Brendan O’Neill on the odd disconnect between American views of Scotland (roughly summed up by kilts, whisky, and Braveheart) and the reality:
… far from being a land of freedom-yearning Bravehearts, Scotland in the 21st century is a hotbed of the new authoritarianism. It’s the most nannying of Europe’s nanny states. It’s a country that imprisons people for singing songs, instructs people to stop smoking in their own homes, and which dreams of making salad-eating compulsory. Seriously. Scotland the Brave has become Scotland the Brave New World.
If you had to guess which country in the world recently sent a young man to jail for the crime of singing an offensive song, I’m guessing most of you would plumb for Putin’s Russia or maybe Saudi Arabia. Nope, it’s Scotland.
Last month, a 24-year-old fan of Rangers, the largely Protestant soccer team, was banged up for four months for singing “The Billy Boys,” an old anti-Catholic ditty that Rangers fans have been singing for years, mainly to annoy fans of Celtic, the largely Catholic soccer team. He was belting it out as he walked along a street to a game. He was arrested, found guilty of songcrimes—something even Orwell failed to foresee—and sent down.
It’s all thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which, yes, is as scary as it sounds. Introduced in 2012 by the Scottish National Party, the largest party in Scotland the Brave New World and author of most of its new nanny-state laws, the Act sums up everything that is rotten in the head of this sceptred isle. Taking a wild, wide-ranging scattergun approach, it outlaws at soccer matches “behaviour of any kind,” including, “in particular, things said or otherwise communicated,” that is “motivated (wholly or partly) by hatred” or which is “threatening” or which a “reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive.”
Got that? At soccer games in Scotland it is now illegal to do or say anything — and “in particular” to say it — that is hateful or threatening or just offensive. Now, I don’t know how many readers have been to a soccer game in Britain, but offensiveness, riling the opposing side, is the gushing lifeblood of the game. Especially in Scotland. Banning at soccer matches hateful or offensive comments, chants, songs, banners, or badges — all are covered by the Offensive Behaviour Act — is like banning cheerleaders from American football. Sure, our cheerleaders are gruffer, drunker, fatter, and more foul-mouthed than yours, but they play a similarly key role in getting the crowds going.
The Offensive Behaviour Act has led to Celtic fans being arrested in dawn raids for the crime of singing pro-I.R.A. songs — which they do to irritate Rangers fans — and Rangers fans being hauled to court for chanting less-than-pleasant things about Catholics.
Even blessing yourself at a soccer game in Scotland could lead to arrest. Catholic fans have been warned that if they “bless themselves aggressively” at games, it could be “construed as something that is offensive,” presumably to non-Catholic fans, and the police might pick them up. You don’t have to look to some Middle Eastern tinpot tyranny if you want to see the state punishing public expressions of Christian faith — it’s happening in Scotland.