Opinion polls tell us little about whether we should repeal OBFA
I don’t like the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act(OBFA).
If you are interested in reading why I don’t like it, I have written about it several times before. The short version is, the law is poorly written, open to interpretation and abuse, kerbs free expression, has a low conviction rate, is hard to enforce and is pointless as existing laws cover anything football fans may do that a reasonable person may want to prevent.
My biggest problem with the law is that offence is subjective.
Penalising something purely on the grounds of something that is subjective is a dangerous precedent. It means that potentially any behaviour or speech can be illegal. Call me a cynic, but I am wary of giving the authorities that type of power. Already there have been many examples of the law being used to prosecute behaviour that, while potentially offensive, should not be illegal.
That’s not what this blog is about though.
I think it is perfectly acceptable to make a case for keeping this law.
This blog is about the contradiction I noticed yesterday in some sections of the pro-independence movement. For months now many of us have been arguing against the terrible reasoning used by leading unionists against indyref2.
You see, the Scottish Parliament voted for indyref2 but leading supporters of the union have been arguing there shouldn’t be a referendum because the public doesn’t want one. They have been using vote share or dodgy opinion polls to back up their arguments. In doing so they have been undermining the system of parliamentary democracy.
That same argument is being used in some quarters against repealing OBFA.
There is a majority in the Scottish Parliament who are against OBFA and in the near future, the Scottish Parliament is going to repeal the law. They are going to do so because James Kelly MSP has gone through the laborious process of introducing a Private Member’s Bill to scrap it. Not only is this parliamentary democracy in action it is also consensus politics in action.
However, some are using similar arguments against repealing OBFA that the unionists have been using against indyref2.
They are saying public opinion is against the repeal and justifying this using the results of opinion polls.
One obvious flaw in this strategy is that opinion polls aren’t that great at measuring public opinion.
The above question is not going to result in a reasonable gauge of what Scots feel about OBFA. For a start, the wording doesn’t accurately describe the actual law. For instance, OBFA doesn’t just outlaw sectarian songs in and around football matches. What it outlaws isn’t clear and its geographical scope is not just limited to proximity to football stadiums. You don’t even need to be attending a game to be prosecuted under the law.
As many in the independence movement rightfully argue when it comes to the will for indyref2, opinion polls can easily be manipulated to get the answers you want. It is not difficult to think of a way to word that question to get the opposite response.
OBFA has made it potentially illegal to sing a folk song in an empty train carriage. Do you agree that OBFA should be scrapped?
Still, even if opinion polls were accurate, that is no counter argument to the law.
There are lots of things the public may be in favour of that would make terrible laws. The Death Penalty and Brexit spring to mind. We vote for politicians to represent us. We empower them to expend the time and effort to look into these matters more deeply than we are able to. Because of this, they are likely more informed than the average person is when answering a loaded question in an opinion poll.
So, just as I say all people should respect democracy and accept the indyref2 that our parliament voted to hold. We should also respect the decision to repeal this law. I get that like indyref2, OBFA a divisive issue and I get that you can make a sensible argument for the law.
However, I don’t agree with arguments that try to circumvent representative democracy by trying to divine public opinion. If you don’t like Labour, the Tories and the Greens repealing this law then argue the case based on its merits. If the Scottish people are really so against repealing OBFA then they will get a chance to punish those who ended it next time they go to the ballot box.
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