The Scottish Government’s beleaguered sectarianism Bill was dealt a fresh blow when MSPs from opposition parties on an influential committee voted against it.
MSPs from Labour, Lib Dem and the Conservatives on Holyrood’s Justice Committee all withdrew their support for the ‘confusing’ new laws aimed at tackling sectarianism.
But the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill was pushed through by a majority of five SNP members on the Committee.
The four members on the Justice Committee who opposed the Bill accused the First Minister, Alex Salmond, of bullying tactics to bulldoze through the new legislation.
Lib Dem Alison McInnes said: “This Bill has been more about grabbing headlines than tackling the problems. The First Minister must now withdraw it.”
Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont added: “The case has not been made by the Scottish Government for new legislation.
“There is no case for ‘something must be done’ syndrome producing bad law and that is what we have here.”
Labour leader Iain Gray said: “We accept the need to legislate on sectarianism. But we’ve still seen no clarity on how the new law would work. As it stands this legislation cannot be supported.”
The committee made 29 recommendations, ten of which were to advise ministers to reconsider aspects of the Bill.
The committee also suggested that current laws were “adequate to prosecute threatening online communication”.
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.
The SNP’s Bill has also come under much criticism from a former senior police officer, legal experts, church leaders, academics and both Celtic and Rangers football clubs.