Friday, 30 September 2016

North Lanarkshire Update


I have now written to Scotland's First Minister to alert Nicola Sturgeon to the latest foot-dragging antics of Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council in relation to equal pay.

As regular readers know the elected politicians and senior officials in charge of North Lanarkshire Council have been making a terrible mess of equal pay for years.

The latest debacle over the Council's job evaluation (JE) review goes back to 1 April 2015, yet after all this time NLC is still not in a position to release the backpay that its long-suffering Home Support workers are due.

I think it's fair to say that if this 'cockamamy' Labour-run council were operating in the private sector, heads would have rolled long before now.

 


Cockamamy Council (30/09/16)


Here's a copy of an email I have circulated to all MSPs and MPs who have local constituencies within the boundaries of Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council.

As ever, in the fight for equal pay 'many hands make light work' and the more people who help turn up the heat on this cockamamy Labour council - the sooner we will get this issue resolved.

I have also sent the email and blog post to Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, albeit for information only at this stage.

 


Dear MSP/MP

North Lanarkshire and Equal Pay

I enclose for your information a copy of the latest post to my blog site regarding Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council and the fight for equal pay.

I am sure that local constituents will be in touch to ask for your assistance in persuading North Lanarkshire Council to 'get its finger out' as this is a very big issue for the many hundreds of employees involved.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine


CC - Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland (for information)


 



North Lanarkshire Update


I'm afraid to say that Labour-led North Lanarkshire seems to be sliding back into its old ways, despite recent claims that the Council is under new, improved leadership.

Because for weeks NLC has been saying that pay information would be delivered to A4ES by the end of September 2016, so that Home Support workers could receive their backpay arising from the Council's very late-running job evaluation (JE) review.

But Labour-led North Lanarkshire is now reneging on that commitment and, to add insult to injury, the Council is unwilling or unable to say when this process will finally be concluded.

Which is a complete disgrace if you ask me - a clear case of senior council officials and Labour politicians treating the workforce with ill-disguised contempt.

Now the payments due to NLC employees are a full-blown contractual entitlement and so A4ES, in conjunction with our lawyers (HBJ Gateley), will be making a formal complaint over this latest NLC 'foot-dragging behaviour in relation to equal pay.

As ever individual claimants and A4ES clients can help persuade the Council of the need to get its finger out and finally resolve this long running issue by:
  1. Writing to the NLC chief executive Paul Jukes at: jukesp@northlan.gov.uk
  2. Writing to the Labour leader of the Council, Councillor Jim Logue at: loguej@northlan.gsx.gov.uk
  3. Contacting the opposition SNP leader of NLC, Councillor David Stocks at: stocksd@northlan.gsx.gov.uk 
  4. Raising the council's behaviour with local Holyrood MSPs - details to follow
  5. Raising the council's behaviour with local Westminster MP's - details to follow
  6. Contacting and complaining to the local newspapers - details to follow
I will also have a look at the official NLC diary and see if we can arrange a suitable protest at a future full Council meeting which the media will be invited to attend, of course.
     
I also notice that Scotland's First Minister was in Motherwell earlier today to formally reopen the Dalzell steel plant and, as regular readers know, Nicola Sturgeon has previously stated that her government will take tough action against councils who are dragging their feet over equal pay.

So given this latest North Lanarkshire debacle, I will send the First Minister a copy of my blog post and may ask her officials to become more actively involved, depending how things pan out in the next few days.

In the meantime let's turn the heat up on this 'cockamamy' Labour council which as readers know has been making a terrible dog's dinner of equal pay - for the past 17 years. 

 


North Lanarkshire Update (19/09/16)


I still get emails on an daily basis asking if Home Carers in North Lanarkshire will receive their JE review 'backpay' by the end of September 2016.

Now the honest answer is that I don't know for sure because this requires North Lanarkshire Council to pass on the relevant financial information which has to be checked carefully prior to letters being sent out to individual A4ES clients.

So assuming that this process is concluded before the end of September, A4ES will be able to turn things around and get individual letters out to all NLC clients within the space of a few days.

As soon as there is a firm date or timescale, I will share the details on the blog site.

 


North Lanarkshire Update (06/09/16)


I continue to receive lots of enquiries via email and Facebook about North Lanarkshire's job evaluation (JE) review - far too many for me to answer on an individual basis.

