The consultation over proposed changes to how football supporters’ buses in Scotland operate has been halted after public opposition.
Plans for new guidelines for bus operators had been published, adding new responsibilities and restrictions for coach operators.
In addition to restrictions on when and where buses could travel, the guidelines would also have put a stop to coaches taking supporters to pubs en route, unless alcoholic drink was being consumed with “a substantial meal”.
The plans were met with widespread criticism, labelled “draconian”, “dystopian”, “unworkable” and “misguided”.
The Traffic Commissioners of Great Britain, who have responsibility for all public service vehicles and had begun the consultation after introducing similar guidelines in England and Wales.
The organisation had planned to collect feedback from “all stakeholders”, including coach operators and supporters, by the end of November but has called an immediate halt to the consultation.
A statement from senior traffic commissioner Richard Turfitt read: “As the senior traffic commissioner for Great Britain, I think it is important to stress that the traffic commissioners are safety regulators and that we are independent of Government.
“Any guidance that is issued is intended to assist bus and coach operators. However, before I can issue any guidance, I am required to consult, including with the UK and Scottish Governments. But we also consider the views of a wide range of other stakeholders.
“I have listened to the strength of feeling expressed and it is clear to me that there is further work required to understand the full impact of the introduction of any proposed guidance in Scotland.
“As a result, I have asked my officials to cease this consultation exercise.”
A joint statement issued on behalf of the Scottish FA, Scottish Professional Football League, and Scottish Women’s Premier League said: “We are pleased that the Senior Traffic Commissioner for Great Britain has withdrawn the proposed consultation and that common sense has prevailed.
“We are also grateful to clubs, fans and politicians across the country for their unanimous support in opposing and ultimately preventing these unreasonable and unworkable guidelines from being implemented.”
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said: “This is the right outcome and a victory for football fans across Scotland who had united against these ludicrous proposals.
“It is only right that the traffic commissioner has seen sense and withdrawn the consultation. The fact that it has now been withdrawn only serves to highlight the hugely important role football plays in communities in Scotland and how it brings people together from all backgrounds.
“The proposals were insulting and completely disproportionate and have ended up on the scrap heap where they belong.”
‘Demonising fans and interfering unnecessarily’
The published guidelines had provoked anger from supporters, who had called the plans “downright disgraceful” and said they treated fans “like criminals”.
A joint statement issued on behalf of the Scottish FA, Scottish Professional Football League, and Scottish Women’s Premier League said that there was already sufficient legislation to deal with the small numbers of problems and that any new measures would be unfair.
It read: “There’s no evidence that this is a significant problem in Scottish football. We are concerned by the targeted nature of these proposals, which serve to demonise football fans and interfere unnecessarily in people’s lives.
“In Scotland, there are already appropriate powers held by PHV operators, Police Scotland and other partners to deal effectively with a very small number of incidents by a minority of fans.
“The consultation itself notes that the majority of football fans are law-abiding and do not cause any disturbances when travelling to or from games, yet these proposals would unfairly affect the vast majority of football fans who travel safely and respectfully to and from matches on a weekly basis.
“We don’t support these unnecessary and heavy-handed proposals and we will be making our views clear in the consultation.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn described the plan as “unworkable” and said that football supporters should be celebrated and not punished.
“These unworkable, unmanageable, and unenforceable proposals belong in the bin,” Flynn said.
“Scotland’s football attendance, the highest in Europe, is something to be celebrated and encouraged, not punished as the Tories are seeking to do with these absurd suggestions.
“This will have a severe impact not just on our football clubs, but the small businesses and firms who rely on matchday travel and footfall.
“At a time when Scotland is in the midst of a crucial European qualification campaign, it’s telling that the UK government would issue such a tone-deaf and damaging proposal for our game.”
Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “These proposals are completely disproportionate. They fail to recognise the hugely important role football – and football fans – play in communities right across Scotland.
“Scotland is a football loving nation and fans often go the extra mile – quite literally – to support their teams.
“These proposals risk putting that in jeopardy while also impacting those businesses who lay on travel for fans on a weekly basis.
“I urge the UK Government to rework these misguided plans and will make representations to them to this effect.”
National fans’ representative body Supporters Direct Scotland also laid out a detailed opposition, stating that the hospitality industry would be affected by the proposals, and that it would discourage the use of public transport when people were trying to act responsibly over the climate emergency.
The fans’ group added that Scottish football should be subject to Scottish legislation and that any legislation targeting only football fans would be discriminatory and unacceptable.