By Democrat reporter
The SNP government is slow on the uptake when it comes to learning lessons from events that have happened previously.
Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, pictured right, made this point vigorously to the Holyrood parliament in the aftermath of the Rangers’ George Square “celebrations” at the weekend.
She told the newly elected MSPs: “Glasgow witnessed disorder and violence by some Rangers supporters in George Square only a few months previously, so why did we not learn from that?
“On the obscene anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism—I am pleased that the First Minister and the justice secretary have rightly called those out—does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that the Catholic community is sick and tired of it and that we need everyone to work together, including the football organisations, which need to take a much tougher stance than they have done, with zero tolerance of bigotry wherever it is found in football and beyond?”
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf replied: “I absolutely agree with how Pauline McNeill has articulated the problem. There is no easy answer. If people think that we can just throw 10,000 people in the back of police vans or custody suites overnight—I am not saying that Pauline McNeill is suggesting that—they should know that it cannot be done.
“How to ensure that such disorder did not take place in the very heart of our communities was one of the very difficult decisions that Police Scotland had to try to take.
“On the substance of Pauline McNeill’s question about anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred, I am disgusted by that hatred. She is absolutely correct to say that the Irish community and members of the Catholic community have faced that hatred for far too long.
“Perhaps we, collectively as a Parliament, have not done enough to call it out. I accept that from the Government’s perspective, too.
“I woke up this morning to two rabid anti-Catholic messages, which I have already reported to the police. I am neither Catholic nor Irish, but the hatred was directed towards me, so I intend to call it out.
“I suspect that we will have support and collaboration on the issue. I am happy to work with any members on calling out hatred and bigotry of any kind.”
Dumbarton man Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green), pictured left, said: “Many thousands of fans are clearly unwilling to listen, or are incapable of listening, to encouragement and appeals for civilised behaviour.
“Is it not abundantly clear that we will see significant change only when every fan of every club knows that any hint of vandalism, violence, antisocial behaviour or bigotry will bring not only criminal sanctions for them as individuals but immediate and severe sanctions for the club that they follow, whether through the law or through the football authorities?”
Humza Yousaf said Patrick Harvie had made “a strong point” and added: “Strict liability should be on the table. Other suggestions that I have heard that should be on the table include an independent regulator, such as has been discussed for the English game. If football is unable to regulate itself, perhaps somebody who is independent should be considered.
“The clubs could also take stronger action. Rangers Football Club has committed to working with Police Scotland. I hope that any supporter or fan, or anybody who is involved with Rangers Football Club who has been found guilty of being involved in anti-Catholic bigotry, vandalism or disorder will get a lifetime ban from the club. That is probably the punishment that fans would fear the most.”
Humza Yousaf told MSPs that a large number of the people involved in the riots can expect the “four o’clock knock” on their door from the police over the coming weeks.
He added: “Since the weekend, my officials and I have continued to liaise with Police Scotland and to engage directly with Rangers Football Club to discuss the fallout and consider next steps.
“Police Scotland has set up a dedicated team and an online portal in order to investigate the George Square incidents.
“I envisage that arrests will follow in the days and weeks ahead. Rangers FC is working closely with Police Scotland to identify supporters who were involved in criminal activity, and I urge Rangers to take strong action against any fan who is found to have broken the law.”
James Dornan MSP said: “Saturday’s scenes were an utter disgrace. Like many people, I am sick and tired of Rangers fans thinking that they are above the law. Vandalism, violence among themselves and towards the police, anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism show us that we have a major problem in Scotland, which we must tackle.
“The blame for the abhorrent scenes lies squarely with the Rangers fans who were in attendance, but the club itself has a major role to play in respect of the messages that it sends and the behaviour of club members.
“How could Saturday’s chaos affect Glasgow’s Covid rate, which is already concerning, and what action is the Government taking—and does it intend to take—to eradicate anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism in Scotland?”
Humza Yousaf, pictured right, said: “On the health impact, I heard Professor Jason Leitch this morning on “Good Morning Scotland” say that, from a clinical perspective, we might, while expressing disappointment about them, never know whether mass gatherings by Rangers fans in Glasgow were superspreader events. We will need to see how the data looks in the coming weeks.
“On James Dornan’s points about anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry, I say that it is disgusting and disgraceful and I have zero tolerance for it. I do not for a second doubt that the matter will be part of the investigations that Police Scotland has committed to in following it up. Every one of us has a responsibility to call it out and to call it what it is.”
Pictured: Rangers and Celtic fans separated in football as in life. The public are sick and tired of it.