Now as regular readers know, the JE review was conducted by the Council and the trade unions and if I remember correctly, it was accepted that other jobs could be reviewed going forward.

In effect the baton was passed to the trade unions, but Action 4 Equality Scotland continued the fight on behalf of Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants in the Glasgow Employment Tribunal (ET).

The A4ES clients involved in the ongoing Glasgow ET hearing eventually won the argument to have their JE scores and grades matched to higher paid male comparators which resulted in a much more favourable settlement of their equal pay claims.

But the tribunal outcome affects only the individual clients of A4ES and the three job categories involved were not included in the recent NLC job evaluation (JE) review, primarily because the ET hearing was still underway. 

My understanding of the JE review is that other NLC jobs can still be brought into the process, if a strong case could be made on behalf of particular groups - a test which must surely be satisfied as far as Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants are concerned. 

So if I were a Sheltered Housing Warden, a Clerical Assistant or a Classroom Assistant I'd be asking asking the Council via my trade union when they are going to review the scores and grades of these three jobs - given that the ball is now well and truly in their court.

 

North Lanarkshire Update(01/09/16)



I've had lots of enquiries about backpay and the NLC job evaluation (JE) review which I have written about regularly on the blog site for the past year and more.

Here are two posts (one from May 2015 and the other from June 2016) which explain the background to the JE review and the fact that only a limited number of posts were covered by the review in the first place.

 


North Lanarkshire Update (23/05/15)


Lots of readers have been in touch to ask about the re-evaluation of various jobs in North Lanarkshire Council which has been prompted by the council being forced to concede at the Employment Tribunal that a number of female dominated jobs had not been assessed and graded correctly back in 2006/07.

As part of the equal pay settlement it was agreed by all the parties that the process of carrying out a further job evaluation would be down to the council and the trade unions.


Now that is quite sensible because while Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) has led the fight for equal pay in North Lanarkshire all these years, the council (management and councillors) along with the unions make up the permanent collective bargaining structures in North Lanarkshire.


Part of the agreement is that A4ES will be kept fully informed about what's going on and how the council and the unions intend to tackle the problems that clearly exist within the present grading structure.


Apparently the unions have issued some limited information on the process which says that the following jobs will be subject to further evaluation:  

  • Playground Supervisors
  • School Crossing Patrollers
  • Home Support Workers
  • Road Sweepers
  • Refuse Collectors
  • Gardeners at grades 4 and 5
  • Chargehand Gardeners at grade 6
Now the list contains only the three female dominated jobs which were originally identified at the Employment Tribunal hearing.

Other employees such as Admin and Clerical Workers and Classroom Assistants, for example, may have a case to argue that their jobs and factor scores should be reviewed as well which could be done by bringing a group of such workers together to look in detail at the existing job description and individual factor scores.


Now this would also require a proper look at the male jobs to compare what scores these jobs have been awarded under all the different factor headings to ensure consistency and that jobs are not being treated in isolation.


As I've said before on the blog site what would help this process is maximum transparency and openness which could be achieved by putting all of this information on the Council's web site, for example, where everyone could see what is going on and have the opportunity to comment if they wish.


Over the coming weeks I'll do my best to answer people's questions and requests for information on the blog site, so watch this space.


NLC JE Review (12/06/16)


I submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to North Lanarkshire Council on Friday (10 May) asking for details of the report to the Policy and Resources Committee on the Council's late-running job evaluation (JE) review.

But later that day a helpful contact from within the Council sent me a copy of the report and here is a summary of the main outcomes as far as JE is concerned.

Claimant Jobs

Home Support Workers - Existing Grade NLC 3, New Grade NLC 7

School Crossing Patrollers - Existing Grade NLC 2, New Grade NLC 3

Playground Supervisors - Existing Grade NLC 2, New Grade NLC 2 (no change)


Male Comparator Jobs

Road Sweeper - Existing Grade NLC 2, New Grade NLC 3

Refuse Collector - Existing Grade NLC 4, New Grade NLC 4

Gardener (4) - Existing Grade NLC 4, New Grade NLC 5

Gardener (5) - Existing Grade NLC 5, New Grade NLC 5

Chargehand Gardener - Existing Grade NLC 6, New Grade NLC 7


So two out of three claimant jobs have seen their grades increase (notably the Home Carers) and three out of five male comparator jobs and the new grades will be backdated to 1 April 2015.

