Football (Sectarianism)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:02 pm on 7th March 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:02 pm, 7th March 2007

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5596, in the name of Alasdair Morrison, on celebrating success.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the substantive progress being made in tackling sectarianism in Scotland; commends the initiatives undertaken by Scotland's largest football clubs, Rangers FC and Celtic FC, to counter sectarian attitudes; congratulates the football clubs on their initiatives, Pride over Prejudice and Bhoys Against Bigotry; notes the success of their highly commendable joint educational programme, the Old Firm Alliance, within Glasgow schools; recognises that the significant progress achieved in tackling sectarianism represents a continuing determination by both clubs to help eradicate the problem, and also commends the informal arrangements between old firm supporters in the Western Isles as an example for the rest of the country.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 5:10 pm, 7th March 2007

I extend a warm welcome to representatives of Rangers Football Club who are in the public gallery.

The twin evils of bigotry and racism blight many societies around the world and, sadly, Scotland is no different. Bigotry and racism are major societal challenges but they are challenges that are being addressed with vigour and determination. I want to focus my attention, as the motion suggests, on the positive impact that football, footballers and their clubs have in that regard.

It is customary for members to declare at the beginning of a debate any relevant interests. I would like to declare an interest that does not appear in my entry in the register as it is not a pecuniary one: I am a fan of football and a life member of the Lewis and Harris Rangers supporters club, which regularly hosts football fans whose allegiances are not in Govan.

For the decent fan, it is beyond comprehension that there are people who believe that the best way of manifesting support for their team is by launching into a sectarian tirade.

Rangers and Celtic have initiatives that are aimed at dealing with and challenging unacceptable behaviour. The pride over prejudice and bhoys against bigotry campaigns are initiatives that should rightly be commended.

I can talk with reasonable authority about the initiatives with which Rangers is involved and which it promotes. Unfortunately, my friend and colleague Frank McAveety, who represents the Glasgow Shettleston constituency and works closely with Celtic Football Club, cannot be with us this evening as he has succumbed to the flu. He has asked me tender his apologies.

A few months ago, Rangers Football Club invited me, Charan Gill, a Glasgow businessman, and Harry Reid, the former editor of The Herald, to join its sectarianism and racism monitoring committee as advisers. I know that I speak for Mr Gill and Mr Reid when I say that we are all impressed and encouraged by the determination of everyone at Rangers to help eradicate unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour.

Rangers is a multicultural, multidenominational and non-political organisation. The chairman, Sir David Murray, has clearly expressed his views. From the chairman down, Rangers is focused on creating an environment at Ibrox that leaves no room for the bigot or the racist. Those who bring the club into disrepute are dealt with through ejection from matches, forfeiture of season tickets without compensation and so on. The old firm is united in the commitment to help eradicate sectarianism.

However, this is not just a challenge for football; it is a challenge for all in society. The First Minister has rightly staked this issue out as territory on which we legislators will act. That has already happened and further measures will be implemented if required.

There has been a seismic shift in behaviour by football fans. Even though, sadly, there are some who, with their cretinous and moronic outpourings, let not only themselves down but the clubs that they claim to support, it is still true to say that a massive attitudinal behavioural change has taken place. The next step will be the good policing of our football grounds. I am talking about policing not by the forces of law and order and the stewards in stadiums but by the vast majority of decent fans. Increasingly, fans now appreciate that the good name and reputation of the club that they support is in the hands of each individual fan. More and more, fans appreciate that they have an ambassadorial role with regard to the reputation of the club that they support.

I want to pay tribute to the old firm alliance, a collaborative venture involving both clubs and Glasgow City Council's education services. The programme has played a key role in tackling health, education, antisocial behaviour and sectarianism and issues relating to diversity and equality in the city of Glasgow, and the outcomes are striking. Some 97 per cent of teachers said that the initiative led to children appreciating and embracing lifestyle changes.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of visiting the Rangers study support centre at Ibrox, where children from Glasgow schools have access to a range of motivational learning activities through the ready to learn programme. I listened to a group of children interview Mark Hateley, an accomplished internationalist who spends hours giving of his time at the study support centre. He is a shining example of the former old firm players who give so much back to our children with little if any external recognition.

