The Scottish Liberal Democrat party has issued a strong warning over the Hate Crime Bill saying Ministers must “fix the bill or count us out”.
In a press statement today Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said free speech concerns, expressed by various groups in recent weeks, are warranted and “risk sweeping away the rights to free speech that we value in Scotland”.
Mr Rennie commented: “The perilous mix of vague language and the broad-brush application of new ‘stirring up’ offences risk sweeping away the rights to free speech that we value in Scotland. The flaws in the bill are so significant that they could undermine our wider efforts to stop hate crime.
“The Scottish Government are at risk of making similar misjudgements to those in the now-repealed Offensive Behaviour at Football Act and the scrapped Named Person legislation. A mixture of belligerence and cack handed management undermined those working to bring an end to sectarianism and protect children. We cannot afford for that to happen again.
“Until we see changes that we are satisfied with we will not be able to support the bill.”
The statement was welcomed by free speech campaign Free to Disagree which is spearheading opposition to the ‘stirring up’ offences. Spokesman Jamie Gillies said:
“This statement from Willie Rennie means opposition to the Hate Crime Bill has now been expressed by three political parties at Holyrood – Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
“Concern over the new ‘stirring up’ offences exists across the political spectrum and across other divides in Scottish society. Over the last few months we’ve seen atheists and Christians, humanists, feminists, nationalists and unionists speak out against them. It’s startling to see.
“As Mr Rennie notes, the proposals are deeply unpopular because they threaten free speech – a right cherished by all Scots. There is also no evidence that they are required, or that they would give greater protection to victims.
“The ‘stirring up’ offences are unworkable and undemocratic. They’ve failed to gain the confidence of the public. It’s time for Ministers to scrap them and go back to the drawing board.”
Questions are now being asked about the Scottish Green Party’s position on the proposals. Pressure from all four opposition parties is necessary to out-vote the SNP in Parliamentary proceedings.
Mr Gillies added: “We would call on the Greens to make their views known about the Bill. Opposition parties can unite to oppose Part 2 of the draft legislation and ensure that free speech is protected.”
Notes for Editors
The Free to Disagree campaign is supported by:
- Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party;
- The National Secular Society;
- The Christian Institute;
- Simon Calvert;
- Peter Tatchell;
- The Peter Tatchell Foundation;
- Dr Stuart Waiton, criminologist, Abertay University;
- Madeleine Kearns, journalist and commentator.
- Emma Webb, Civitas;
- Manifesto Club;
- Josie Appleton
- Index on Censorship
- Ruth Smeeth, ex-Parliamentarian
Issued on behalf of Free to Disagree by Tom Hamilton Communications. For media enquiries, contact:
Tel: 0141 639 8355
Mob: 07836 603977
Or Jamie Gillies:
Mob: 07761 506 732