However lots of predominantly female job groups have been left out of the JE review which will, I suspect, make many people very angry.

So the trade unions have a lot of explaining to do especially to fee-paying members who have been excluded from the review process.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Cockamamy Council



Here's a copy of an email I have circulated to all MSPs and MPs who have local constituencies within the boundaries of Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council.

As ever, in the fight for equal pay 'many hands make light work' and the more people who help turn up the heat on this cockamamy Labour council - the sooner we will get this issue resolved.

I have also sent the email and blog post to Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, albeit for information only at this stage.

 


Dear MSP/MP

North Lanarkshire and Equal Pay

I enclose for your information a copy of the latest post to my blog site regarding Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council and the fight for equal pay.

I am sure that local constituents will be in touch to ask for your assistance in persuading North Lanarkshire Council to 'get its finger out' as this is a very big issue for the many hundreds of employees involved.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine


CC - Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland (for information)


 



North Lanarkshire Update



I'm afraid to say that Labour-led North Lanarkshire seems to be sliding back into its old ways, despite recent claims that the Council is under new, improved leadership.

Because for weeks NLC has been saying that pay information would be delivered to A4ES by the end of September 2016, so that Home Support workers could receive their backpay arising from the Council's very late-running job evaluation (JE) review.

But Labour-led North Lanarkshire is now reneging on that commitment and, to add insult to injury, the Council is unwilling or unable to say when this process will finally be concluded.

Which is a complete disgrace if you ask me - a clear case of senior council officials and Labour politicians treating the workforce with ill-disguised contempt.

Now the payments due to NLC employees are a full-blown contractual entitlement and so A4ES, in conjunction with our lawyers (HBJ Gateley), will be making a formal complaint over this latest NLC 'foot-dragging behaviour in relation to equal pay.

As ever individual claimants and A4ES clients can help persuade the Council of the need to get its finger out and finally resolve this long running issue by:
  1. Writing to the NLC chief executive Paul Jukes at: jukesp@northlan.gov.uk
  2. Writing to the Labour leader of the Council, Councillor Jim Logue at: loguej@northlan.gsx.gov.uk
  3. Contacting the opposition SNP leader of NLC, Councillor David Stocks at: stocksd@northlan.gsx.gov.uk 
  4. Raising the council's behaviour with local Holyrood MSPs - details to follow
  5. Raising the council's behaviour with local Westminster MP's - details to follow
  6. Contacting and complaining to the local newspapers - details to follow
I will also have a look at the official NLC diary and see if we can arrange a suitable protest at a future full Council meeting which the media will be invited to attend, of course.
     
I also notice that Scotland's First Minister was in Motherwell earlier today to formally reopen the Dalzell steel plant and, as regular readers know, Nicola Sturgeon has previously stated that her government will take tough action against councils who are dragging their feet over equal pay.

So given this latest North Lanarkshire debacle, I will send the First Minister a copy of my blog post and may ask her officials to become more actively involved, depending how things pan out in the next few days.

In the meantime let's turn the heat up on this 'cockamamy' Labour council which as readers know has been making a terrible dog's dinner of equal pay - for the past 17 years. 

 


North Lanarkshire Update (19/09/16)



I still get emails on an daily basis asking if Home Carers in North Lanarkshire will receive their JE review 'backpay' by the end of September 2016.

Now the honest answer is that I don't know for sure because this requires North Lanarkshire Council to pass on the relevant financial information which has to be checked carefully prior to letters being sent out to individual A4ES clients.

So assuming that this process is concluded before the end of September, A4ES will be able to turn things around and get individual letters out to all NLC clients within the space of a few days.

As soon as there is a firm date or timescale, I will share the details on the blog site.

 


North Lanarkshire Update (06/09/16)


I continue to receive lots of enquiries via email and Facebook about North Lanarkshire's job evaluation (JE) review - far too many for me to answer on an individual basis.

Now as regular readers know, the JE review was conducted by the Council and the trade unions and if I remember correctly, it was accepted that other jobs could be reviewed going forward.

In effect the baton was passed to the trade unions, but Action 4 Equality Scotland continued the fight on behalf of Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants in the Glasgow Employment Tribunal (ET).

The A4ES clients involved in the ongoing Glasgow ET hearing eventually won the argument to have their JE scores and grades matched to higher paid male comparators which resulted in a much more favourable settlement of their equal pay claims.