In an independent analysis of the study centre's work, 80 per cent of teachers thought that pupils' self-esteem and confidence improved after their visit and 70 per cent thought that it helped to improve pupils' literacy and numeracy. I asked a few of the children from Battlefield primary school to tell me one thing that they learned from their day. A young lad named Ross said that he had learned that Mark Hateley was "dead tall". That insight was quickly followed by a girl's emphatic statement that we must never judge someone by the colour of their skin.

Football clubs are in the leisure industry. That is their primary function, and it is fanciful to expect them to eradicate sectarianism and racism on their own. However, they have a role, and in my view they are more than playing their part. It takes courage and leadership to state the unpleasant realities about some aspects of Scottish life.

Scotland has a proud history and a strong culture. Irrespective of where our life's journey finds us, and irrespective of our role or vocation in life, collectively people can change a nation for the good. That is why, without hesitation, I lodged my motion, which congratulates both Rangers Football Club and Celtic Football Club on the part that they continue to play in tackling the twin evils of racism and sectarianism.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 5:16 pm, 7th March 2007

I congratulate Alasdair Morrison on bringing forward this debate, which is timely and appropriate. It is clear that, in Scotland, we have a significant problem with sectarianism, but as the member pointed out, there has been a seismic shift. It is also fair to say that sectarianism is a deeply rooted problem that does not appear only in football. It is a social problem, but it manifests itself in football grounds and in the behaviour of those who support or claim to have an allegiance to a particular club.

Football clubs play an important role. We must pay tribute to them and give credit where it is due, because they have significant involvement in work to combat sectarianism. Alasdair Morrison mentioned the work that is being done in Glasgow and elsewhere, which must be built upon. As he said, sectarianism is a social problem, but there is an opportunity for football to play its role and, at the same time, to improve the environment for genuine football fans and change the nature of grounds, which themselves have changed substantially for the better in recent years.

It is ironic and perhaps rather tragic that tonight's debate comes shortly after recent events in which the problem of racism manifested itself. Racism is also a growing problem in Scotland and a spectre that we have to address. The recent problem did not occur in the grounds of the old firm teams that are perhaps seen as the principal protagonists. We must address both sectarianism and racism because they are both manifestations of disorder in our society and of bigotry and prejudice, which we must tackle.

In the past, we have perhaps perceived that racism is not a problem in Scotland, but sadly it seems that it is a problem, and it must be tackled. Sectarianism has been with us for far too long. It is a cancer that has been referred to by the First Minister and we are appropriately addressing it. It is deeply rooted, but address it we must. In the past, I have criticised the actions that the old firm teams have taken to tackle the problem, but in recent years I have taken my criticisms back because they have taken action that is to be commended and supported.

As was said in relation to Motherwell Football Club and racism, the problems are not restricted to the old firm teams. The problem is that, because of their size and their history, they have a significant role to play, but as someone who grew up in the east of Scotland, I know that there are also religious differences there. They do not exist to the same extent as is the case down the M8 corridor, but all clubs must consider the ways in which they tackle sectarianism and racism. It is to the credit of Motherwell Football Club that it took instant action on the disgraceful events there.

We should give credit to the old firm for the constructive and sensible work that it is doing. Rightly or wrongly, footballers are role models and have great influence. We have to ensure that that influence is for the better. Footballers have an opportunity to change the culture of Scottish society, whether by trying to improve diet, as we all know has happened recently in Glasgow, or by tackling matters such as alcohol abuse, which we debated today, so that people drink less, eat better and are part of a healthier environment. Similarly, racism and sectarianism can be tackled if people see that everyone is on the same side and that footballers can be friends, whichever team they play for.

I congratulate Alasdair Morrison on securing this timely debate. I pay tribute to the great progress that clubs are making, but I acknowledge that a significant journey remains to be made. As I have said in other debates, in Scotland we frequently think that the glass is half empty when we should regard it as half full. We are on a journey and things are getting better. If we work together and support what the clubs are doing, we can eradicate the spectre of sectarianism.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 5:20 pm, 7th March 2007

I congratulate Alasdair Morrison on securing the debate and on his speech, which covered the ground well. Kenny MacAskill also made many good points.

We are all subject to prejudices. Considering a sport that involves a ball of a different shape, I think that many Scottish rugby supporters who were rather bruised after our appalling performance against Italy took great comfort in the fact that the Irish thrashed the English—even though that might have been rather an un-Christian response. We all have prejudices, but we should not demonstrate them in unacceptable ways.

