Personal responsibility must be taken by Rangers fans who took part in the disorder in Glasgow city centre amidst the club’s title celebrations, according to Humza Yousaf.
Speaking in response to an urgent question at Holyrood on the issue, the justice secretary described the scenes witnessed as “dreadful” and indicated that Police Scotland will be following up on those who took part.
It comes after five police officers were injured and 28 arrests were made as a result of the disorder, whilst anti-Catholic singing was also heard.
The Scottish Police Federation said that officers on the ground told them they faced the worst violence they had dealt with in 20 years.
Mr Yousaf told MSPs: “As much as people may, and I think legitimately of course, ask could government have done more, could police have done more, could the club have done more, let’s not forget that the responsibility for those scenes that we saw, those dreadful scenes, lies on the shoulders of those individuals who took part in that disorder.
“There must be personal responsibility for those who don’t need government to tell them, don’t need police to tell them, don’t need a football club to tell them, that we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
“So, personal responsibility must be taken. As I say, Police Scotland will follow up.”
SNP MSP James Dornan, who asked the urgent question, said: “As the cabinet secretary is well aware, I’ve been pushing strict liability for years, whereby clubs are held responsible for the actions of their fans.
“And whilst I do accept that personal responsibility is at the core of this, over the years, I’ve been met with denial by football authorities and clubs, and had death threats from Rangers fans.
“Can I ask (Mr Yousaf) if he’ll speak with Rangers to ask them to reflect on what more they could have done as a club, what they can do in future to dampen this climate of hate and intimidation, will he consider legislating to introduce strict liability, or even better, work with the SFA and SPFL with a view to implementing it to ensure that scenes such as Saturday are never seen in the streets of Glasgow again from so-called football fans?”
Mr Yousaf responded: “Well, I certainly am happy to take that conversation forward, or indeed of course after tomorrow’s events whoever is in post as cabinet secretary for justice, working alongside any minister that has responsibility for sport.
“I think it is important to engage with the clubs, I think it is important to try to bring the clubs forward with us on this journey, as opposed to trying to impose measures upon them.
“But, ultimately, that is what we may have to do. If the clubs are unwilling to acknowledge, unwilling to accept, unwilling to confront the fact that there is a problem amongst some fans, then of course we may have to work together as a chamber, as a parliament, to find a solution that is appropriate.”
Scottish Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: “Given that Glasgow witnessed disorder and violence by some Rangers supporters in George Square only a few months previously, why did we not learn from this?
“But in relation to the obscene anti-Catholic bigoty and anti-Irish racism which I’m pleased the First Minister and Justice Secretary rightly called out, does the First Minister acknowledge that the catholic community are sick and tired of this and we need everyone to work together, including the football organisations, and they need to enact a much tougher stance than they have done previously with a zero tolerance to bigotry wherever it is found, football and beyond?”
Mr Yousaf responded: “Having spoken to Police Scotland, they are willing to speak to any member of Parliament to explain to them why the operational decisions were taken as they were taken.”
He added: “The Irish community, members of the catholic community, have faced this for far too long and perhaps collectively as a parliament we haven’t done enough to call it out and I accept them from my own government perspective too.
“I woke up this morning to two rabid anti-catholic messages which I’ve reported to police. Now, I’m neither a catholic, nor am I Irish, but that hatred is directed towards me.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said: “The scenes we saw at the weekend were disgraceful. The attacks on our excellent police officers were particularly reprehensible.
“But crucially, coronavirus and the public health advice do not distinguish between reasons for gathering.”
He added: “Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that to avoid public confusion, it is very important to ensure consistency of public health messaging by advising against all gatherings?”
Responding, Mr Yousaf said: “I get the point that Liam Kerr is trying to make. I stood here on Friday, I took an urgent question on Friday, I think it was Alex Cole-Hamilton asked me a supplementary question, I made it abundantly clear that actually any gatherings, of any sort shouldn’t happen.
“We’ve said that from the podium of daily briefings, we say it in this chamber, I have said, the First Minister has said, that actually if it wasn’t for Covid regulations, then we would have been for example at Kenmure Street, but we didn’t go because any gathering of any sort is not something that we would encourage because of the public health emergency.
“But what I would say to Liam Kerr, very genuinely, is that we did not see thuggish, loutish behaviour at Kenmure Street, we didn’t see disorder, we didn’t see protesters punching police officers, we didn’t see protesters urinating in public, we didn’t hear anti-catholic bigotry.”