But the tribunal outcome affects only the individual clients of A4ES and the three job categories involved were not included in the recent NLC job evaluation (JE) review, primarily because the ET hearing was still underway. 

My understanding of the JE review is that other NLC jobs can still be brought into the process, if a strong case could be made on behalf of particular groups - a test which must surely be satisfied as far as Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants are concerned. 

So if I were a Sheltered Housing Warden, a Clerical Assistant or a Classroom Assistant I'd be asking asking the Council via my trade union when they are going to review the scores and grades of these three jobs - given that the ball is now well and truly in their court.

 


North Lanarkshire Update(01/09/16)



I've had lots of enquiries about backpay and the NLC job evaluation (JE) review which I have written about regularly on the blog site for the past year and more.

Here are two posts (one from May 2015 and the other from June 2016) which explain the background to the JE review and the fact that only a limited number of posts were covered by the review in the first place.

 


North Lanarkshire Update (23/05/15)


Lots of readers have been in touch to ask about the re-evaluation of various jobs in North Lanarkshire Council which has been prompted by the council being forced to concede at the Employment Tribunal that a number of female dominated jobs had not been assessed and graded correctly back in 2006/07.

As part of the equal pay settlement it was agreed by all the parties that the process of carrying out a further job evaluation would be down to the council and the trade unions.


Now that is quite sensible because while Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) has led the fight for equal pay in North Lanarkshire all these years, the council (management and councillors) along with the unions make up the permanent collective bargaining structures in North Lanarkshire.


Part of the agreement is that A4ES will be kept fully informed about what's going on and how the council and the unions intend to tackle the problems that clearly exist within the present grading structure.


Apparently the unions have issued some limited information on the process which says that the following jobs will be subject to further evaluation:  

  • Playground Supervisors
  • School Crossing Patrollers
  • Home Support Workers
  • Road Sweepers
  • Refuse Collectors
  • Gardeners at grades 4 and 5
  • Chargehand Gardeners at grade 6
Now the list contains only the three female dominated jobs which were originally identified at the Employment Tribunal hearing.

Other employees such as Admin and Clerical Workers and Classroom Assistants, for example, may have a case to argue that their jobs and factor scores should be reviewed as well which could be done by bringing a group of such workers together to look in detail at the existing job description and individual factor scores.


Now this would also require a proper look at the male jobs to compare what scores these jobs have been awarded under all the different factor headings to ensure consistency and that jobs are not being treated in isolation.


As I've said before on the blog site what would help this process is maximum transparency and openness which could be achieved by putting all of this information on the Council's web site, for example, where everyone could see what is going on and have the opportunity to comment if they wish.


Over the coming weeks I'll do my best to answer people's questions and requests for information on the blog site, so watch this space.




NLC JE Review (12/06/16)


I submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to North Lanarkshire Council on Friday (10 May) asking for details of the report to the Policy and Resources Committee on the Council's late-running job evaluation (JE) review.

But later that day a helpful contact from within the Council sent me a copy of the report and here is a summary of the main outcomes as far as JE is concerned.

Claimant Jobs

Home Support Workers - Existing Grade NLC 3, New Grade NLC 7

School Crossing Patrollers - Existing Grade NLC 2, New Grade NLC 3

Playground Supervisors - Existing Grade NLC 2, New Grade NLC 2 (no change)


Male Comparator Jobs

Road Sweeper - Existing Grade NLC 2, New Grade NLC 3

Refuse Collector - Existing Grade NLC 4, New Grade NLC 4

Gardener (4) - Existing Grade NLC 4, New Grade NLC 5

Gardener (5) - Existing Grade NLC 5, New Grade NLC 5

Chargehand Gardener - Existing Grade NLC 6, New Grade NLC 7


So two out of three claimant jobs have seen their grades increase (notably the Home Carers) and three out of five male comparator jobs and the new grades will be backdated to 1 April 2015.

However lots of predominantly female job groups have been left out of the JE review which will, I suspect, make many people very angry.

So the trade unions have a lot of explaining to do especially to fee-paying members who have been excluded from the review process.

No Protestants At All

Image result for green brigade + hanging doll images

Glasgow Celtic went some way to restoring the reputation of Scottish football last night with a magnificent performance against Manchester City which kept the club's Euro dreams alive.

