The agenda behind the bill: feminisation of Scotland

From the Scottish Review, Dec 2011. This piece is also in the Scottish Review anthology, Scottish Review 2012, available from It seems bizarre that the Scottish Government has forced through such a wide-ranging set of laws as the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill in the name of anti-sectarianism.

One, sectarianism is really a marginal problem in Scotland now. It holds no sway in much of the country where Catholic schools are some of the top-performing schools we have – in Edinburgh their numbers are often capped because they are so popular with the middle classes, and where Catholics, for so long the victims of institutional discrimination, are well represented across the professions, boardrooms, the parliament and other aspects of public life.There remains merely this hangover, a rump of tribal loyalties mouthed on the football terraces by fans who have little adherence to any religion.There are other obscenities there too, sexual references, homophobic and violent imagery, shouting, swearing and aggressive chanting.Despite this law being pushed through in the name of hatred of sectarianism, it is clear that it is offensive behaviour which the law is being called upon to wipe out, as it can no longer be tolerated in modern Scotland. The catch-all law could be used to cover insulting language used towards transsexuals, (specifically cited in the bill), homophobia and most of the 57 varieties or rudeness which may be heard on an average Saturday afternoon around the park. Either silence on the terraces or canned music will have to replace the traditional shouting to comply with the new legislation.It seems to me that there is actually is a kind of feminisation of the public sphere afoot. Old notions of masculinity – aggressive, rebarbative, macho – are being swept aside in post-industrial, 21st-century Scotland. We don’t need it any more.

This feminisation of public life is not gender specific – there are women on the terraces and reconstructed men are prosecuting this bill – and it carries across more than football.

In a feminised world, discourse should be conducted at all times politely and with reference to the personal feelings of others. Shouting is always unacceptable, so is abuse. In this world it is necessary to stop Rangers fans singing such things as ‘I’d rather be a Billy than a Tim’, because that could clearly be upsetting for Celtic fans. When the game is over, it may be supposed, Celtic fans run home, lock themselves in their rooms and fling themselves on their beds to weep inconsolably at this egregious assault on their sense of identity.This feminisation of public life is not gender specific – there are women on the terraces and reconstructed men are prosecuting this bill – and it carries across more than football. Robust argument in the old style of ‘flyting’ – following a train of thought – is often unacceptable now. One cannot make general points on matters of principle or ideas because people tend to take them personally, refer them to their own experiences and become offended. It can be difficult to find a social situation where it is possible to argue fiercely and rationally about ideas. Many people in modern Scotland find this kind of confrontational discussion upsetting and would clearly rather it did not take place.In this context, the searchlight of the Scottish Nice Party’s New Scotland is being shone on that dark corner where the hard, rough manners of old industrial Scotland are still to be found: the football terraces. The Scottish Government has decided to criminalise a whole set of behaviours which are found there. I hold no brief for Rangers fans who want to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ while gesticulating with their middle fingers. But someone soon will, that is for sure, as one result of this new law is that public money will soon be cascading into lawyers’ pockets.Well-meaning Scots are apt to support this far-reaching legislation by citing their hatred of bigotry. Of course bigotry and intolerance are revolting. But making singing and chanting offences punishable by significant jail terms is an Orwellian response. What does tolerance really mean if it only extends to people with whom one agrees?

Jackie Kemp is a freelance journalist who writes mainly about education and social affairs