The leader of the Scottish Labour party, Jim Murphy, has been criticised by women’s organisations working with the victims of domestic abuse after he suggested that the ban on alcohol at Scottish football matches should be lifted.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Off the Ball programme on Saturday, Murphy said he was in favour of overturning the ban “on a trial basis”.
Mhari McGowan, head of service at Assist, which works with Police Scotland’s domestic abuse taskforce to support victims, described his proposal as “absolutely crazy”.
“We know that some football matches cause a spike in domestic violence. If you add alcohol to that mix, then you’re asking for trouble,” she said.
The ban was introduced following violent clashes between Old Firm rivals Rangers and Celtic after the 1980 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park.
A report published last month by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research highlighted the correlation between certain football matches and increased reports of domestic abuse.
McGowan said: “We’ve done so much in Scotland to try and change the culture of violence and alcohol. At the moment, we have a situation where alcohol is used as an excuse to abuse, and lifting the ban sends out all the wrong signals. It’s really not the time to do this.”
Murphy said on Radio Scotland that match culture had moved on from the disorder during the 1980s. “We have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol in this country, but the way in which we have cut off working class people from having the chance to enjoy a drink or two at a football match is wrong.”
Lily Greenan, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “I don’t know where Jim Murphy is coming from and I’d like to know on what basis he thinks this is a practical or useful thing to do. Unless there is hard data to show that it is not making any difference, then I would like to see the ban continue.”
Stressing that alcohol was a factor in domestic abuse, she said the Scottish experience – in particular around Old Firm games – showed that “without a doubt” there was a link between alcohol, football and domestic abuse.
She said domestic abuse was also a class issue: “Someone should do some research about why we don’t hear about rugby wives. I don’t think that people who watch rugby are any less likely to abuse than those who watch football. There is a class issue around domestic abuse because it is working class women who are more likely to present to the authorities.”
Police Scotland, which has in recent years focused resources on targeting potential perpetrators on match days, believes the ban should be maintained. Assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins said any change in policy would require a wide-ranging public consultation that should “be extended beyond the footballing community as [it] would have far reaching and wide social impact”.
Responding to a statement by the SFA chief executive, Stewart Regan, who said he hoped to persuade police and government that Scotland was now “a responsible nation”, the Scottish government’s justice secretary, Michael Matheson, said this month he had “no plans to reintroduce alcohol to football stadiums”.
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