But amidst the drama of a great sporting contest at Parched came the news that Celtic have earned another €10,000 (Euro) fine for the behaviour of their Green Brigade fans at a previous match involving the Israeli club Hapoel Beer Sheva.

The same morons went on to repeat their performance at a subsequent Celtic versus Rangers game  at Parkhead although looking on the bright side a number of  individuals are now helping Police Scotland with their enquiries.

 


No Protestants At All (22/09/16)

Image result for green brigade + hanging doll images

The arrogant numpties who style themselves as Parkhead's 'Green Brigade' will be banging their drums again today as Celtic get fined yet again by UEFA over the anti-social behaviour of a small minority of the club's supporters.

I was at the Celtic versus Hapoel Beer Sheva game when the Green Brigade, the self-appointed moral guardians of the stadium (in their own minds at least), staged a protest by waving Palestinian flags to 'welcome' the visiting team and its fans, despite being asked not to behave in this way by their club.

Now I've been a supporter of Palestinian independence for many a year, much longer than the Green Brigade has been around, but if you ask me the political arena is the place for debating the difficult issues surrounding the Middle East conflict - not a football ground.

Because a Champions League qualifying match is a sporting contest even if some of the fans prefer to regard such events as an opportunity to display how completely stupid, tribal and/or sectarian they can be while hiding under the 'cover' of a large crowd. 

For example, I take a rather dim view of Mother Theresa and the behaviour of the Catholic church in proclaiming the nun to be a modern day saint on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

Personally speaking, I prefer I the assessment of Christopher Hitchens who described Mother Theresa being 'Hell's Angel', as someone who was 'in love with poverty rather than the poor'.

Yet I wouldn't dream of waving a banner at Parkhead stadium roundly denouncing Mother (now Saint) Theresa as a 'Hell's Angel' even though that is my strongly held view, shared no doubt by others attending the football game or watching on television.  

During the Celtic v Happoel match the Green Brigade sang the following little 'ditty' to the tune of 'On The One Road' after waving their flags proudly in progressive political solidarity with the Palestinian people: 

"Northmen, Southmen, comrades all

"Soon there'll be no Protestants at all"

Tossers or what? 

And, of course, they repeated their sectarian, juvenile behaviour at the recent Celtic versus Rangers at Parkhead on 10 September 2011.

In other words these clowns are every bit as bad as their knuckle-dragging Orange counterparts from the other side of Glasgow.

 


In Love With Poverty (03/09/16)



The late Christopher Hitchens observed that Mother Theresa of Calcutta was in love with poverty rather than the poor.

So on the day that the Vatican is to proclaim Mother Theresa as a saint after performing two miracles from 'beyond the grave', now seems like a good time to share Hitchens' debunking documentary film Hell's Angel. 

   

The Greetin' Brigade (19/08/16)

Image result for celtic v Hapoel + images

Glasgow's 'Greetin Brigade' were up to their old tricks the other night when Celtic met the Israeli club Hapoel Be'er Shiva in a qualifying tie for the Champions League.

As they do from time to time, this small but vocal band of supporters tried to hijack a football game for their own political ends by encouraging Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags contrary to UEFA rules.

Now the Greeting Brigade can do this quite legitimately outside the stadium where they are 'free citizens' and the UEFA rules don't apply, but they know that the vast majority of Celtic fans aren't interested in mixing football and politics this way.

The end result is likely to be another hefty fine for the club because of the boorish behaviour of a small section of its supporters.


http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14688786.Celtic_face_fine_after_fans_unfurl_Palestinian_flag_at_Israeli_match/

Celtic face fine after fans unfurl Palestinian flag at Israeli match


Celtic face fine after fans unfurl Palestinian flag at Israeli match

By Brian Donnelly - The Herald

CELTIC were facing disciplinary action after fans went ahead with threats of unfurling Palestinian flags against an Israeli team in the Champions League.

Despite warnings to avoid political gestures and the certainty that the club will be fined, some Celtic supporters raised Palestinian flags at the Scottish champions’ match against the champions of Israel, Hapoel Beer Sheva.

A Facebook page called "Fly the flag for Palestine, for Celtic, for Justice" was set up to co-ordinate the protests with fans being offered Palestinian flags to fly at the match.


Greetin' Brigade



The tiny group of Celtic supporters known as the 'Greetin' Brigade' have brought shame on their club once again as the BBC reports the deliberate disruption of a Remembrance silence before yesterday's match at Aberdeen.

