The Scotland we know and love today is built on free speech.

It upholds our free press, our artistic and cultural institutions and our politics. It allows citizens from all walks of life to participate in the marketplace of ideas, helping society grow and flourish

Free speech is a vital right that should only be limited by the state when it has strong grounds for doing so. It must include the ability for citizens to discuss, criticise, and refute ideas, beliefs and practices in robust terms. This may result in some people being offended, but there is no right not to be offended.

This is Free to Disagree opposed the ‘stirring up hatred’ offences in the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill – now the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act.

As introduced, the offences were a colossal threat to freedom of speech and expression. They would have criminalised speech, writing and behaviour thought ‘likely’ to ‘stir up hate’ against certain groups.

The offences caused opprobrium in Scottish society, drawing criticism from lawyers, police officers, academics, religious groups, feminists, and the public at large. You can read a record of criticism from various groups here.

Alongside other critics, Free to Disagree won significant amendments to the offences before they were passed by Holyrood in 2021. These included the removal of vague provisions on ‘inflammatory material’ and theatre performances, raising the legal threshold for offending, and broadening free speech protections.

The Hate Crime Act received Royal Assent in March 2021. Free to Disagree continues to monitor implementation and we will raise awareness of any negative impact on freedom of speech and expression.


The Govt says the Hate Crime Bill is about tackling prejudice. Isn’t this a good thing?

Hatred and prejudice are wrong and should be tackled. The law has a role to play. But strong laws already exist to punish crimes aggravated by prejudice. The planned ‘stirring up hatred’ offences are too broad and risk criminalising speech that is merely felt to be offensive to certain people. In the current political climate, debate around contentious issues could be drastically curbed. The police and courts would have to waste time adjudicating on political disputes. This wouldn’t help the real victims of crime.

Hateful speech is harmful to individuals. Why shouldn’t it be punished?

A. Harmful abuse is already unlawful in Scotland. Under existing laws, behaving in a ‘threatening or abusive manner’ which causes ‘fear or alarm’ is a criminal offence. But the Government’s new proposals try to outlaw ‘stirring up hatred’ in other people. Exactly what this means is hard to say. Some people claim disagreement with their ideas is hatred, in an attempt to close down debate. The idea that mere disagreement could be criminalised is chilling.


Free to Disagree is a campaign of The Christian Institute supported by:

  • Jim Sillars

    Jim Sillars

    Jim is a former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party and a long-time MP. He believes that "freedom of thought, articulated by one’s speech, is so fundamental to the civic and intellectual life of our nation that any attempt by the government to restrict that freedom has to be robustly opposed”.

  • Stuart Waiton

    Stuart Waiton

    Stuart is a criminologist at Abertay University and champion of free speech. He describes the hate crime bill as "potentially the greatest threat to-date to what should be a free and tolerant society.”

  • The Christian Institute

    Maddy Kearns

    Maddy is a Glaswegian journalist with an American approach to free speech. Based in New York, she is a staff writer at National Review and a contributor to The Spectator. Maddy describes the hate crime bill as “menacing and humourless” and “precisely the kind of moral orthodoxy that John Stuart Mill warned against in 1859.”

  • The National Secular Society

    The National Secular Society

    The National Secular Society works for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone's human rights so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged on account of their beliefs.

  • Adam Smith Institute

    Adam Smith Institute

    The Adam Smith Institute is one of the world's leading think tanks. Independent, non-profit and non-partisan, we work to promote neoliberal and free market ideas through research, publishing, media commentary, and educational programmes. The Institute is today at the forefront of making the case for free markets and a free society in the United Kingdom.

  • Emma Webb

    Emma Webb

    Emma is a London-based writer and political commentator. She is the director of the Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (FIDE) at the Westminster-based think tank Civitas, and was formerly a research fellow at the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society (HJS).

  • Manifesto Club

    Manifesto Club

    The Manifesto Club is at the forefront of challenging the hyper-regulation of public spaces. Find out more about their work here.

  • Josie Appleton

    Josie Appleton

    Josie Appleton is convenor of the Manifesto Club, a civil liberties group that campaigns against vetting, booze bans, photo bans, and other forms of state hyperregulation of everyday life.

  • Index on Censorship

    Index on Censorship

    Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. It publishes work by censored writers and artists, promotes debate, and monitors threats to free speech.

  • Ruth Smeeth

    Ruth Smeeth

    Ruth Smeeth is Chief Executive of Index on Censorship – the international campaign to protect and promote free speech in the UK, launched in 1971. She was previously a Labour MP, Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Parliamentary Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.

  • Kapil Summan

    Kapil Summan

    Kapil Summan is editor of the Scottish Legal News – Scotland's leading news source for lawyers. He believes that if the hate crime bill is implemented, it will help bring an already overburdened justice system to its knees and will prove a gateway to other iniquitous laws.

  • Simon Calvert

    Simon Calvert

    Simon is Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute. A lawyer by training, he has over twenty years’ experience campaigning for free speech.

  • Network of Sikh Organisations

    Network of Sikh Organisations

    The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.

  • The Freedom Association

    The Freedom Association

    The Freedom Association is a non-partisan, centre-right, classically liberal campaign group. It believes in the freedom of the individual in all aspects of life to as great an extent as possible.