Salmond’s sectarianism U-turn

By Alex Stevenson

Scottish legislation creating new sectarian offences will not be passed until the end of this year.

The Scottish National party (SNP) government had come under huge pressure not to rush its offensive behaviour at football and threatening communications (Scotland) bill through Holyrood.

It had originally sought to use emergency procedures to rush the legislation through the Scottish parliament, in time for the new football season on July 23rd.

Concerns from faith leaders, led by the moderator of the Church of Scotland the Rt Rev David Arnott, triggered the U-turn by Scottish first minister Alex Salmond on Friday.

"I accept, and I think everyone accepts, that we have a majority in this chamber, but we need consensus," he said at first minister's questions.

"On this issue above all I want consensus, I want consensus across the chamber, I want consensus across our partner organisations."

Only an hour earlier community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham had been arguing the case for hurrying the bill through the Scottish parliament.

The bill will extend the maximum sentence for those guilty of sectarian hate crimes from six months to five years.

Controls around football matches, where most sectarianism takes place, will be extended to cover travel to and from games, as well as places where matches are broadcast like pubs.

Mr Salmond had previously described sectarianism, particularly around football games, as a "parasite" affecting Scotland badly.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon, whose club and that of rival Rangers had both also complained about the 'rushed' nature of the bill, welcomed the climbdown.

"I think it is important that there is no grey areas and things are put down in black and white so people understand what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot sing, what they can and cannot say," the Daily Record newspaper quoted him as saying.

"I would like to think punishments will be handed out quite heavily for people who cross that line."

The bill will now receive its stage two scrutiny by November 11th and complete its legislative process with stage three ending by November 30th, with a view to it coming into force on January 1st 2012.

The legislation completed its stage one progress on Thursday. Mr Salmond made the decision to delay it immediately afterwards, according to reports.