Now this has nothing to do with free speech of course because the idiots behind this kind of disrespectful and insulting behaviour are free to organise their protests anytime, anywhere - instead of trying to use football as a platform to air their views.

So, I'm all in favour of Celtic fans giving those morons up because by identifying who they are which will allow the club to name and exclude them from future Celtic FC events, and the for police to act whenever they can.  

Celtic fans arrested during Remembrance silence before Aberdeen game

Police said the vast majority of fans observed the silence

Two Celtic fans were arrested during the Remembrance Sunday silence before the game against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

There has been anger on social media in the wake of disruption during the minute's silence.

Police Scotland said two men, aged 32 and 55, were charged with assault following a disturbance in the away fans section during the silence.

Another two men, aged 24 and 29, were arrested elsewhere in the stadium for unrelated offences.

'Behaved impeccably' 

All four are expected to appear in court at a later date.

Supt Innes Walker said: "The overwhelming majority of the sell-out crowd from all sections of the ground respected the minute silence and behaved impeccably throughout the entire game.

"Police Scotland will continue to work with Aberdeen Football Club to improve the match day experience for all spectators but fans must be aware that any form of unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with firmly."

Celtic - who were down to 10 men - won the game 2-1 thanks to a late goal, after Aberdeen had taken the lead
.

Greetin' Brigade (18 December 2014)


Here's an article on the Green Brigade which appeared in Scotland on Sunday at the weekend - a spectacularly ill-informed and mealy-mouthed piece of work, if you ask me.

Because the 'activism' on display by this group of Celtic fans, is essentially no different to the the marches and parades which are still an ugly feature of life in Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland - from time to time.

The marchers claim they have right to march when and where they want in a 'free' society, yet any reasonable person can see that their insistence on being able to march through areas where they are not welcome - is not about activism but about their desire to provoke and upset their neighbours.

In other words their real aim is to magnify and glorify religious tensions - and not with the purpose of making a sensible political point or bringing people together in an atmosphere of reconciliation.

Now I can understand the argument that Bobby Sands and the other 'hunger strikers' are regarded as a political inspiration to some, but a football game is not the place for political statements - especially where the message will inevitably be seen as divisive and provocative.

Football is a sport after all and should not allow itself to be hijacked for political ends - if some fans want to run political campaigns, let them knock themselves out elsewhere.

I have my own views on Scottish independence or Dignity in Dying, for example, but I would never dream of trying to use a football match as a vehicle for promoting my views.

The comparison being drawn with Nelson Mandela is plainly ridiculous because the former South African President was a great healing and unifying figure, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, so why would anyone want to turn a minute's silence for Nelson Mandela into some arcane political point? 

So, the chap who calls the Green Brigade the Greetin' Brigade makes a fair point - time to move on.       

Comment: Trouble in Paradise for Green Brigade

A banner displaying William Wallace and Bobby Sands shown by the Green Brigade at Celtic Park last month. Picture: SNS

by DANI GARAVELLI

Celtic have banned their ultra fans the Green Brigade, but is it really political activism that’s being punished, asks Dani Garavelli

WITH their passion, their ­colourful and provocative banners, and their anti-authoritarian attitude, the Green Brigade breathed new spirit into the all-seater Celtic Park, aka Paradise to faithful fans.

That’s something few supporters would dispute. The ultras’ youthful defiance combined with their ability to produce stunning visual expressions of cultural identity revitalised matches which had had the life sucked out of them by health and safety rules, corporate interests and heightened sensibilities around sectarianism.

Take the notorious Four Horseman of the Apocalypse display, featuring Neil Lennon, Hector the taxman, Death and Craig Whyte advancing towards beleaguered Rangers, which was unfurled on the last Old Firm derby of the 2012 season. Whatever your loyalties, it would be difficult not to marvel at the creative energy which went into the realisation of that goading image, accompanied by an array of tombstones across Section 111, the part of the stadium the Green Brigade made its own.

Given the way the supporters’ group boosted the atmosphere, it is little wonder the club has often encouraged its activities, trading on its full stadium display to celebrate Celtic’s 125th anniversary before its victory against Barcelona. “I would say there’s a commercial advantage to the club from having a group of fans who, from their own time and energy, talent and money, provide that kind of support,” says Jeannette Findlay of the Celtic Trust.


