Monday, 7 November 2011

Chris McCann speech at Fans Against Criminalisation demo

Below is a copy of Chris's speech at last week's demonstration at George Square.

Fans Against Criminalisation is a campaign group formed by the five main Celtic fan organisations - the Green Brigade, the Celtic Trust, the Celtic Supporters Association, the Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs and the Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs. The campaign is also supported by supporters clubs and independent buses the length and breadth of Britain, throughout Ireland and all over the world. And as we can also see from this fantastic turnout, our campaign is also supported by ordinary Celtic fans from all walks of life, concerned citizens and fans of other teams who like us oppose the criminalisation of football fans and Alex Salmond's anti-football Bill.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill was introduced at the end of the last football season. We can trace its roots back to the 2nd of March, 2011. That night at Celtic Park, we played Rangers in a Scottish Cup replay. Mark Wilson scored the only goal of the game but the main talking points were three Rangers players being sent off and Neil Lennon having a touchline spat with Ally McCoist.

The newspapers called it 'Scotland's shame game' and ahead of the May election, the police and politicians sensed they could make some political capital from giving football and football fans a kicking.

Alex Salmond hosted a high-profile Summit involving both clubs then introduced the Offensive Behaviour legislation. At first he tried to rush the Bill onto the statute books but after a backlash he was forced to delay the legislation's passage through Parliament until the New Year. In this period, the Bill has been attacked by legal scholars, by civil liberties groups, by religious figures, by opposition parties, by football clubs and by football fans but still Salmond and his government refuse to do the right thing, to hold up their hands and admit they got it wrong.

The Scottish Government and a friendly media have been keen to portray this Bill as 'anti-sectarian' or 'anti-bigotry'. The reality is that it has nothing to do with sectarianism or bigotry. If it did there wouldn't be such a phenomenal turnout as there is here today to oppose it. After all, it has been us - the Celtic support - that has faced decades of sectarian and racial hatred. It was us who watched in horror last year as our manager was physically attacked at Tynecastle and had potentially deadly parcel bombs sent to him. Bullets were sent to two of our players, Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn, just because they, like Neil Lennon and many of our fans, are Irish Catholics. We know the horrendous potential consequences of bigotry and we have no truck with it whatsoever.

But the Bill is not about sectarianism or racism. Existing laws already adequately provide the police and the Procurator Fiscal with powers to arrest, charge and convict the bigots. Instead, the new law is concerned not with sectarian behaviour but with offensive behaviour - a completely different and far wider concept. Government Ministers are on record as saying that fans may well be arrested under the new legislation for blessing themselves or for singing a national anthem - both a far cry from sectarian violence. Anything that could offend in the eyes of a single police officer will be fair game for the law. You could even be lifted for offending people that aren't even there, people that aren’t even present in a football stadium. It's an absolute minefield and every football fan in this country will have to tread carefully as they support their team, for fear of being caught up in it. Those who are - that is, fans who a police officer think might possibly have offended someone, can face up to 5 years in jail.

The law will apply only to football fans. Apparently we're to blame for sectarianism. Apparently we're to blame for Scotland's drink and casual violence culture. Apparently we're to blame for drunks going home and beating their partners to a pulp. But as we all know, this is not the case. The reality is that football fans are convenient scapegoats for politicians who lack the ability and the ideas to try and tackle the nation's problems. Instead they prefer to play cheap politics and they think football fans are an easy target. Well we say no longer. No longer are we going to be an easy target. No longer are we going to allow politicians to stick the boot into us.

Fans Against Criminalisation was launched earlier this month to provide Celtic fans with a voice to tell the politicians just that. To tell the politicians that we won't allow them to blame us for Scotland's problems or as cover for their own failings. To tell the politicians that no longer can they give football fans and Celtic fans a kicking. To make it clear to the SNP government that we will not let them criminalise us and if they try then we will fight them every step of the way.

It seems that the Offensive Behaviour Bill is instead Alex Salmond's attempt to score cheap political points by giving football fans - particularly Celtic fans - a kicking. Well today the Celtic support have started the fight back. Today we've sent a message to the SNP and the Scottish Government. We've sent the message, loud and clear, that if they think they we're a soft target, if they think they can criminalise football fans, if they think they can criminalise the Celtic support, then they can think again.

A week ago today Alex Salmond addressed the SNP's annual conference in Inverness. He boasted about there being a record conference turnout, about how 1000 people had turned up to hear him speak in the comfort of a warm conference hall. Well today Mr Salmond, there are twice as many Celtic fans standing outside in the cold of George Square to oppose your anti-football Bill. It's time for you to listen to us; it's time for you to Kill this Bill. 

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