Can You Hear The Peepil Sing?

rangers-bannersAs some of you might be aware, when I’m not writing about football I like to blog on politics, and at the weekend there, I released a magazine on the subject for my site Comments Isn’t Free.

When the Charlie Hebdo attacks rocked the world last month, I wrote a big piece on free speech, defending the rights of people to say, sing or write anything they like, without limits and without restrictions at all.

To me, that’s an article of faith, something I believe in religiously. Free speech is the most important of our freedoms, because without it, the rest wouldn’t matter a damn as the government could do what it liked with them and we’d be unable even to protest.

Lately, this is a subject that gets me into trouble, because one of the things I’m doing online right now is aggressively promoting the election of as many SNP candidates to Westminster as possible, and I’m often asked how I square with that with my vociferous opposition to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, to which I devoted fully one third of my free speech piece.

It’s quite simple, really. I’m not a single issue voter; I consider more than just one plank of the party platform before I put a cross on a ballot paper, and right now we’re faced with a ghastly choice of horrors.

Only one party which stands a chance of holding the balance of power down there wants the things I do.

That answer doesn’t go down well with some people, people who’re happy to bang the free speech drum as long as they like what the other person is saying. I find it a bit rich when they try to denigrate my view by hiding behind that, and it’s caused more than a few arguments.

Why am I telling you this? It’s simple, really.

I can’t get to the point of this article without covering the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act first, because it’s the elephant in the room.

For the record, it’s a disgusting piece of legislative over-reach that should never have been put on the books. Unlike some people, I do not regard it as an anti-Irish or anti-Catholic law – indeed, a large number of Sevco fans have been charged under it, along with supporters of Hibs and Hearts – but on almost every occasion that it’s been used against Celtic fans those prosecutions clearly fall under the rubric of attacking political expression.

That makes it even more scandalous and indefensible.

Let me elaborate on that for a moment, and why it’s important.

For one thing, this law accomplished precisely nothing that other, existing laws, couldn’t have done fairly easily and comfortably. When Sevco fans, who sing stuff like The Famine Song and The Billy Boys are prosecuted under this law, they might just as easily have been charged under a ream of legislation that was already in place. Those legislations were specifically created to tackle hate speech, and those songs certainly qualify.

Celtic fans singing about Ireland would not have been prosecutable under those laws, which is part of the reason many of our supporters believe the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was created in the first place. As I said, I think they are wrong … but it is a dangerous law nonetheless and one with which needs to be repealed at the earliest opportunity.

With that said, I can tell you that even writing about this makes me highly uncomfortable, because I’m forced to defend things I abhor.

There seems to be a lot of anger amongst Celtic fans tonight about the SPFL’s decision to take no action in relation to the League Cup semi final. I understand that anger, and I agree that the decision reeks of cowardice.

But you know what? It’s for the best, and I’m coming down on the SPFL’s side. I hate that too.

This nonsense about removing politics from football has had its day, and it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s UEFA or FIFA trotting out that hypocritical line or if it’s the SPFL and the Scottish Government.

Equally, I find the notion that people should have some right not to be offended to be ridiculous. The world doesn’t work like that. If you start introducing it in football stadiums, how long before no songs are being sung at all?

How long before the scoring of a goal becomes problematic? Players aren’t allowed to properly celebrate them anymore, so that’s not as farfetched as perhaps it at first sounds.

The SPFL could have taken action today, and many people are going to say they should have.

For months now we’ve heard about how “Scotland needs the Celtic – Rangers game”, and without going into all the various arguments surrounding Sevco, to all intents and purposes the world thought that’s exactly what it was watching.

And you know what? The deplorable behaviour of the Sevco support was a shocking, embarrassing, throwback to a dark era which makes Scotland look like a laughing stock and makes the media hype look demented, because it was.

This game is everything our society can do without, and that does make the SPFL’s decision today seem absolutely ridiculous.