Yet like Frankenstein’s monster, the left-wing group seems to be veering out of control. As its members’ anger towards the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications at Football Act – a piece of legislation many see as an attempt to criminalise fans – has mounted, they have sung Irish Republican songs with greater gusto and their displays have become more overtly political, incurring the wrath of Uefa. When a banner showing William Wallace and Bobby Sands, which riffed on the old freedom fighter/terrorist paradox, was unfurled at the Champions League match against AC Milan last month, manager Neil Lennon accused them of “going rogue”. Celtic were fined £42,000 for the protest, the fourth time the club has been punished as a result of fan indiscretions in two years.

But it was the behaviour of supporters within Section 111 at the recent match against Motherwell at Fir Park, when flares were set off and seats destroyed, that proved a tipping point. Last week, the club ended the Green Brigade’s dominance by handing out “precautionary suspensions” to 128 of its members, while forcing 250 season ticket-holders housed in Section 111 to move to other parts of the ground or have their season ticket money refunded.

For those who believe the Green Brigade was long ago swallowed up by its own ego, the move was overdue. Closing his parody Twitter account, The Greetin’ Brigade, one supporter wrote: “I’m [now] positive that a line will be drawn in the sand and the proper fans who have the sole objective of supporting the team within the confines of the law, will now have a safe environment to achieve that.”

But for others it is a massive over-­reaction, and a surrender to a prevailing political agenda which wants to outlaw all displays of Irish nationalism. Though no-one condones the ripping up of seats, Celtic fans are quick to point out that such vandalism takes place at other matches (Motherwell fans recently destroyed seats at New Douglas Park) without attracting the same degree of opprobrium.

In any case, those who support the Green Brigade believe last week’s vandalism is a red herring; what its members are really being punished for, they say, is their activism, and they claim that is rank hypocrisy. “We are told politics should be kept out of football, but then the SFA holds a minute’s silence for Mandela,” says one Celtic fan, who is not a member of the Green Brigade. “I have the greatest respect for Mandela, but how can that possibly be seen as anything other than a political statement?”

One could also question the apparent double standards in Uefa’s tolerance of pro-Catalan flags in the Nou Camp and ask whether or not we would disapprove of an Eritrean refugee who wanted to cele­brate his heritage through songs about past battles.

The Green Brigade believes its members have been the victim of heavy-handed policing (although others have pointed out the policing at Fir Park was virtually nonexistent). And it feels particularly aggrieved at the way in which Celtic fans have been arrested for singing Roll of Honour, which commemorates the IRA Hunger Strikers. “This song has nothing to do with supporting any armed organisation but is about remembering the sacrifice of ten ordinary young men who gave their lives in their campaign against criminalisation,” a spokesman tells Scotland on Sunday.

“Nelson Mandela cited Bobby Sands as an inspiration and led his own hunger strike at Robben Island shortly afterwards. It’s ironic that this week football clubs across Europe have celebrated Mandela yet our fans are in the dock for displaying banners depicting Sands.”

The way the Green Brigade highlights such contradictions may not meet with everyone’s approval, but they do raise questions which cannot be easily dismissed. For example, is the new Act a legitimate weapon with which to tackle residual sectarianism or a means by which to clamp down on expressions of Irish identity? And should we really expect sport to exist in a vacuum or accept that – from Barcelona to Cairo to Glasgow – football, nationalism and politics are inextricably intertwined?

The Green Brigade wasn’t formed until 2006, but the ultra movement, which is synonymous with banners, choreographic displays, fireworks and drums, has thrived in other European countries since the late 60s. Though often associated with right-wing ideologies, there are many left-wing ultras such as those attached to Livorno and the Hamburg-based St Pauli, with whom Green Brigade members have struck up a friendship. In north Africa, ultras were instrumental in the Arab Spring, particularly the uprising against President Mubarak in Egypt.

“Our group was not modelled on any others but instead sought to marry ultra culture with the unique identity of the Celtic support,” the Green Brigade spokesman says. “This was not a particularly big leap as our support have always been a bit different to the norm in Scotland and Britain; we’ve always been known for our passion and noise, and have always been proud to show our colours. Given Celtic’s roots, our fans have always been proud of our Irish identity and supported the Irish nationalist cause, and our group naturally followed in this tradition.”