As Alasdair Morrison and Kenny MacAskill said, we have made much progress. Rangers FC and Celtic FC in particular have tackled the issue seriously. I have seen their good educational programmes in operation. The clubs are making serious efforts to improve behaviour in the grounds and to co-operate with the police.

As I understand it from press reports of the incident that Kenny MacAskill mentioned, it was significant that the bulk of Motherwell FC supporters took a serious view of the minority of fans who were misbehaving and helped to get them under control. Attitudes are changing, and we must encourage people to stand up for good behaviour, even though it is difficult. Many Scots find it easier to pretend that nothing has happened.

Attitudes in Rangers, Celtic and other football clubs are changing for the better and must continue to do so. Clubs often have a good grip on season ticket holders and other fans at matches in their own grounds, but people often misbehave at away matches, and the local police force does not know where they are sitting and cannot control them.

The motion mentions the informal arrangements between old firm supporters in the Western Isles. I have often heard of supporters of both clubs sharing a bus to travel from a distant part of Scotland. Much civilised human behaviour goes on. It is unfortunate that that is spoiled by a minority, but the minority is dwindling and supporters and other decent people in society must stand up and be counted and ensure that the minority do not misbehave and let them down. In particular, the major clubs must pay attention to the fact that incidents in which supporters step out of line are seen on television and can cause serious trouble with the European football authorities.

I encourage Rangers and Celtic to carry on their good work. We should not be complacent about sectarianism, but there has been a material improvement in Scottish life in that regard over the past few years as a result of the efforts of the Scottish Parliament and Executive, which we must applaud.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 5:24 pm, 7th March 2007

I thank Alasdair Morrison for securing today's debate.

People do not realise how much progress has been made. When I went to Ibrox and Parkhead just after the war, there were problems with sectarianism. I started working in the Glasgow shipyards in 1947. One day, this little rivet catcher came over to me and asked, "Football man?" I said, "Aye." "Rangers?" "No." "Celtic?" "No." "Are you an atheist?" It was that deeply ingrained in the culture: people had to be either a Rangers supporter or a Celtic supporter.

I declare an interest, as a director of the finest exponents of football in Scotland: Motherwell FC. I was very pleased at the attitude of the fans last week when—putting this in the proper context—four or five yobs among a group of about 20 made racial chants at a St Johnstone player. All the Motherwell fans around them stood up and pointed at that group. Unfortunately, the police could not pick out exactly who were the three or four people who had caused the upset.

Before our game against Hearts, everyone going into the ground got a "Kick racism out of football" sticker, and the players stood around the centre circle and waved red cards saying, "Show Racism the Red Card." The behaviour that was displayed a week ago should be dealt with. It is totally foreign to Motherwell Football Club. Eliphas Shivute, Benito Kemble and Don Goodman—good players for Motherwell Football Club—are some of my best friends in football. Racism was never a problem for them.

Sectarianism used to be very bad but, on the last two occasions when I went to Ibrox and Parkhead, I noted that the fans applauded good moves. It is quite unusual for a packed house of rabid football fans to applaud a good move rather than get into the usual chants.

Jack McConnell should be congratulated on his initiative to wipe sectarianism out of football, and Celtic and Rangers should be congratulated on the excellent progress they have made. When my team plays at Ibrox or Parkhead now, there is never any sectarian influence at all. The fans go to see a football game, and they enjoy it. That is the way it should be, and it is down to the excellent initiatives that both old firm clubs have started up. Long may it continue.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative 5:27 pm, 7th March 2007

I thank Alasdair Morrison, as well as other members, for bringing up this important issue.

I recall with horror my only visit—in the early 1970s—to an old firm match, when the legendary Jim Baxter returned to Ibrox. I found the atmosphere of hate between the supporters electrifying and horrifying. Thankfully, things are now moving on. Bigotry, racism and discrimination in any form are completely out of step with Scottish traditions and a modern 21st century society. As my party's communities spokesman, I have been involved in many equalities issues, and the passion of people's negative convictions towards a perceived other and many of the misguided perceptions that go along with that never fail to amaze me.