Furthermore, as I’ve said, I disagree with the Offence Behaviour at Football Act on the basic principle that it criminalises free speech.

But right now, like it or not, it’s the law of the land, and the SPFL are today saying that they’re perfectly alright with the law being broken.

Amongst the songs sung by the Sevco fans were a number that appeared on the Police Scotland press release of “unacceptable” ones … and whilst I have some sympathy with the argument that the police couldn’t very well have arrested 10,000 people, the SPFL were, and are, in a position where they can take action against clubs who’s fans engage in mass criminality.

They haven’t, and so yes, that decision is cowardly.

Here’s the problem though.

Had the SPFL decided to take action today Celtic fans, who didn’t break the law, would have ended up in the dock with the Sevco supporters who did. If there’s one thing Scottish society understands it’s this “moral equivalence” crap that says both sides are as bad as each other. Try as they might, a lot of people can’t shake it. They see no difference between anti-Catholic singing and songs about the Irish war of independence.

Normally, I wouldn’t give a monkeys about opinions based on such ignorance, but this is Scottish football, where the governing bodies only go after Rangers and Sevco if they’ve got no other choice or if they can find a way to drag Celtic into it to.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. We know full well that’s what would have happened.

There are people reading this who probably think both clubs should be hammered. I have no doubt about that at all, and as difficult as it is for some people to wrap their heads around the idea that sectarianism at football games should be tackled by the courts is supported by, according to recent opinion polls, nearly 90% of the population in Scotland.

Many people do believe we’re as bad as each other, and trying to argue the toss with them does no good whatsoever. Those people, like many of us, would rather the so-called “Old Firm game” was never played again.

We have more in common with those folk than they would like to admit.

They can’t wrap their heads around how Celtic fans feel mostly the same way.

So today, fellow Troops in Hoops, be careful what you wish for. The SPFL has decided there’s no case to answer, and as grisly a picture as that paints of Scotland – a country where genuine bigotry and sectarianism is the accepted norm – I can’t even pretend to come down on the other side of the case, because first I support unrestricted free speech and second because I know that even if we’re operating according to the “letter of the law”, whether I like it or not, that law is written in such a way that we would certainly have ended up in the dock too, although our fans did nothing wrong.

The vagueness of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is one of the many, many things wrong with it. It’s too open to interpretation.

I honestly, genuinely, hate writing about this subject because I know full well I’m going to upset nearly everyone, but as a writer that’s part of the job description and I can’t lambast the media for not speaking out when I’m self-censoring.

I find much of the media reaction to this decision to be scandalous and inconsistent. A very few of our journalists – like Ewan Murray – get pass marks because although I disagree with them in principle, they, at least, were demanding action from the day of the game itself and thus have earned the right to call this decision a joke.

Others are just leaping onto a passing bandwagon, after years of silence on the issue.

Anything to have a whack at an easy target.

I despise the sectarian filth that inhabits parts of this country. They embarrass us, they paint a picture of our society which is badly skewed and their hate is as catching as a deadly virus. I wish to God they could be educated out of their arsehole views … but whilst they hold those views I’ve got no choice but to defend their right to express them.

I don’t like the way a small section of the Celtic support can’t get a grip of itself either, in particular those who thought it was alright to disrupt the last Remembrance Day silence with a “protest.” The right to unrestricted free speech carries responsibilities too, and they gave no consideration to the club or to their fellow fans, which is just disgraceful.

I also wish to God so-called neutrals would get over their irrational tendency to lump both clubs together in the same cesspit. It is intellectually dishonest and lazy, and it makes enemies out of people with whom many of them actually have common cause.

Political expression is what it says on the tin, and whether you like it or not is irrelevant.

If you ban The Roll of Honour you’re going to wake up one day and find yourselves unable to sing Flower of Scotland. If you’ve not wised up to that yet, this is the time to start.

Today’s decision was a fudge. We all know it. But it was a necessary one because once this can of worms is open there’s no closing it. When we start punishing clubs for the songs fans sing we are well and truly on the slippery slope … and it only goes one way.

