Ally McCoist 'hate crime' comments ahead of Rangers vs Celtic clash speak to problem that transcends politics

The popular pundit has spoken out new legislation aimed at tackling hate crimes ahead of this weekend’s Old Firm derby
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

On the hypothetical list of people who you might expect to publicly admit their intention to commit a hate crime, Ally McCoist would probably come in somewhere near the very bottom, sandwiched between Nelson Mandela and Elmo from Sesame Street. Then again, life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

Earlier this week, the Scottish government passed into law an act intended to consolidate existing legislation on such misdemeanours, as well as creating a new offence of ‘threatening or abusive behaviour which is intended to stir up hatred’ on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics. That hiss you can hear is the steam coming out of JK Rowling’s ears like a cartoon kettle.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The argument that some have made is that the new law will curtail freedom of speech north of the border, although First Minister Humza Yousaf has insisted there is a ‘very high threshold’ for prosecution and a ‘triple lock’ on freedom of expression written into the act, including an explicit clause, a ‘reasonableness’ defence, and absolute compatibility with the European convention on human rights. Thorough stuff.

On a separate, if not entirely unrelated note, the third Old Firm of the Scottish Premiership campaign takes place on Sunday afternoon. It is a fixture that has frequently been marred and pockmarked by sectarianism, and the Glaswegian derby remains one of the most overtly tense theatres in which footballing devotion bleeds into broader ideological clashes, even in the modern day.

It is within this context that McCoist - champion of the airwaves, darling of the gantry - stirred up controversy with an unanticipated swerve into political commentary on Tuesday morning. Speaking on talkSPORT, the affable pundit said: “We've got a hate bill by the way, a hate bill has been passed in the country. And I can guarantee you, next Sunday at Ibrox, I along with 48,000 will be committing a breach of that hate bill in the particular Rangers vs Celtic game we are all going to. It is madness.”

Not as mad as announcing on national radio that you’re planning to commit a hate crime though, is it, Ally? Understandably, a lot of people were none too pleased with McCoist’s outburst. Indeed, the man himself has even acknowledged the furore, as well as suggesting that he no longer plans to be at Ibrox come high noon on Sunday.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I'm away with the kids for a couple of days,’ he told puce pal Alan Brazil. ‘People are accusing me of doing this or doing that. But there's been a change of plans, I'm going away for a few days. But a few of my older boys will be there, I'll be watching it, and I'm sure I'll get a text or two from you. I'm over it. I seem to have upset a few people.”

McCoist, of course, is entitled to his politics - and to deny him that right would be to weaponise legislation such as the Scottish government’s new act in a way that would fully validate the scepticism of its critics.

But equally, there can be no excuse for the nonchalant and derisive manner in which the pundit, a genuinely decent bloke by all accounts, hoisted a proverbial middle finger at an earnest attempt to quell public displays of resentment and division. Hateful language doesn’t have to be illegal for it to be morally wrong, and if you can’t consider the prospect of attending a football match - even one as bitterly charged as the Old Firm - without saying something that might cause offence, then you need to take issue with yourself, not with the pencil pushers in Holyrood.

As for McCoist, we can only hope that this is not the first teetering domino in a slow descent towards the kind of zombified grifterdom that has infected Barton, Fox, and countless others in recent years. If, by this time next month, he is popping up on podcasts hawking CBD gummies (’And what a good night’s sleep I had, by the way!’) alongside Matt Le Tissier, we will know that we have lost him for good. Somehow, I don’t think it will come to that.