24 August 2012

CRO Exclusive: Snobs' Law


by Andy McKellar | Contributor

Many of you may remember the public furore that surrounded Scottish football and in particular the subject of sectarianism within our national sport last year. Season 2010/11 was indeed an intensely fought one when inevitably and unavoidably tempers and emotions ran high. ‘Old Firm’ games, if I may reluctantly use such a phrase, were the main focus of attention and following some seemingly unsavoury songs and a spat between Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon, the Scottish National Party had decided that they could not tolerate it any longer. 

On 8th March 2011 Alex Salmond chaired The Football Summit which addressed the apparent issues of violence, bigotry and alcohol misuse in Scottish football. It was a well established and reported fact that during and immediately following Old Firm games the number of arrests, hospital admittances and other such undesirable statistics rose significantly. It seems that Rangers and Celtic fans were nothing but wife-beating, drunken, violent dregs of humanity that require a special piece of legislation to curtail their disgraceful behaviour. Of course, such a generalisation is grossly unfair and hugely inaccurate. 

On 6th September 2011 the Scottish Party Justice Committee met to discuss the proposed bill which the SNP claimed would effectively tackle the issues in question. Giving evidence that day were Graham Spiers, Pat Nevin, Professor Graham Walker and a lecturer from the University of Abertay – Dr Stuart Waiton. 

The former two individuals were quick to express their moral outrage and disgust at the apparently appalling behaviour of Scottish football fans, even likening it to the racism problem which was prominent in England in the 1970/80s. 

Dr Waiton was quick to contradict such claims and proved that the issue of religious bigotry simply did not manifest itself in everyday life and that the only place where it was consistently reported was within football grounds via some offensive singing. 

Dr Stuart Waiton is also the founder of Take A Liberty (Scotland) and acknowledged that football should indeed be given some special considerations. He asked, “Where else do you find grown men and women shouting, swearing, pointing, singing, wearing ridiculously colour clothes, hats and scarves, jumping up and down hugging the nearest stranger with tear filled eyes as part of an impassioned tribal display of hate, love and impregnable loyalty?” He goes on to highlight that the bill, while centred around sectarianism, actually makes it illegal to be offensive, something which could well be true of almost any rowdy football fan across the country. Is that really a crime? 

Furthermore Dr Waiton says: “It is worth bearing in mind that within the pantomime of football what appears to be sectarian is not necessarily all it appears, as fans go home to their Catholic wives, Protestant drinking mates and nondenominational neighbours. The reality is that Scotland, especially for the younger generations, is a largely modern secular country where religious ideology and dogma has little or no dynamic. This is in fact why it is almost always football that is targeted as the place of sectarianism, because it doesn’t exist anywhere else. And if it doesn’t exist anywhere else, the reality is that it doesn’t exist in football either. 

In other words, what we are witnessing at Celtic and Rangers games is an ersatz form of 90 minute sectarianism. It is a tribalism based on football not religion, despite the religious association of both teams.” So is such an issue really worth producing a piece of legislation which could potentially see football fans imprisoned for up to 5 years for being offensive? I tend to think not. 

Nevertheless the SNP bulldozed through their “Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012” despite having little support from the wider footballing community or from the other parties in the Scottish Parliament. There is no question, and indeed few would argue, that sectarianism has no place in modern society, however there was an overriding feeling that this legislation was not the correct way to tackle the issue and that current laws were sufficient enough to address any illegal behaviour. Of course, such strong opposition proved not to be enough. 

I was fortunate enough also to hear Dr Waiton speaking at a Rangers’ fans event at Ibrox and while I may not agree completely with everything he says, his views and opinions are ones that I respect hugely. Stuart emailed me a couple of days ago with details of a book which is due to go on sale this Monday, 27th August, and I am eagerly anticipating its release. Below is a snapshot of just what the book, entitled “Snobs’ Law: Criminalising Football Fans in an Age of Intolerance”, is all about:

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A generation ago football players 'telling tales' on one another for name calling, or fans being fined and arrested for singing offensive songs would have been unimaginable. Today the new laws and regulations in football are portrayed as modern and tolerant. However, should offensive words be made illegal? Is this part of a progressive fight against bigotry? Or are these developments authoritarian and infantilising - creating a situation where grown men are treated, and encouraged to act like children who tell tales on one another? 

Snobs' Law is an examination of the way football fans are regulated. Developed initially around an attempt to understand the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication (Scotland) Bill, it begins by looking at the way fans were policed in the 1980s by the old conservative establishment who caged fans like animals and were ultimately responsible for the deaths at Hillsborough. This is done to contrast past forms of control with those being introduced by the 'cosmopolitan elite', a less overly elitist, politically correct bunch, who are more preoccupied with controlling our minds than our bodies. Words, as John Terry, Luis Suarez and Stephen Birrell have found out, are treated today as though they are weapons, and the 'offensive' use of them can result in the loss of liberty.