I’m glad this article is finished. Defending the rights of trash who sing The Billy Boys is exhausting and makes me want to take a shower. Defending the SPFL for lacking the balls to actually separate songs of hate from songs commemorating a revolutionary struggle is infuriating and makes me want to hit something hard.

Today’s decision is the right one, for the wrong reasons. It casts a dark shadow on the game here, but that was the inevitable consequence of all the hype that surrounded this fixture, and which a lot of us felt deeply uneasy about beforehand, knowing this was coming.

Thank God for Raith Rovers knocking Sevco out of the cup.

Thank God for the incompetence of Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowell and the Sevco board.

I am no hurry – Scotland is in no hurry – to go through this shaming experience again.

This is a horrible place to live at times, because a small minority insist on keeping it that way.

(This site needs your support to keep doing what we do. You can show your support by making a donation at the PayPal link at the top or the bottom of your page, depending on which device you are using. Thank you in advance, friends.)

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

15 thoughts on “Can You Hear The Peepil Sing?

  • 16 February, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Vacuous nonsense

  • 17 February, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Is being prosecuted for expressing political views not in contravention of human rights legislation?

    Surely by this time there must be grounds for a test case?

  • 17 February, 2015 at 12:40 am

    Well said that man!

  • 17 February, 2015 at 12:56 am

    This is nonsense. Freedom of speech does Not include illegal vocals.

    Substitute Black, Muslim or Jewish for Irish and the Forces of the Law would have come down heavily on the offenders.

    The SFA and Police Scotland have failed in their duty and Scotland is the worse for their cowardice.

    It is now acceptable to be a bigot and break the Law and the excuse is there are Too Many of them to take action against.

    That is Not Freedom of speech it is mob rule.

  • 17 February, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Freedom of speech is what it says on the tin.

    Laws which limit it – and there are a few of them, not just one – are regressive and dangerous.

    How do you think we got here in the first place? The very second you have government determining what kind of speech is acceptable you open the door wide to another government moving the goalposts.

    That’s what’s happened.

  • 17 February, 2015 at 1:50 am

    “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” ― Noam Chomsky.

    However those who enter a football stadium must abide by the rules in the same way anyone under my roof must respect my rules.

    The issue here isn’t freedom of expression per se, it’s about behaviour within the confines of a stadium, a place where freedoms are curtailed to the extent that alcohol consumption is proscribed.

  • 17 February, 2015 at 2:28 am

    Hi James,

    thanks for putting your thoughts on here.
    2 things I need to say,

    Scotland is the country of the Enlightiment (I know I know Im speaking crap but) the followers of the new presbyterian world are against Rome … are the most rude uneducated people of Scotland (by that I mean the Ibrox followers and not the clergy of Scotland) and most importantly I thought the doctrine was about freedom of existence for Alba , or perhaps it was just about the freedom from Rome! and Im born, unfortunately, in fecking shady/dark Alba

    Secondly, You have hit the nail on the hied The people that think this way…

    \”They see no difference between anti-Catholic singing and songs about the Irish war of independence\”

    …they have a lack of ability of objective thought.

    \”their hate = our freedom…..what?\”

    Unfortunately too many of our SMPs think this way of thinking is acceptable. Look at the \”bad behaviour act\”.. it is an absolute undemographic disgrace.. If Korea had such legislation…. it would be ridiculed?

    All the best,
    and power to your elbow.

  • 17 February, 2015 at 5:59 am

    It is absolute nonsense to separate offensive songs from sectarian songs, and therefore the law is correct. The songs many fans sing are not sectarian but are all aimed to be offensive, and aimed to be aggressive and intimidating. Do you honestly believe that \”political songs\” are no less offensive to the reasonable home or visiting supporter, you know taking their child to a game, than having to listen to this rebel/unionist noise pollution!

  • 17 February, 2015 at 6:27 am

    \”They see no difference between anti-Catholic singing and songs about the Irish war of independence\”

    …they have a lack of ability of objective thought.

