Sometimes changing course is the prudent option. The SNP’s grim plans for their Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill have been put on hold for the next six months. The government still wishes to legislate on this matter by the end of the year but at least we are saved the unseemly scramble to rush this rotten bill through Holyrood before the next season begins – god help us – next month. For that recognition alone Salmond deserves some credit even if he’d have more left in the bank had he never embarked upon this reckless enterprise in the first place.
Doubtless this will be spun as the plan all along: announce something daft, wait for the rumpus, take soundings, announce a delay and then return to the matter when tempers have cooled and people forgotten what it was that annoyed them so and pass most of what you wanted to initially. You can believe that if you want.
Typically, Eck used the delay as a means to tweak his opponents, announcing the revised timetable during First Minister’s Questions and thereby stymying his foes each of whom sensed this might be an issue worth pursuing. (This alone may demonstrate how foolish the rush to legislate has been: even Wee Willie Rennie, leader of the Liberal Democrats’ rump caucus, sensed Salmond had blundered.)
Nevertheless, the objections to both the idea and detail of the bill remain. Matters were hardly helped by Roseanna Cunningham’s suggestion that though she did not expect the police to wade in and start arresting thousands of people each weekend even though they could clearly be licensed to do so under the bill’s sweeping provisions. If that be so and if, as the government’s explanatory notes claimed, only a relatively small number of prosecutions would be brought as a result of the new bill then by the government’s own reasoning the legislation is either unenforceable or unnecessary.