Describing itself as anti-fascist, the group has been involved in political campaigning and charitable work. It organises the biggest bloc on the STUC’s anti-racism march, runs its own annual anti-discrimination football tournament, seeks to engage asylum-seekers and regularly organises food bank collections. After the Scottish Government introduced the new legislation, however, the Green Brigade began to engage in increasingly provocative behaviour. The Act, which became law in 2012, makes it illegal to sing certain songs inside and outside the stadium, on public transport, in streets and pubs, although its many critics point out it was already possible to tackle unacceptable football-related behaviour through existing legislation.

“There has always been a law of breach of the peace and prior to the introduction of the new legislation, people at football grounds were convicted under that law for behaving in a manner that was objectively seen to be offensive,” says Brian ­McConnachie QC. “The situation now is that the police know which area will house the people who are likely to sing those songs, so they film them on their hand-held cameras. They specifically target individuals, then they take the time to look at the footage and work out whether they are singing the song in question. They prosecute them and, at the trial, the only evidence that requires to be led is the evidence of two police officers to say, that’s the guy, here’s the video footage, we heard the singing.

“Nobody in the ground was offended or made a complaint, but nonetheless he’s guilty of that offence and, potentially at least, liable to a custodial sentence. It is crime creation in many ways.”

According to the Green Brigade, victimisation by the police is not confined to taking pictures. “We’ve had fans arrested at airports when returning from family holidays on bogus charges that are dropped as soon as they reach court and supporters dragged from their beds in co-ordinated dawn raids as if they were big-time drug dealers,” the spokesman says.

The Green Brigade has campaigned against the Act with the Celtic umbrella group Fans Against Criminalisation, but it has also produced banners like the one in November 2010, protesting over the placing of a Remembrance Day poppy on a Celtic shirt, and the more recent Bobby Sands one.

To Findlay, such actions are welcome evidence of engagement. “What really gets me in an age when we have young people who are so politically disengaged, is that you take a group of people who are so politically active, so willing to get out and voice an opinion and to work productively with other organisations, and you suggest they’re a problem,” she says. “Well, they’re a problem to the people who don’t want to hear what they’ve got to say, but in terms of society, I would be more worried about the young people who sit around watching Big Brother, those who have no political involvement.”

To others, however, including the man who ran the Greetin’ Brigade, the group has become a “self-indulgent circus act”. Either way, their activities, which have included letting off flares, could be seen as counter-productive, leading not to an early review of the law, but to bad publicity. “I don’t think the Green Brigade are doing themselves any favours” says ­McConnachie. “One wonders how many of the people in their section have a clue what these songs are about. Of course, some do, but I’m sure there are many who are going along with the crowd and it’s just a means of noising up the police.”

And that’s before you address last week’s trouble at Fir Park. Though the Green Brigade denies its members were personally responsible, it admits “that as a group that believes in fan control” it should have policed the section better.

Nevertheless it believes the decision to impose a collective punishment on its members is disproportionate. “We cannot see why the alleged misdemeanours of a small minority of people who may not even stand in our section at 111 should impact on everyone who does,” the spokesman says. “If someone deliberately breaks a seat at a football stadium then they should expect that action will be taken against them, and that they may be banned for a period from football games. However if football clubs here wanted to have better relationships with their fans they would do well to look at some of the models from some clubs in Germany and elsewhere, where fans and club directors work consensually on contentious issues and disciplinary matters.”

Though the brigade laments the loss of its section, it has no intention of giving up its fight against the new law. “Wherever you go, you’ll find that Irish communities (like every other diaspora group) express themselves through music and song, singing about past and present events in their motherland,” the spokesman says. “That’s what [our] fans have always done, whether that was Celtic’s founding fathers singing about the Manchester Martyrs and the Fenians, or my granda’s generation singing for Kevin Barry or James Connolly, or my own remembering Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikers.

“Now singing about events during conflicts might not be to your personal taste, but the idea that it should be outlawed is utterly ridiculous.”

Nor does the Green Brigade plan to give up its charitable work. A food bank collection outside Celtic Park before the Hearts game will go ahead next Saturday as planned. “We’ve had some great days and fantastic nights in 111 over the past three and a half years of having an official section, so it’s a real disappointment to lose it,” the spokesman says. “It’s definitely not the end of the Green Brigade though. We are far more than just a small section in one corner of Celtic Park, we’re a spirit that will endure and a group of brilliant bhoys and ghirls that will continue to do our thing.”