Disparate groups have urged MSPs not to endorse controversial Scottish Government hate crime proposals at a final vote on the plans later today.
This afternoon, MSPs will debate and vote on the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill which outlines broad new offences on the ‘stirring up of hatred’.
Despite numerous changes to the proposals in recent months, there are still fears that the offences will undermine freedom of expression.
This morning, in a joint initiative, The National Secular Society, The Christian Institute, the Network of Sikh Organisations, women’s rights group For Women Scot, LGBT and human rights group the Peter Tatchell Foundation, civil liberties groups Big Brother Watch and Free Speech Union, and Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the SNP, warn the plans are still not fit for purpose.
Speaking for the National Secular Society, Chief Executive Stephen Evans said:
“The passing of the Hate Crime Bill will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Scotland. Placing legal restrictions on speech in an attempt to promote social harmony is counter-productive and misguided.
“The repeal of Scotland’s official blasphemy law within this legislation is welcome, as is the inclusion of hard-won amendments which go some way toward protecting freedom of speech on religion.
“But this remains a censorious law which will encourage vexatious complaints, create unnecessary bureaucracy and make ordinary Scots less willing to engage in public debate on contentious issues.”
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of The Christian Institute said:
“Whilst welcome changes have been made to the Bill in response to the huge clamour of opposition it created, people are still rightly concerned about how it will be enforced in practice.
In the current climate of hostility towards people exercising freedom of speech on certain controversial issues, this Bill risks creating further division by encouraging people to report one another to the police over their opinions.
However, we should all feel relieved that the thresholds are higher than they were and the free speech clauses wider. Like many others, we will be keeping a careful eye on the implementation and enforcement of the new stirring up offences.”
Hardeep Singh, spokesman for the Network of Sikh Organisations, said:
“Today, MSPs must put free speech before party politics. As it stands, the Hate Crime Bill presents some very serious implications for the right of free speech in Scotland – and there’s little doubt that if it is enacted, it will make Scotland one of the most hostile places for freedom of expression in Europe.
I’m not convinced using the law to tackle ‘hate’ is the best way to address prejudice in wider society in the first place. I say this as a Sikh and being part of a community that has faced a significant backlash since 9/11, because we are often confused with Islamic extremists – like Bin Laden, the Taliban, or Isis.
Improving levels of religious literacy and replacing bad ideas with good ideas through open and healthy debate is a critical part of the solution to this problem – and this all requires more free speech, not less.”
Susan Smith, of women’s rights group For Women Scot said:
“Women campaigning to maintain and protect sex-based legal rights have, for a long time, been targeted, sometimes violently by activists who accuse us of hate or bigotry. The Hate Crime Bill is thus doubly problematic for women as, despite evidence of a huge amount of misogynistic abuse and violence, the Government decided not to implement the recommendation of Lord Bracadale to include sex in Part One.
Worse, however, they have ignored pages of evidence that women will in all probability face malicious reporting and potentially traumatic, expensive investigation. Legislation on maternity rights, discussion of FGM and cervical cancer, the right of a rape victim to request a female examiner and concerns about mixed sex contact sport have all be branded hateful, bigoted or transphobic by activists.
Should this bill become law, we have no doubt women will be targeted in order to silence speech and writing on these many issues. Sadly, our concerns and the concerns of many women across Scotland appear to have fallen on deaf ears.”
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said:
“This legislation will be flawed without robust free speech protections and these should cover all protected characteristics equally, without any special regulations for race, sexuality, religion or gender identity. Anything less could threaten freedom of expression and create an unjustifiable hierarchy of rights and protections.”
Mark Johnson, Legal and Policy Officer at Big Brother Watch, said:
“The Scottish Hate Crime Bill would result in the prosecution of individuals for conversations had within the privacy of their own homes. This is both draconian and overbearing. We urge MSPs to introduce safeguards to this legislation which would protect the right to privacy. Public order legislation should not be extended to private dwellings.”
Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, said:
“If this bill is passed, there will be less free speech in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe, including Hungary. Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yusuf seem determined to stifle discussion and debate. How long before being a member of the SNP becomes a ‘protected’ category and anyone who criticises the party goes to jail?”
Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the SNP, said:
“We shall, if this Bill passes, enter a new but darker Scotland where instead of our age old rights to free thought and free speech, we must zip our mouths and ultimately close down the critical faculties that come with our minds.”
Notes for Editors:
For more information contact Jamie Gillies on: 07761506732