Sectarian Behaviour

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government will take in response to the sectarian disorder in Glasgow at the weekend. (S5F-03500)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

First, I take this opportunity to praise Police Scotland for the swift and effective way in which it managed an extremely difficult and challenging situation.

The Government has been clear and will continue to be clear that the right to peaceful and lawful assembly is an important part of our democracy, but we are equally clear that violent and sectarian disruption is not part of our democracy and should never be tolerated. That is why the justice secretary is working with Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland to ensure that we do all that we can to avoid that kind of behaviour being repeated.

As we have already stated, we remain open to giving full consideration to any proposals to tackle sectarianism in addition to the work that we are already undertaking, and to working with all partners to eradicate the scourge of sectarianism from our society once and for all.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I understand that Police Scotland has advised that this weekend’s marches should go ahead because, after last week’s disgrace, it thinks that people will turn up anyway. We have to understand how we got here.

How on earth did an Scottish National Party Glasgow City Council leader think it was a good idea to let a republican march go through Govan on an old firm weekend? Anyone in Glasgow could have told her that that was a bad idea.

Everyone here condemns the unacceptable behaviour that shamed our city last week. Does the First Minister think that Susan Aitken was right to let that march go ahead?

The First Minister:

I think that a really bad idea—probably the worst idea of all in this context—is to try to turn such a serious issue into a party-political bun fight in the way that Annie Wells has done. I say to her in all seriousness that she should reflect very carefully on the content and tone of the question that she has just asked. I suggest to the interim leader of the Scottish Conservatives that he might want to do likewise. This is not a party-political issue; it is a long-standing and challenging issue, but we are determined to eradicate it.

First and foremost, the people who are responsible for the outrageous and unacceptable scenes on the streets of Govan last Friday night are the people who behaved in an unacceptable, violent and sectarian way.

Glasgow City Council operates within the law on the basis of police and other advice. It takes the decisions that it is advised are the right ones to take. We are having discussions with Glasgow City Council to develop an understanding of whether the council has the powers that it needs within the existing law or whether changes to the law might be required. We will continue to take forward those discussions in a responsible way.

We will continue to invest heavily in projects and initiatives to tackle sectarianism. In this chamber, we opposed the repeal of the legislation that was trying to deal with the issue at football matches. I regret the fact that Opposition parties repealed that legislation, but Parliament took its decision.

Above all, we will listen and talk to anybody in considering how we deal effectively with a societal problem that has no place in modern Scotland. It is a scourge in our society. Politicians who are serious about tackling the problem will come together, so that we speak with one voice and do not engage in the tactics that Annie Wells has disgracefully used.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

The First Minister might know that, of the two marches that are planned for this Saturday, one is starting is my constituency and one is finishing there. Can she give any reassurance to my constituents that they will be able to go about their normal lives on Saturday without being disrupted?

The First Minister:

Citizens, whether they are in John Mason’s constituency, my constituency or any other constituency, have a right to go about their normal business. I have a duty—we all have a duty—to stand up for the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The two marches that will take place in Glasgow this weekend have been given approval. I strongly support Police Scotland to take the necessary action to facilitate the marches. I appeal to all those who will be involved to conduct themselves in an orderly manner and to demonstrate that the right to march and demonstrate can be exercised without being abused.

A strong framework of legislation is already in place but, as I said to Annie Wells, we will look carefully at where improvements can be made. Dr Michael Rosie, an independent adviser, has been asked to review the implementation of the 2016 recommendations on marches, parades and static demonstrations, and he will put forward proposals on what more might be needed. Of course, legislation has an important part to play, but it is not the only way to tackle such problems. The discussions that the justice secretary will have with Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland will not be limited to looking only at legislative measures.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The scenes that we witnessed in Govan on Friday night were unacceptable and shocking. Bigotry and intolerance have no place in a modern progressive society. In reacting to those events, we all have a responsibility to be careful about our language and tone.

In response to Lord McConnell’s comments that more can be done to tackle sectarianism, what is being done to work with parties across Parliament and with groups across Scotland to tackle bigotry and intolerance?

The First Minister:

In one respect, Lord McConnell is right: when we see the scenes that we saw on Friday night, it is self-evident that more needs to be done. First and foremost, there is a responsibility on Government, through its work with councils, but I am glad to hear James Kelly agree that there is a responsibility on all of us. Cross-party and non-political leadership is needed on the issue.

We have invested heavily by increasing the funding that goes to anti-sectarian education projects in schools, prisons, workplaces and communities, and we will continue to do that.

We will also continue to work with those who are doing very good work in this area.

James Kelly said that he wants to work with us. I welcome that. I recall that when the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 was being repealed, he said that he would develop an anti-sectarianism strategy that was fit for 2018. I am not aware of him having brought forward such a strategy yet, but I make an open offer to him: if he does so, we will consider that, in addition to the work that we are already doing and the further work that we are considering doing. I believe that the issue is one that we should come together to tackle. If James Kelly wants to bring forward his proposals, I am happy to give him an assurance that we will consider them fully.