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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 17:33 GMT
Scots must 'unite' to beat bigotry
The people of Scotland have been urged to consign bigotry "to the dustbin of history".

In promising tough new laws to tackle sectarianism, First Minister Jack McConnell said everyone had a role to play.

He announced a raft of recommendations from a cross-party working group on religious hatred.

The proposals received a positive response though some were concerned by plans to create new laws.


We have moved a long way in the last 30 years, but these final steps are crucial

Jack McConnell

The plans include steps to improve the way offences are handled by the justice system and promote tolerance in Scotland's communities.

Mr McConnell and Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace published the cross-party group's report on Thursday.

The first minister said: "Modern Scotland must challenge bigoted attitudes and bigoted behaviour wherever they are found."

The 12 recommendations contained in the report include calls for better communication between police, the Crown Office, and football clubs.

Any new laws would deal with all crimes motivated by prejudice against other religions.

It has been proposed that football supporters warned, suspended or banned from matches as a result of sectarian behaviour should be named and shamed.

'Extremes of hatred'

The report suggested street traders should be licensed to prevent them selling paramilitary paraphernalia.

Early kick-offs for matches between Celtic and Rangers should become normal practice, the report said.

The committee also decided there was "a strong case for some form of legislation to ensure that aggravation based on religious prejudice is taken into account when sentencing".

New laws should be accompanied by other measures to discourage religious hatred, it said.

Old Firm fans
Mr McConnell wants action from clubs

Mr McConnell said most faiths had come under threat from "bigoted and ignorant" people in Scotland.

"We cannot have a situation where people are stabbing, or murdering, or causing violence on a Saturday night in Scotland simply as a result of other people's religion," he said.

Asked if Orange Order marches should be banned, Mr McConnell said it was important to differentiate between freedom of speech and religious hatred.

Traditional events must not move into "extremes of hatred," the first minister added.

Concerns raised

He ruled out scrapping separate Catholic schools and said religious diversity and tolerance were key in defeating bigotry.

"We have moved a long way in the last 30 years, but these final steps are crucial if we are to take our place in the modern world," he added.

Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham said new legislation may be difficult to implement.

"Very real concerns have been raised by the police that new legislation would be unworkable," she said.

'Sharp end'

"Perhaps more worryingly are the concerns of the Crown Office that it may make it harder to secure a conviction."

Peter McLean, of anti-bigotry campaign group Nil By Mouth, said plans to treat crimes motivated by religion in the same way as racial crimes sent out a "symbolic message".

Vincent Smith, of the Glasgow Bar Association, warned that there could be problems with the definition of sectarian behaviour.

Celtic chief executive Ian McLeod said the club looked forward to studying the report's recommendations and "working in partnership" to tackle the problem.

A spokeswoman for Rangers said: "The club is strongly opposed to inappropriate behaviour driven by sectarianism or racism.

"It takes action against all offenders drawn to our attention both within Ibrox and at away grounds."

The Reverend Alan McDonald, convenor of the Church of Scotland's Church and Nation Committee said: "The important thing to remember in all of this is the sharp end of sectarianism where people get hurt and where people die."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Donald Gorrie, Lib Dem MSP, and Bob Holman
a social policy professor, who lives in Easterhouse in Glasgow.
Jack McConnell MSP, Scotland First Minister
"Scotland has to take its place in the modern world"
Peter Maclean, anti-sectarianism campaigner
"Legislation can only be one part of the solution"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Will measures planned to tackle bigotry in Scotland workBeating bigotry
Will McConnell's plans make a difference?
See also:

05 Dec 02 | Scotland
03 Dec 02 | Scotland
16 Oct 02 | Scotland
13 Oct 02 | Scotland
07 Oct 02 | Scotland
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