New poll finds wide support for free speech, opposition to hate crime plans

New polling for the Free to Disagree campaign finds wide support for free speech and opposition to the Scottish Government’s hate crime plans.

The Savanta ComRes poll of 1,008 Scottish adults shows that almost 9 in 10 (87%) think free speech is an “important right”, 6 in 10 (63%) think disagreement and debate “benefit society” and 3 in 4 (73%) think disagreement is not a sign of hatred.

More than 6 in 10 respondents (64%) voiced support for a classical approach to free speech where “words that incite violence” are criminalised, whereas just 29% said the law should criminalise ‘offensive’ words.

More than 6 in 10 (64%) respondents agreed that people today are “too quick to shut down debate”.

Opposition to hate crime plans

A significant number of respondents also expressed opposition to elements that form the basis of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill:

  • Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of Scots agreed that “For a criminal offence to be committed, there must be a proven intention to stir up hatred”.
  • 3 in 4 (75%) said that the term ‘hatred’ “means different things to different people”.
  • While many are uncertain about the specifics of the bill, more than 4 in 10 respondents (41%) agreed that a clause should be included in the Bill to protect the freedom to publicly disagree with trans rights, with just 21% disagreeing.

The ‘stirring up of hatred’ provisions in Part 2 of bill do not require ‘intent’ for an offence to be committed or include a free speech clause on trans. The wording of the draft legislation, including the term ‘hatred’, has also been criticised for being vague and open to abuse.

Free to Disagree comment

Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, said:

“This poll confirms what we’ve long suspected. The majority of Scots strongly support freedom of speech and, as a result, people are very doubtful about the more controversial aspects of the Hate Crime Bill.

“Pressure is mounting on the government to scrap the proposed ‘stirring up of hatred’ offences in Part 2 of the bill, which have accrued a large number of detractors in recent weeks.

“A diverse range of critics including the police, lawyers, academics, actors and comedians warn that the proposals could curb free speech, frustrate academic inquiry and stifle artistic expression. Today the Scottish public joins these groups in voicing its concerns.”

Mr Gillies continued:

“The public recognises that the term ‘hatred’ means different things to different people. The vague language of the ‘stirring up’ provisions is perhaps the most problematic aspect of the proposals.

“Most Scots agree that any new offences must include intent and a good proportion argue for a specific free speech provision on gender identity. The bill as it stands contains neither of these things.”

“Given the major disquiet over this legislation from professionals and the public alike, we’d advise the government to think again. There’s no shame in admitting there are problems and hitting the pause button, or ditching the ‘stirring up’ offences altogether. In fact, we think this would be welcomed by the majority of Scots.

“The government should pay very careful attention to the concerns being raised. Getting this legislation wrong could have serious consequences for our fundamental freedoms.”

Poll questions

Respondents to the poll were asked about their attitudes to free speech, hate crime in general and the Hate Crime Bill.

Asked about some contentious issues, almost half (48%) of respondents disagreed that it should be a criminal offence to “say someone born biologically male cannot become a woman” (21% agreed).

More than 5 in 10 (51%) of respondents agreed it should not be a criminal offence to “disagree with same-sex marriage” (20% disagreed).


Notes for Editors

Savanta ComRes interviewed 1,008 Scottish adults aged 16+ online between 6 and 13 August 2020. Data were weighted to be representative of Scotland by age, gender, and region. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

The Free to Disagree campaign is supported by:

  • Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party;
  • The National Secular Society; 
  • The Adam Smith Institute;
  • The Christian Institute; 
  • Peter Tatchell;
  • The Peter Tatchell Foundation;
  • Dr Stuart Waiton, criminologist, Abertay University;
  • Madeleine Kearns, journalist and commentator.
  • Emma Webb, Director of FIDE, a project of Civitas

For further information contact:

Jamie Gillies, Free to Disagree –

Issued on behalf of Free to Disagree by:

Tom Hamilton Communications –