With the focus of the sectarian divide in Scotland centred around the old firm football culture, it is important that the clubs involved take a role in dealing with the issue. That is why I am pleased that Celtic and Rangers Football Clubs are doing just that, and I congratulate them on many of the initiatives and programmes that they have set up. Like Donald Gorrie, I am a rugby man, but football is a fantastic game, and we need to ensure that it stays a game. It should be about the football, not the bigotry. I am convinced that the majority of alleged supporters who chant party songs do not have a clue what they are singing about, which makes the situation even more tragic. I congratulate the pride over prejudice and bhoys against bigotry groups on the work that they do in schools. If we can use such opportunities at school to root out this blight on our society, we are half way to solving the problem.

As is the way with communities that exist separately, suspicions and perceptions about the other side can grow. It is important that we bring together children from different communities and demonstrate to them what they have in common, rather than what separates them. That must be applied beyond the traditional sectarian divide to the growing racial divide in parts of Scotland.

Although bigotry can manifest itself in violence, it must not be forgotten that violence is not always its natural progression.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I do not disagree with many of Dave Petrie's assertions, and I support the moves to end sectarian and racist behaviour that Alasdair Morrison spoke about. However, has Dave Petrie given any thought to the fact that there are club groupings all over Europe—never mind South America—that kick one another to death if they can get away with it? That has nothing to do with either religion or racism.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative

I take Margo MacDonald's point, but I do not think that it is directly related to the debate.

We need to look at the issue of more police on the streets. As recently as last Sunday, I was confronted with a mob of supporters at Meadowbank prior to the Hibs v Rangers match. They were causing public fear and havoc until they were dispersed belatedly by one solitary police vehicle. Police at a local level have the potential to root out gangs and troublemakers who are connected with and integrated into the old firm culture. Instead, police officers are hampered and controlled by red tape, forms and bureaucracy, which are taking them off the streets and away from the communities that need their protection. That will not help to tackle old firm violence, and we need to use the full resources of law enforcement agencies to help combat it.

As Kenny MacAskill mentioned, with violent crime in general on the rise throughout Scotland and regrettable racist incidents in the recent St Johnstone v Motherwell cup tie, it is really no wonder that sectarianism surrounding the old firm institutions is still rife. However, I feel that never before has there been the appetite to tackle sectarianism as there is now. All community sides are taking firm action and developing pragmatic strategies. We must now proceed with a greater contribution from the Government to demonstrate that violent crime will not be tolerated in modern Scotland.

In conclusion, I join Alasdair Morrison in commending the responsible actions of supporters in the Western Isles, who set a salutary example to us all.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour 5:32 pm, 7th March 2007

I begin by congratulating my colleague Alasdair Morrison on securing the debate. It is especially timely, given that an old firm derby is to be held this weekend and watched by religious leaders, including the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Alan McDonald, and Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

I join members in praising the work that is being carried out by both sides of Glasgow's old firm. I have witnessed first hand the innovative work being carried out by both the old firm alliance and Glasgow City Council's sense over sectarianism campaign, most recently as a guest at the launch of a joint event between Blairdardie and St Ninian's primary schools in my constituency. It is heartening to see football being used as a means to bring young people together not just to learn about other traditions but to gain a fuller, more rounded understanding of their own.

There can be no doubt that the Glasgow clubs have taken significant strides in attempting to deal with the sectarian element that has attached itself to them. I welcome the steps that have been taken in providing positive educational messages through their learning centres, the attempts to stop the singing of songs that could be seen as hurtful to others and the clubs' strong support for the sense over sectarianism campaign.

However, we should not kid ourselves that those steps are anything other than a good start on which to build. I want the clubs, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Football League to engage fully with the Scottish Executive, police, anti-sectarian organisations such as Nil by Mouth and the supporters to ensure that we continue to make tangible progress.

Nevertheless, although it may be true that sectarianism is at its most visible in and around our football stadiums, we should not fall into the trap of dismissing it merely as a football problem. It runs much deeper than that. I was struck by the comments last week of the Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, when he was asked about the disgraceful abuse aimed at Jason Scotland by a tiny section of the crowd at a Scottish cup game a few days earlier. Strachan said that racism was not just a football problem. In truth, there are racists who go to football games and behave appallingly, and the same could be said of those who use football as an excuse to peddle sectarian hatred. Football does not breed those attitudes; rather, they are merely a symptom of a more entrenched problem affecting communities across Scotland.