Snobs’ Law argues that rather than being a tolerant nation Scotland is becoming profoundly censorious and intolerant. Concluding that, 'Like the ‘extremist’ Muslims who will not tolerate images or words they find offensive, in 2011, Roseanna Cunningham, Alex Salmond and the rest of the Scottish National Party established themselves as our champions of intolerance – they became the equivalent of Scotland’s very own book burners'.

Author Stuart Waiton believes that while ‘old sectarianism’ is dying out a New Sectarianism is being fostered by the authorities themselves - one which encourages fans to act as thin skinned chronically offended narcissistic individuals, preoccupied with their narrow ‘cultural’ or fan ‘identity’, and with their sense of ‘hurt’.

'In Scotland, being offended and reporting your fellow fan to the police has become institutionalised and is likely to become an increasing source of tension between fans – a new ‘sectarian’ divide. As the offence bandwagon becomes a runaway train, the ‘snitching’ on fellow fans, and the squealing antics of ‘disrespected’ fellow professional footballers, spirals ever further out of control'. 

For Waiton the growing regulation of language in football has serious implications for society more generally, for freedoms, for democracy and for the type of people we want to become. If the current generation of young men and women grow up expecting to be protected from nasty words what hope is there of creating robust individuals or a dynamic society.

'For freedom and liberty to have any real meaning today we must demand that people in football and beyond ‘Man Up’'.

The title of the book Snobs’ Law reflects Waiton’s belief that football fans are today’s folk devils around which old and new forms of snobbery come together. Myth after myth is churned about the sexist, racist, homophobic, violent and bigoted football fan.

'In Scotland, the case for stopping offensive behaviour at football is bound up with the notion of progress, of being more civilised, more caring and so on. It is also bound up with the notion that it is the educated, the self-aware and the rational who are attempting to do something about the less educated, the backward and prejudiced. However, as we have seen in Scotland, across the UK and even in Europe, the reality is very different; whatever the prejudices of the mass of fans, the myths perpetuated about these fans highlight a serious problem about the elite themselves'. 

Ironically, Snobs’ Law notes how the rise of anti-sectarianism in football came about at exactly the same time as religious and ‘political’ sectarianism was at its weakest.

'As we have seen, the rise of interest in sectarianism has absolutely nothing to do with the behaviour of people on the terraces or on the streets. It has, on the contrary, everything to do with the activities and rhetoric of the Scottish elites and their establishment of a virtual industry of anti-sectarianism. It appears that the ‘chattering class’s’ moralising hatred of the Old Firm has taken centre stage'.

'In other words, at the time that chants of IRA have no meaning in the real world, and when songs about Fenian blood have no religious depth or significance, the Scottish elite bravely went on the offensive against ‘Scotland’s Shame’'.

In fact, one of the main reasons for politicians and the authorities to bang on about bigotry and sectarianism in Scotland is that it gives the empty cosmopolitan elite a sense of purpose which they otherwise lack.

For a newly-developing Scottish elite with few of the traditional political points of reference to guide their developing institutions in the twenty-first century, new tolerance, and consequently, anti-sectarianism, became a necessary crutch to lean upon. 

Tragically, this ‘crutch’ has already resulted in men being imprisoned for speech crimes, one man, Stephen Birrell, receiving eight months behind bars for calling Celtic fans nasty names on Facebook. Snobs’ Law exposes the authoritarian dynamic behind the fa├žade of out ‘modern tolerant Scotland’, a Scotland where ‘hate’ has become a crime, unless that is your hatred is directed towards the white working class who watch football, a game which despite the authorities prejudices is still beautiful.

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Many of you may actually disagree with Dr Waiton and his view on the matter however the right to do so is the exact the principle which Snobs’ Law defends. Given the name of this website, the vast majority reading this will presumably be Rangers supporters and of course this is an issue which is very close to our hearts. Ibrox saw several loud and colourful displays from the ‘mad squad’ in section BF1 and their sentiments I am sure were shared by a significant number of fellow fans. 

We are however now living under the reign of Herr Salmond and his humorously named Scottish Nazi Party. But, joking aside, this legislation is a severe threat to all lovers of the ‘Beautiful Game’ in Scotland. We are being unfairly targeted, discriminated against and unjustifiably criminal.

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You may wish to visit the Take A Liberty (Scotland) website for further information on the topic at hand - http://takealiberty.blogspot.co.uk.

“Snobs’ Law” can also be purchased on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Snobs-Law-Criminalising-Football-Intolerance/dp/0957155905