A call for the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed by MSPs yesterday evening, when the opposition parties combined to defeat the SNP Government.
The vote, on a motion by Conservative MSP and justice spokesperson Douglas Ross, will not affect the operation of the Act, which Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing claimed had strong public support, with "a significant gap in effectively prosecuting hate crime" being left if it were repealed.
However the Act has been controversial ever since first proposed, has been campaigned against by football supporters, who have felt themselves singled out for restrictions on free speech, and criticised by some lawyers and sheriffs as legally flawed. Argument continues over whether it has made a difference to the ability to prosecute offensive behaviour. During yesterday's debate opposition MSPs described the legislation as "ill thought-out" and "flawed from the start".
Labour MSP James Kelly, who hopes to introduce a member's bill to repeal the Act, said following the 64-63 vote against the Government that the Act was now "clearly dead in the water".
Following the decision Ms Ewing commented: "Today’s vote threatens to set us back as a country in our efforts to effectively combat prejudice, hate crime and sectarianism and ultimately to drive such behaviour out of Scottish society.
“The result of the vote sends completely the wrong message about how serious Parliament as a whole is about doing so – but the Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to that objective."
However she undertook to "reflect on the debate and give full consideration to all of the issues raised".