Imperfect laws and powerful messages

Lallands Peat Worrier’s suggested amendments to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA), if ‘amendment’ is the correct term in the circumstances, sound eminently sensible. But there’s a couple of things about this article that concern me.

Firstly, there is the fact that so much of the article is given over to what comes across as irascible, if not intemperate, attacks on the SNP administration responsible for the legislation. Perhaps I’m missing something here. Perhaps my disinterested attitude to football renders me unable to appreciate the justification for such a highly emotional perspective. But I cannot be other than cautious about any analysis which appears to owe more to hormones than neurons.

Then there is the effort that LPW puts into emphasising (I do not say exaggerating) the vagueness of the law and the notion that, with something sufficiently less than the best will in the world, OBFA can be construed as applying much more broadly than LPW considers proper. So intent is he on persuading us that we all might fall within the compass of this legislation even as we lie innocently asleep in beds unadorned by footballing regalia of any kind, he loses sight (I do not say obscures) the fact that the law actually impinges only on that subset of the population which participates in a most odious form of anti-social behaviour.

The one thing all of those caught by OBFA have in common is, not that they are self-evidently innocent, but that they stand accused of committing acts which society deems to be reprehensible. In this, OBFA is no different from any other law. So what’s the problem? Of course, they remain innocent until proven guilty. Just as does any other accused person. They are absolutely entitled to due process. So, I ask again, what is the problem?

The OBFA may be flawed. Although I am far from persuaded that the flaws are as serious as some make out. However, an important function of the law is to send signals. To lay down markers. The reason a clear majority of people in Scotland favour the legislation is that it serves as a declaration of our abhorrence for malicious sectarian agitation. I cannot be alone in insisting that this message must not be diluted through pandering to those with a strong emotional attachment to what is, after all, just a game. It could well be argued that an imperfect measure which sends a strong message is to be preferred over a perfect measure which is ineffective in communicating to the bigots among us just how determined we are that expressions of bigotry will not be accepted as part of Scotland’s public life.

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About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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