Sunday, 7 April 2013

Of Mince and Men...

George Square in the Centre of Glasgow is in many ways a reflection of another age. Laid out in 1781 and named after King George III the Hanoverian monarch who lost the American colonies and who ended his life deaf, blind and insane. At the west end of the Square Victoria and Albert sit upon their horses full of pride and Imperial arrogance. In the corner by the Railway station is Robert Peel, founder of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police who were often called ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’ in his honour. The former Prime Minister, who was also known as ‘Orange Peel’ due to some of his views, was also in office during the early years of the Irish Famine. In the Centre of the Square on top of a tall column is Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, a man known as a proud supporter of the Union with England. One concession to the ordinary folk is the statue of Robert Burns. This son of Ayrshire farming stock knew hard work in his time and celebrated the working folk in many of his tales and poems. The Square is an echo of a time when everyone knew their place in Scottish society and those at the bottom were very firmly kept there. It was to this historic place that several thousand ordinary folk, mainly though not exclusively Scots and Irish-Scots of the modern era came to protest at the harsh implementation of a new law.

The events which took place at the Gallowgate three weeks ago, when the Police ‘Kettled’ a peaceful group of Celtic fans and generally behaved in an unnecessarily aggressive manner, upset a lot of their fellow fans. Not all of us who gathered in George Square are always in full agreement with some of the things the Green Brigade do but this was a time for solidarity. A time to register our protest at an obvious injustice. I packed my camera and headed for George Square with 3 or 4 thousand other Celtic fans of all ages. We were joined by fans of Hibs, Motherwell, Partick Thistle and St Pauli to name but a few. The Police were conspicuous by their absence and this was probably the wisest course to follow given the genuine anger about their role in events at the Gallowgate. That being said, I got chatting to a couple of Cops as I headed down past Queen Street railway Station. They seemed pretty adamant that the new law wasn’t actually necessary as simply enforcing existing laws would have been sufficient to deal with sectarian, racist or other hate crimes at football or anywhere else. They did concede that the internet was a place which did need policing more rigorously and perhaps that is a reasonable point given some of the online bile we see from cowards who hide behind the internet’s easy anonymity.

The speeches we heard were eloquent and rounded on both the ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012’ and the way it’s being implemented by the Police. The targeting of football fans has reached a stage where it is becoming harassment and that can never be acceptable in a democratic country where all Public Servants, including the Police, should be accountable for their actions. Laws made by clueless middle class politicians and implemented by an unsympathetic and heavy handed Police force are unlikely to be successful. Who can forget the inept Kenny McAskill, SNP Justice Secretary, sit through 90 minutes of Bigoted bile from the Rangers fans at the 2011 League Cup Final and then afterwards smile at the press saying it was ‘A great advert for Scottish Football?’ This is the type of person who drew up this legislation seeking some easy popularity among the middle classes. Thankfully some of the judges who deal with the more ludicrous cases set before them are blowing holes in the Act. One recently described it as ‘Mince.’ Are we seriously trying to tell people in a democratic society what that can sing and what they can’t sing? Are we seriously saying that blessing yourself may be a provocative act, even a crime? Is this 2013 or 1690? Are we seriously trying to say that Politicians will decide what we think and which political opinions are acceptable to society?

As the crowd left the Square on Saturday and headed for Celtic Park the songs of people who have had enough of lying down echoed loudly off the walls of the fine Georgian Buildings. Victoria may have sniffed at the noisy progeny of the famine Irish and working class Scots who marched through the elegant square loudly demanding better treatment. But as she and Robert Peel knew all too well from their own age, the Irish and their offspring don’t know when to give up. There is an old Irish song which reminds us of a truth the Politicians had best heed…

‘Laws are made for people and the law can never scorn the right of a man to be free. We are the people and we shall overcome.’’


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