Sectarianism is still a real problem in Scottish society. I would go so far as to call it a cancer, which is why I praise the leadership shown by both the First Minister and the Executive in acknowledging the problem and having the courage to tackle it.

The Executive drew up Scotland's first national action plan aimed at tackling sectarianism directly. The action plan highlights 18 key action points that the Government continues to work on in relation to sport, education and marches and parades.

As politicians, we have a duty not to shy away from acknowledging the existence of the problem of sectarianism and a duty to do all that is in our power to come up with ways of tackling it.

It should not be said that sectarianism can be defeated by Governments or legislation alone. Each part of Scottish society has a role to play in stamping out sectarian behaviour. I am heartened that, in recent years, the debate on sectarianism has been treated responsibly by sections of the media, including the Glasgow Evening Times, trade unions, many employers and faith leaders, who have shown leadership and a willingness to sit down together to discuss the issues on an ecumenical basis. Those are examples of steps that have been taken to move forward.

In my remaining time, I want to pay tribute to the work of the Nil by Mouth charity, which was set up as a result of the brutal sectarian murder of 16-year-old Mark Scott, in keeping the issue in the public eye and challenging sectarian attitudes. Nil by Mouth offers a wide range of services, including workshops that focus on raising awareness of issues relating to sectarianism. Later this month, it will launch its manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections. I hope that every party and every candidate will seriously consider that document's recommendations.

Sectarianism did not appear in our society overnight. Its origins are deep rooted and complex. Therefore, we cannot expect it to disappear suddenly. We must continue to invest in educational initiatives and awareness-raising campaigns. Football clubs, politicians, trade unionists and employers must play their parts in taking effective action against those who refuse to accept that sectarianism in any shape or form is anathema to 21st century Scottish society.

I support the motion in the name of my colleague Alasdair Morrison and I again congratulate him on securing the debate.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 5:37 pm, 7th March 2007

I, too, congratulate Alasdair Morrison on securing this important debate. In particular, I thank him for recognising the Executive's efforts and those of our partners in tackling bigotry and sectarianism in Scotland. I also welcome what other members have said. Their speeches have given us pause for thought. We should acknowledge the importance of the debate.

Change has occurred, but we should recognise that change does not happen by accident; it requires political will and determination, and a commitment by our communities to take action.

People have had to put up with sectarian attitudes at our sporting grounds and beyond them for far too long. The venomous and spiteful behaviour of some people ends too often in violence. Scotland has had to face that problem as a society, and it is right that we should lead the way in tackling sectarian attitudes and behaviour wherever they occur.

Part of the problem with sectarianism is that people have thought that it is somehow a bit of a joke. They have thought that it ought not to be taken too seriously. I support what Bill Butler said about Nil by Mouth, which is an example of an organisation that developed out of tragedy. In the depths of the tragedy, friends and family were willing to put their energies into ensuring that something good would result from it and that we would be confronted by what the murder signified. Not only was it an individual family's tragedy, it was a terrible statement about our society.

Understanding the seriousness of sectarianism is important. Alasdair Morrison was right to connect it to racism. Both things say something about our society. Sectarianism is a blight on Scottish society, and those who still harbour sectarian attitudes must learn that there is no place for sectarianism in Scotland.

Members have been right to say that sectarianism is not exhibited only at football matches—we know that it runs deeper than that—but football is a powerful vehicle for emotions and commitments. It gives people a powerful feeling of togetherness and belonging. People can express their sectarianism and racism at football matches, but we can also begin to challenge those attitudes at football matches, as football is so powerful. Our football clubs must be commended for understanding that they can engage with people in a way that perhaps mere politicians cannot. Football has the capacity to unite people, and we recognise what football clubs have done in that regard. We must harness what they have done and move forward by working with fans, clubs, religious leaders, schools and the police.

Much has been achieved in the battle against sectarianism. The launch of the calling full time on sectarianism strategy at the reconvened summit on sectarianism in December 2006 provides a strong example of how we can work together and deal with sectarianism head on.

