorial and the role of the Bards and Street Singers holds a unique and honoured place in our history.

 I wrote the song ‘The Roll of Honour’ in 1982 at a time of great social and political upheaval in the North of Ireland. It was to commemorate the sacrifice of ten young men who died in the Hunger Strike of 1981. They, too, were protesting against Criminalisation. The song was a reflection of the thoughts, feelings and beliefs, held by many in Ireland and throughout the world who felt that these deaths could have been avoided if the Brittish Government at that time had not taken such a harsh and unbending attitude towards the prison crisis. The line “England, you’re a Monster” is figurative language and is a reference to this belief. The word ‘Monster’ is defined as someone ‘unnaturally cruel’ – The Government at that time. It is not or was not, at any time, to be construed as referring to the English Nation or the people of England, it is not a Racist remark. 

Neither is the song a sectarian song. It is an historic, social commentary about one stage in a long freedom struggle that is still continuing but that now uses democratic paths and institutions that did not exist in the early 80’s. The ten men commemorated in the ‘The Roll of Honour’ hope to bring about a land that would cherish… ‘…all the children of the Nation equally’ (Irish Proclamation, 1916). In the words of Wolfe Tone,  a protestant leader of The United Irishmen, they wish to establish a society which would ‘ substitute the name Irish Man in place of Protestant, Catholic or Dissenter’. The dream of Bobby Sands and his comrades was for a Nation where sectarianism and violence would be a thing of the past:

 ‘Our revenge will be the laughter of our children’ (Bobby Sands)

On behalf of The Irish Brigade.