MSPs have met with the Scottish Government’s main legal advisor as confusion continues to surround the SNP’s controversial sectarianism legislation.
Frank Mulholland – the Lord Advocate – has recently produced draft guidelines which set out how the legislation would work in practice, if it became law.
But Scottish Labour’s James Kelly has said: “Despite these draft guidelines, confusion reigns as what would be a crime under the new Bill”.
The guidelines say football fans who sing national anthems or make “religious gestures” will not necessarily get into trouble with the police.
However if those acts are accompanied by “any other aggravating, threatening or offensive behaviour”, they could be deemed criminal.
The draft guidelines also say police should use common sense when deciding whether to take action against football supporters.
Mr Kelly, Scottish Labour’s Justice Spokesman, said he would be writing to the Lord Advocate “demanding urgent clarity” on the draft guidelines.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ justice spokeswoman commented that the guidance “still leaves far too many questions unanswered”.
And Bill McVicar, from the professional body for Scottish solicitors, said the guidelines appeared not to be saying “anything new”. He questioned whether the legislation was necessary.
The sectarianism bill is a response to incidents of sectarian hatred that flared up during the last Scottish football season, but there is widespread concern that it damages free speech and civil liberty.
Earlier this month prominent Scottish historian Tom Devine said the sectarianism legislation could bring Scottish law “into disrepute”.
He also said the current law which deals with sectarianism is “perfectly adequate”.
The bill has also come under fire from football groups with the Celtic Trust saying it is “unclear” what types of behaviour would be criminalised.
And Mark Dingwall, from the Rangers Supporters Trust, cautioned: “There is almost an incitement to escalate the offensiveness. So, I can say that I am offended by a banner or a chant and I can go to the police and I can argue on the basis that ‘I am genuinely offended about that and you have to do something about it, otherwise you will be subject (to) disciplinary procedures’.”
Greig Ingram, board member of the Aberdeen FC Trust, has also said the legislation was unnecessary.
In June this year the Scottish Government tried to rush the legislation through in just one week.
The lightning-fast timetable for the bill was challenged in court by The Christian Institute and CARE for Scotland.
Following the legal action, the Government decided to delay the legislation by six months.