Singing and chanting at football matches are a particularly visible manifestation of sectarian behaviour that cannot be ignored. However, I agree with John Swinburne that there has been change. Over the years that I have attended football matches—at the other end of the city from the club that Alasdair Morrison follows—an evident change has taken place in how people sing. The place is not the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Alasdair Morrison was right to emphasise the power that fans have in policing themselves to make such behaviour unacceptable.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

Does the minister agree with me that the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, which banned alcohol from football grounds, was a gigantic step forward in controlling sectarianism?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I understand that alcohol can fuel sectarianism and cause difficulties, but alcohol is also sometimes used as an alibi. As with other forms of violence, people say that the drink caused their behaviour, but no, whatever was in them caused their behaviour and perhaps they were just liberated by alcohol. The deeper issue needs to be challenged.

On sectarian singing, we must all take responsibility for our actions and challenge those who peddle hatred and intolerance. We welcome the recent statements from Celtic and Rangers requesting their supporters to refrain from chanting such songs. We commend those fans who have made it their responsibility to police themselves.

Clubs need to recognise that sectarian behaviour brings them into disrepute. They need to take action against such behaviour. In particular, clubs should take a much stronger line on banning abusive individuals and should work with the police to ensure that those who cause trouble outside grounds are also banned from attending matches and any social events that are associated with the club. In addition, clubs should work with supporters groups to ensure that those who behave in a sectarian way also have their supporters club membership revoked. Clubs should be ready to take whatever action they can against supporters groups that fail to address the sectarian element in their membership.

I welcome the old firm's on-going approach to tackling the problem by working with fans, stewards and the police to help to eradicate sectarian behaviour from football matches. However, as has already been alluded to, sectarianism is not confined to Rangers and Celtic. A number of football clubs in Scotland have recognised that they have a hard-core sectarian element in their fan base.

Sectarianism is a problem not just in sport but in many different areas of Scottish life, and our work to tackle sectarianism reflects that. I welcome the establishment of the new body called Football for All, which will deliver a focused anti-sectarianism awareness campaign early in the new football season. The initiative will send out a strong message to the people of Scotland that the ending of vile sectarian singing and chanting at football matches has an important part to play in eradicating sectarianism from Scottish society.

We have also introduced powerful new laws. Measures have been introduced under section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 to deal with religiously aggravated crimes. We also introduced football banning orders in September 2006. They are a particularly powerful tool, as they allow the police and the courts to take action to ensure that anyone who indulges in abusive, violent or bigoted behaviour can be banned for up to 10 years from attending matches in Scotland, the rest of the United Kingdom and overseas. In addition, banning orders can also exclude such individuals from going to town centres, railway stations and bars on match days.

Working in partnership with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, we have already delivered the first phase of the straight red football banning orders awareness campaign. The campaign, which was very successful, made it clear that we are getting tough on the abusive bigots who bring our national sport into disrepute and that there will be no second chances for those who indulge in such mindless behaviour. I am pleased to announce—I am sure that Alasdair Morrison will welcome this—that a further £30,000 is being provided to run a second phase of the campaign to drive the message home. The message is loud and clear: abusive or violent behaviour will not be tolerated in Scottish football.

We have amended the laws on marches and parades and we have issued guidance to Scottish local authorities on how the new procedures will be expected to work when they come into force from 1 April. Last May, we joined march organisers—the Orange order, Cairde na hÉireann and the Scottish Trades Union Congress—local authorities and police forces to sign a joint statement pledging to unite to tackle abusive behaviour at marches and parades.

We know that churches and faith groups have also taken forward anti-sectarian work independently by developing a charter on the principles of religious freedom, which provides a strong anti-sectarian message. We are working with the broader voluntary sector to bring together those organisations that are involved in tackling sectarianism.

We have made huge strides, but the Government does not have all the answers. That is evident on this issue as on many others. We need to work with those who have shown themselves to be willing to make a commitment to real change.

We believe that the tide of public opinion is turning against the bigots. People who would in the past have put up with sectarianism or joked about it in their communities are starting to speak out. That broad partnership approach is the right way to tackle sectarianism.

We should all be proud of the way in which we in Scotland have taken the issue forward. Our goal is to create a Scotland that, at its heart, is free from sectarianism, racism and discrimination. We have real hope for the future. I have no doubt that our efforts and those of our partners in driving the anti-sectarian agenda further forward will bring about the Scotland in which we all want to live and prosper. Football clubs are rising to that challenge and, as citizens of Scotland, we must rise to it, too. We must recognise such behaviour for what it is, confront it when we see it and ensure that Scotland is a better place in which to live.

Meeting closed at 17:45.