Today our parliament will go through the motions of debating how to criminalise football fans in innovative new ways, not related to prejudice, with the outcome preordained; the Bill will become law. The lines have been drawn on this debate and the country is set for a long and messy campaign.
The various calls for clarification are unlikely to be satisfied as consistency on this subject will be impossible to find. At Celtic, direct or indirect references to the IRA, already deemed unacceptable by the club, manager and most of the support, are likely to lead to prosecution. I would like to see political references removed from football but not at the cost of random criminalisation. It remains to be seen how successful attempts to prosecute fans for transgressing on this subject before the law has been passed will be.
Singing Flower of Scotland will (correctly) never be criminalised but you can expect charges to be brought for expressing similar sentiment. Legally, this sounds like a reach by the SNP government, but it’s likely to be a few young football fans who carry the responsibility of establishing how the judiciary view this matter.
While Celtic will never condone IRA chanting (or, apparently, try to mitigate it as inconsequential, as others did before them with illegal and prejudicial chanting) they have a responsibility to ensure positive parts of our Irish tradition, including the national anthem, the flag and other symbols of the club’s rich and diverse culture are defended.
Football is going to get messy in the months ahead as positions are so entrenched in ‘the songs debate’ there is simply no possibility of agreement. While it may only be a small minority who want to continue political chanting at Celtic, they remain Celtic fans and as entitled to establish their rights as anyone else, including Neil Lennon or Jock Stein. All we can do, as a club and support, is look for common ground amid the turmoil that lies ahead.
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