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Free speech for all (neds need not apply)

Further to my earlier post about the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, Kevin Rooney, a self-described fanatical Celtic supporter with a “deep loathing” of Rangers, wrote an article for Spiked in 2012 to which I can add little except to say that I had heard nothing about this case, which horrifies me and proves his point.

Football fans need free speech too

A man has been jailed for singing a song that mocks a religious leader, yet liberty campaigners have said nothing.

Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.

So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.

Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’

Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise – the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.

And

The other thing that strikes me is how anti-Catholic prejudice seems to be tolerated when it comes from our ‘national treasures’, like Stephen Fry or Richard Dawkins, but not when it comes out of the mouths of football fans. When the pope visited Britain two years ago, liberal campaigners lined up to accuse him of everything from hatred of women to paedophilia. To my knowledge, none of these words were deemed offensive enough to the UK’s Catholic community to prompt arrests or detentions, yet when a Rangers fan shouts of his hatred for the pope, that fan is locked up.

Hat tip: Rob Fisher

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13 comments to Free speech for all (neds need not apply)

  • James Hargrave

    A period in prison, or at least in a secure hospital with a spot of electroconvulsive therapy, ought to be mandatory for all judges.

  • Lee Moore

    Eh ? I had assumed that a spell as a patient in a mental hospital was a pre-requisite before you could even be considered for appointment as a judge. How else are their offerings to be explained ?

  • Natalie, I live not that far from where this all happened but I only learnt of it very slowly and partially. One of many reasons for loathing the natz party is that they are visibly more enthusiastic about hate speech laws than our rulers down south (and in the state of today’s Tory party, you can appreciate how serious a remark that is). As you remark, they are utterly hypocritical in its application.

    (I spell natz with a ‘z’ because my spellchecker turns it into hats if I use an ‘s’ – but despite my love of freedom and choice, I’m _really_ OK about my spellchecker’s making me do that. 🙂 )

    The natz could not of course do this without help from many PC media types. A sole saving grace is that the BBC does not like the natz; for example, they are quarrelling now over the natz desire to influence the BBC’s news. The overt quarrel is about _when_ news is shown at the moment (Scottish news must come first, not after, UK news, say the natz) but it won’t end there. These quarrels limit the desire of either to uninform us.

    (In my first comment in the Uber thread – the one that was still on-topic 🙂 – I made a glancing reference to another example of this; full story on Beitbart London.)

  • Lee Moore

    I’m actually astonished that someone as sensible as Natalie could be “horrified” at this story. The prison sentence is just icing. The basic cake is the criminal conviction. Free speech has been dead as a doornail in this country (the UK, not just Scotland) for a long time. It’s nearly fifteen years since Harry Hammond’s outrageous public order conviction for being set upon by protesters when displaying a sign saying :

    “Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord”

    None of your “Fenian bastards” there, just an extraordinarily mild mannered statement of orthodox Christian opinion. Nor was this just the act of a bench of beardy left wing metropolitan magistrates – it went to the High Court, where, and I quote :

    Lord Justice May sitting with Mr Justice Harrison…. ruled that that Hammond’s behaviour “went beyond legitimate protest” upholding his conviction and three hundred pound fine.

  • Andrew Duffin

    All sorts of unpleasant things are happening in the one-party “state” that is Scotland.

    For another example, have a look at this: http://no2np.org/

    If this were not Samizdata, I would get replies to this comment saying “Why don’t you f*** off back to England then”. For those new to the situation, this is typical of the nuanced and thoughtful standard of argument we are faced with every day.

  • I confirm what Andrew said: “Are yu English – then keep yer opinions tae yersel” is the natz equivalent of ‘”Shut up”, he explained’. The good news is that support for Indy is dropping in the polls. Even Sturgeon has been heard to say that Brexit “would not be a good time for Indy2”. Something about oil being nearer $16/barrel than the $116/barrel they promised it would be, perhaps. Or singing “Forth road bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.” Or the way you can go off the road in Scotland and die slowly over the next three days while the natz’ new centralised control of Scotland’s police manages not to respond to the emergency call. Plans for marking ‘independence day’ (March 24th 2016 was the day Salmond chose for independence if he’d won) have been dropped by the natz, but I gather a number of no-supporting groups are planning to take notice of the day. Hopefully their speech will not be deemed legally hateful.

    Thanks to the mess Labour’s in, the hit-bottom state of the Liberals, the continuing (though discernibly just a bit weaker) strength of “never the Tory”, and the way that “to nat or not to nat” locks out a new party like UKIP, do not expect the above to be reflected in the May election results. That is bad news for free speech, along with much else.

  • I have long thought people should never miss an opportunity to refer to the SNP as “National Socialists”, so yes, calling them Natz is awesome 😉

  • […] am not even completely sure this is really a thing. Surely Andrew Duffin is having a big laugh at my expense. That has to be […]

  • Laird

    “the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’.”

    Over a song? If the poor judge is that short of breath he must be on a CPAP device 24/7. Either that or he is suffering from a case of terminal hyperbole.

  • I always thought the moment that race relations started to improve in Britain was some time in the early 1970s when, after beating their opponent, Tottenham fans started singing: “Our coons are better than your coons.”

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Lee Moore writes, ‘I’m actually astonished that someone as sensible as Natalie could be “horrified” at this story.’ I’m not so much horrified at the events themselves – by which I mean that I am horrified by them but not surprised – as by the fact that this was so normalized that I, someone with far more than the usual interest in free speech, had never heard of it. At least when Paul Chambers was convicted for making what was obviously just a tasteless joke many civil liberties campaigners, celebrities and ordinary people spoke up for him and eventually his conviction was overturned.

  • Larad

    Andrew Duffin: “All sorts of unpleasant things are happening in the one-party “state” that is Scotland.”

    The named person act: astonishing.

    And here’s another: Dealer stripped of inheritance to stop him committing crime.

  • Mr Ed

    Some Scottish football fans can still sing away as before without fear of arrest and prosecution, when their teams play against Berwick Rangers, an English club in the Scottish League, with a ground in England. If the fans were a bit canny, they might organise sing-aways to make that point, and highlight the freedom that remains over the Border.

    Should that lead to Football Banning Orders being sought Police Scotland to prevent them from leaving Scotland to go to a football match in England, at least they will know that their goose is being cooked good and proper.