On Saturday it emerged that Network Rail ordered an ‘I Love JK Rowling’ poster to be removed from Waverley station, Edinburgh, despite zero public complaints being received.
A freedom of information response from Network Rail seen by The Times states: “We did not receive any complaints about the poster being up via our customer relations team.”
Ironically, the rail company HAS received more than 150 complaints for deciding to take the message down.
This debacle is a timely reminder of the danger the Hate Crime Bill poses to Scottish society.
‘Febrile political climate’
Asked about its decision earlier this year, Network Rail described the poster – placed by a fan of the author to mark her birthday – as ‘political’ and ‘potentially offensive’.
Presumably, the company feared that someone, somewhere may see the name ‘Rowling’, associate it with her statements on trans issues, and take offence. Or worse – someone may see it, accuse Network Rail of providing a platform for ‘bigotry’ and sully it’s decidedly woke credentials.
This is the febrile political climate we inhabit. A climate where fear of complaints, and of perceived political incorrectness, makes companies deeply irrational and censorious. Enacting the Hate Crime Bill as drafted in this context would be disastrous.
Hate Crime Bill fears
If companies (and individuals) are already self-censoring for fear of politically mis-stepping – fear of being labelled ‘hateful’ by others – how much more would they do so under new, broad-ranging hate laws?
Part 2 of the bill would make ‘abusive’ (rude or insulting) speech and writing deemed ‘likely’ to stir up hatred against certain groups a criminal offence, punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
Numerous groups have already warned that these vague provisions could undermine free speech on many issues, and lead people to self-censor for fear of committing an offence.
Eroding vital rights
All of us support efforts to help victims. Every citizen in Scotland has the right to be protected from violence, intimidation and abuse. But changes to the criminal law must not unintentionally erode other vital rights.
Freedom of speech and expression – vital rights that benefit society immeasurably – could be seriously harmed, and a culture of fear engendered.
MSPs must reject Part 2 of the Hate Crime Bill and put these concerns to bed.