New Scottish law offers freedom from being offended, but at what cost?

It may be a direct outworking of the SNP’s unparalleled success in the last Scottish Parliamentary elections in Glasgow that it has so hastily moved its proposed Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. Sectarianism in Scotland is, by and large, a Glaswegian problem. But, as Kevin Rooney notes on Spiked:

The Bill introduces two new offences. The first, that of ‘offensive behaviour’, will cover ‘sectarian and other offensive chanting and threatening behaviour related to football which is likely to cause public disorder’ and also ‘expressing or inciting religious, racial or other forms of hatred’. The second new offence, relating to ‘threatening communications’, will ‘strengthen current law covering threats of serious harm and criminalise threats inciting religious hatred’.

The politicians rushing these laws through tell us they are designed to tackle the highly publicised and ugly events that marred last year’s football season – including the sending of parcel bombs and bullets to high-profile Celtic fans, and the death threats and televised attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon. But what none of us will have the time to ask is why new laws are needed to tackle parcel bombs and death threats when such crimes are already covered by existing laws.

Kevin further notes that that Police will be given huge licence in determining what’s offensive and what’s not:

Strathclyde assistant chief constable Campbell Corrigan, who will be enforcing the new laws, has refused to list the songs police will classify as sectarian, insisting ‘it’s much simpler than that… If an individual or individuals are engaging in singing hate songs likely to provoke a reaction from those they are directed against then we will take action – either at the match or afterwards.’

Campbell’s words suggest that whether you end up in prison or not could depend on the reaction of the person or people who feel offended. Speaking in support of the new laws, Conservative MSP and former head of the Scottish Tories, David McLetchie, spoke for the now popular right of the victim to define what constitutes offence: ‘In the past this has been looked at very narrowly in the context of religious hatred. Speaking as a Hearts supporter I regard songs or chants in support of the IRA as just as offensive as songs sung by Rangers fans that are abusive about Catholicism.’

Others have suggested that the law as currently envisaged could mean some one signing the British (or Irish) national anthem in a way deemed aggressive or offensive to someone else could find themselves in the jug.

Adds: Courtesy of The Dissenter below, this interview with Shami Chakrabati who just about 12 mins in says “the one right that none of us should ever have is the right not to be offended.” She goes on to talk about the reciprocity of rights and responsibilities as articulated by Tom Paine…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty