SNP hate crime plans could hit rest of the UK, warns Free to Disagree campaign

Scottish Government legislation on hate crime could catch people in other parts of the United Kingdom, campaigners warn.

Free to Disagree, a broad campaign including former SNP Deputy Leader Jim Sillars, the National Secular Society and The Christian Institute, warns that journalists, comics, celebrities and actors from other parts of the UK could face criminal charges for venturing merely offensive or controversial views.

The SNP’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) bill has caused huge controversy in Scotland. It’s many critics – which include the Scottish Police Federation and the Law Society – warn that “vague and subjective” ‘stirring up of hatred’ provisions in Part 2 of the bill could undermine freedom of expression and curb debate around contentious issues.

New ‘stirring up of hatred’ offences in the bill would make ‘abusive’ speech and ‘inflammatory material’ thought ‘likely’ to stir up hatred a criminal offence. Free to Disagree has questioned whether atheists who ridicule Christianity and feminists who speak out on trans issues could be caught.

Although the Hate Crime bill is Holyrood legislation, its jurisdiction would extend to visitors to Scotland and publishers and broadcasters who are headquartered in other parts of the UK but produce content north of the border.

Free to Disagree spokesman Jamie Gillies said:

“The Hate Crime bill contains broad provisions covering speech, writing and the possession of ‘inflammatory material’. Under the plans, speech and writing which is deemed ‘abusive’ – that is rude and insulting – in regards to age, religion, transgenderism and other categories is liable to prosecution. 

“Many are asking what this means for non-Scottish journalists, actors, comedians and others who operate north of the border. The vague drafting of the legislation suggests that these individuals could also be caught by the law. This raises the prospect of Scottish police officers arresting content creators outside Scotland.

“Journalists, writers and performers often focus on issues that are controversial and they air views that would be offensive to some people. Comedians in particular make a living from ridicule and offence. The idea that these people could be criminalised for doing so is deeply unsettling. Citizens in the rest of the UK should sit up and take notice.”

The UK-wide Society of Editors has warned that “any media organisation that publishes or broadcasts north of the border could find themselves caught up or at the very least there will be a chill placed on their work.

“Looking to the future, there is also the risk that any draconian measures adopted by the Scottish government will be taken up in other parts of the UK, particularly in England and Wales where The Law Commission is currently consulting on a possible expansion in English hate-crime law.”

Free to Disagree has suggested different scenarios could constitute an offence if they visit Scotland, or publish or broadcast material there.

The ‘stirring up’ offences in Part 2 of the hate Crime bill require no mens rea – criminal intent – on the part of the offender. Persons can commit an offence if they speak, write or possess material which is ‘abusive’ and thought ‘likely’ to stir up hatred on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

In contrast, English offences of stirring up hatred on religion and sexual orientation only cover “threatening” behaviour intended to stir up hatred.



A liberal commentator writes an article for a national newspaper saying that organised religion should be banned because it turns people into “hateful lemmings”.

A Northern Irish atheist takes part in a televised debate, broadcast in Scotland, during which she says she is “fed up with Christians behaving like ISIS and trying to force their views on others”.

The Arts

An English theatre company stages a production in Scotland. In the play, Catholic priests are portrayed as exploitative hypocrites and their congregations as bigots.

A Welsh feminist publishes a book, which is sold in Scotland, arguing that trans campaigners are perpetrating child abuse by supporting the use of chest binders on young girls.


An English gay rights campaigner attends a rally in Glasgow. She argues that “trans ideologues” are “denying young lesbians the chance to embrace their sexuality”.

A Scottish university women’s group holds an event on feminism. They invite an English feminist to speak. During her talk she says “trans women aren’t real women”.

In the last two weeks, numerous groups and individuals have criticised the proposals including the Law Society Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation, the Society of Editors, feminist group For Women Scot and the Scottish Catholic church. 

Free to Disagree has compiled a list of critics which can be accessed here.


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; 
  • Dr Stuart Waiton, criminologist, Abertay University;
  • Madeleine Kearns, journalist and commentator.

For more information visit: 

Issued on behalf of Free to Disagree by Tom Hamilton Communications. For media enquiries, contact:

Tel: 0141 639 8355

Mob: 07836 603977