    \”their hate = our freedom…..what?\”


    What possible relevance does the Irish war of independence have on a football game played between Scottish teams? There is none it is a political irrelevance.

    The only value, that we could extrapolate from their nightmare was that Scotland decided to go through the ballot box rather than down the barrel of a gun.

  • 17 February, 2015 at 7:36 am

    All you need to know, despite this puerile, subservience, and nonsense, as who have spoken bad words or sung so many bad words, is that they be worse that us , or even more worse than them, worse than others!

    Always remember that “The laughter of our children will be our revenge!”

  • 17 February, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Once again i must come on your coments page and point out a few green specks views of yours not mentioning the fact of your interest in the most successful club in the world (fact not your wishful thinking) rather than your own club. I will start by agreeing with you slightly on freedom of speech for football fans but put to you differently. I as a rangers fan have no problem with a celtic fan singing his which i believe historic and cultural songs in any way he chooses as whether we like it or not that is the history of the clubs fans . Likewise any celtic fan shouldn’t really be out their selfs if the big bad gers fans are singing their songs accross back to them. Believe it or not that is what the word speech means to open your mouth and utter a sound and in this country it is alledgedly free…NOT…whether political religious or otherwise if it is your views we should be allowed to express it vocally as we please. The real problem with BOTH sets of fans are that we have an element that tag along on our culture who see it as an excuse to cause havoc with violence of all sorts on others. You imply that it makes you want to vomit in defending people like myself and that it is the gers fans to blame for all your hardships. Well have a closer look at your own fans they sing in the same way we do they, mock in the same way we do and attack others for their different views. Would you sit down with the father of the ten year old boy who was welcomed to hampden with a flying object aimed at him for supporting rangers. Hang yer head in shame son and come back to the real world.Open yer eyes and try to be impartial or you are simply another propoganda journalist who fears disagreeing with your fellow supporter’s. To finesh lol have yous not realised yet that when you call us sevco it stinks of jealousy that the only way to beat our record is to try and erase us . In one of your own sayings “smell the glove” its only the small ignorant minority of your fans who think we are not the same club.THE WHOLE WORLD AGREE WE ARE

  • 17 February, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    James, The Billy Boys is also what it says on the tin. It is a Hate Crime.

    I object to thugs expressing their desire to be up to their knees in other folks blood, as I said if it was sung against Muslims, Jews or other Ethnic groups action would be taken.

    It is Illegal and for the Police and SFA to say too many were breaking the Law to take action sums it up.

    There is an unwillingness to tackle Sectarian/Racist issues coming out of Ibrox and it is getting worse. That is Not Freedom of Speech, it is Mob Rule.

    They are willing to be offended by other singing and take action against it but the Billy Boys tour has been allowed to continue from Berwick to all points North without any action being taken.

    I am not talking about the silly new Law. I Am talking about a specific Illegal song.

    For the record The Sash or BotOB etc do not bother me although my preference would be for Celtic Supporters to stick to Celtic songs and humour.

    I would rather hear I just can’t get enough any day rather than BotOB etc.

  • 18 February, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Am sorry iantm bt i think you are in the fairytale land of an ideal world. Also ira supporting people regularly walk our streets singing and shouting about blowing up and shooting my countryman and are not arrested as it is the right of this land for freedom of speech. So please if you dont like the culture of either club support another.

  • 21 February, 2015 at 11:49 am

    “Surely there are enough Celtic songs without introducing religion or politics or anything else”

    Jock Stein said that, and although the words were uttered decades ago they are still as true today as they were then.

  • 21 February, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Okay david, I’ll make this so simple you’ll understand it first time.

    If you can name me ONE SONG that Celtic fans sing that is about “blowing up and shooting” your countrymen I will SHUT THIS SITE DOWN PERMANENTLY.

    There it is. As offended as you clearly are by those songs … this should be easy to do.

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