It is absolutely fantastic to see so many of you here today, men, women, weans, teenagers – all part of the real Celtic family and all here to say no to police harassment and no to criminalisation of football fans.
I stood here 18 months ago – well not here, I was actually hanging off that statue over there – and I talked about the Offensive Behaviour Bill which is now an Act and into its second year of operation. I talked about all the people whose interest it suited at the time – Alex Salmond, trying to get elected for a second term and thinking he would use us to get one over on the opposition; Stephen House, then Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police – gone but not dearly departed – who was looking at having his budgets cut in a period of recession and who was thinking of climbing the greasy pole into the top job with the Police Service of Scotland: He thought he would use us as well and it seems to have worked for him; Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, new into the job and looking to show his gratitude to his political masters.
I also talked about how we predicted that many people – mostly young people – would be arrested, hassled, threatened, dragged through the courts and generally have their jobs, their studies and their lives disrupted. I can’t say that I am happy to confirm that everything that FAC predicted and warned about has come true. I wish we had been wrong but we were not – in fact it is worse than we predicted.
Even we would not have envisaged what Celtic fans – and fans of other clubs – have had to suffer over the past year. There is not another group in society – and I am including criminal gangs and drug dealers – who are subjected to the same level of surveillance; who are searched, scrutinised, photographed; videoed, monitored, vilified, arrested, and generally subjected to the most appalling and vindictive harassment and for what? Not for acts of violence or disorder or anything like that. But for wearing a t-shirt they don’t like; displaying a banner they don’t find funny; singing a song that makes them uncomfortable; holding views they don’t agree with; singing hymns, making the sign of the cross? And where are all the civil liberties groups, the trades unions, the great lovers of the progressive cause? Well apart from a few notable exceptions, they have been very quiet. It pains me as a life-long trade unionist and a socialist to have to say this, but it is the truth.
I said at the beginning how fantastic it is to see you all here and it is: gathered in huge numbers as a community; side by side in solidarity with each other. How different it was three weeks ago, less than a mile from here, when a small group of Celtic supporters of all ages, gathered in a simple, peaceful protest showing solidarity with all of their fellow supporters who are currently banned from Celtic Park as part of bail conditions or in what the PLC like to call ‘precautionary suspensions’. The level of brutality and sheer naked aggression which was meted out to people that day, shames this police force, shames this government and shames this country. What kind of country takes a law-abiding group of people and turns them into criminals? What kind of legal system, takes young people who are interested in politics and makes them hate the police and despise politicians. This is dangerous and all citizens, not just football fans, should be concerned.
But you have shown them here today: if you try to beat us off the streets then we will keep coming back in bigger and bigger numbers until you don’t have enough truncheons and horses and dogs to keep us down, and you don’t have enough bodies to kettle and constrain us. Yet terrible as it was, what happened three weeks ago was no more than a spike in the relentless day after day, week in week out, harassment and bullying which has now become part and parcel of being a football supporter.
That is why we all have to play our part in opposing this Act and opposing the police and criminal justice system in this country and to keep on doing so until the Act is removed from the statue books and the police are brought under control; made to get on with catching criminals and leave football fans alone.
For that reason our efforts can’t end here today. When you get home tonight – whenever that might be, cause you might have some celebrating to do at quarter to five – think about what you can do to support this cause.
Do you have evidence about what happened in the Gallowgate three weeks ago? Well go to the Celtic Trust website and you will find an online witness collection form.
Have you been charged under the Act? Well contact FAC and give us all the details to strengthen our case when the Act comes up for Review.
Do you want the police force held to account for their actions three weeks ago? Well go to the Trust website and you will find a template email which you can send to your MSP – all you need to do is fill in your postcode and a few simple details and emails will be sent to all your representatives in the Scottish Parliament. Let’s bombard them day in and day out; let’s harass them the way they harass us; let’s make their lives as difficult as they have made ours and keep doing it till they stop.
Join us on our demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament on the 24th of April when we hand in a petition calling for an inquiry into what happened on the Gallowgate. Fill in the online petition which will become live on the Scottish Parliament website very soon.
So I want to thank you all again for turning out here today and for all the other things you have done to show solidarity with each other. Most of you probably know by now that our request to the Council and to the Police to be allowed to go en masse and in good order and safety to Celtic Park today was turned down. So can I ask you all to make your way to the game – or wherever else you may be going - with your head held up and in the peaceful and friendly manner for which we are known and welcomed all round the world.
And remember this: supporting your team is not a crime – so let’s hear that belted out today when the teams come on the park, and let’s make sure in the coming weeks and months that the same message is heard loud and clear by Alex Salmond and his government and by Stephen House: Supporting your team is not a crime. Hail Hail!