The Scottish National Party (SNP) yesterday forced forward its controversial sectarianism legislation in the face of a united opposition from the other main parties.
MSPs from opposition parties criticised the Bill as “rushed” and “flawed” after the Government had used its majority to win a crucial vote on the legislation.
The Christian Institute and church groups believe the Bill could damage free speech and religious liberty. Civil liberty groups, academics and football fans also have misgivings.
Yesterday, as MSPs debated the Bill, Conservative spokesman David McLetchie said: “We should also be wary of legislation that, in the broadest sense, impinges upon our liberty to associate, speak freely and voice opinions”.
He added such opinions should be able to be expressed, “even when they may be robustly or sometimes even coarsely expressed”.
Labour’s James Kelly remarked that the recent jailing of a thug who wrote sectarian hate comments on Facebook, “begs the question why the bill is needed when the current legislation is being used effectively”.
In their joint statement opposition parties made clear that they want to “root out sectarianism from Scottish society”, but that the SNP had failed to gain cross party support for the sectarianism Bill.
It continued: “Concerns have been raised about this Bill by the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Justices Association, anti-sectarianism organisations, football supporters groups, religious organisations and children’s charities. Their powerful voices deserve to be listened to.
“That is why we have come together to send the strongest possible message to the SNP government to stop, take a breath, and talk to other parties, to the clubs, and to the many others concerned about these proposals rather than using their majority to force through this flawed legislation.”
The Church of Scotland also issued a warning about the Bill, saying that the “potential to criminalise a far wider range of behaviour than its stated purpose”, as well as low levels of support was “deeply concerning”.
For the Government, Roseanna Cunningham – the minister responsible for the Bill – claimed existing law was not adequate and that there was still time for Parliament to shape legislation to create “a Scotland we all want”.