A guest post by S. Neilson
The Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is unsuccessful not only insofar as it is a discriminatory, insidious and lopsided piece of legislation which in fact reinforces the very type of discrimination that it publicly professes to oppose. Sectarianism is, after all, but a buzz word for Hibernophobia which is a one-sided phenomenon. Opposing the buzzword by targeting a group of people affected by that discrimination makes the bill ultimately and existentially unfeasible. It is built upon a smokescreen, an act of violence, and it is destined for destruction.
It is also a failure in another way. The enforcement of the bill and the controversy surrounding it has focused in particular on the Roll of Honour. This folk song commemorates the sacrifice of the H-Block hunger strikers who lost their lives in an act of non-violent direct action as they campaigned for equality and national liberation. However, over these last few years and the last year in particular, masses of people have been exposed to the song in a new light: through friends, family, fellow supporters being dragged from the stands and the streets to police stations and cells.
The immediate social and cultural function and significance of the Roll of Honour has changed: it is no longer only a song of remembrance. It is now urgently, and in a sense primarily, a song about the current realities of the criminalization of folk songs, political discourse and cultural expression in football stadiums. When we see the end of this bill – and believe me we will see the end of this bill – the Roll of Honour will once again resume its original significance as a folk song of remembrance and as an oral-history of anti-imperial struggle and non-violent direct action. The difference is that virtually everyone who goes to Celtic games now knows the song by heart. The song of remembrance and tribute to the hunger strikers will resound with a new volume, sung by thousands who didn’t even know it before this nefarious act came to pass. A new volume sired by current, direct, living oppression. Or perhaps oppression that never died.
Isn’t that the opposite of what they were trying to do here?