Hate Crime Act: Labour and Lib Dems should admit they were wrong and back Scottish Conservatives' attempt to repeal this shambolic law – Murdo Fraser

Politicians will today have the chance to repeal the Hate Crime Act just two weeks after it came into force

At Holyrood today, the Scottish Conservatives will propose the repeal of the Hate Crime Act. Having only been in place for little more than two weeks, it is already clear that is a fortnight too long. This is a shambolic piece of legislation which has been condemned from all quarters.

Warnings in advance of the Act that it would be weaponised by political activists have been justified, with nearly 8,000 complaints having been made in the first week. Of these, only a tiny proportion have been deemed to meet the criteria in the Act – as predicted. A huge amount of police time has been wasted dealing and assessing these complaints and deciding whether action should be taken – as was warned.

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It is little wonder the Scottish Police Federation describe the Act as unsustainable and say that its members simply cannot cope with the workload. This at a time when, due to SNP cuts, the number of police officers today is at its lowest level since 2008. And of course it comes just a few weeks after Police Scotland announced they would no longer be investigating certain crimes.

Protesters demonstrate against the Hate Crime Act outside the Scottish Parliament (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Protesters demonstrate against the Hate Crime Act outside the Scottish Parliament (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Protesters demonstrate against the Hate Crime Act outside the Scottish Parliament (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

SNP's feigned surprise

When the Act was passed, it had the support of Labour and the Liberal Democrats in addition to the SNP and the Greens. Today they will have the opportunity to repent. I hope that in light of the experience of the last two weeks they will accept that they made a mistake in supporting this law and we can all move on.

Ironically, we have now seen SNP ministers feign surprise at the level of complaints generated. Yet these are the same ministers who spent £400,000 of taxpayers’ money on a national publicity drive urging people to report incidents to the police. These are the ministers whose leader, Humza Yousaf, asserted there is a “rising tide” of hate in this country.

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What is the Hate Crime Act, and why is it so controversial?

Opposition to the Bill comes from across every sector of Scottish society. Perhaps the most significant intervention came last week from Lord Hope of Craighead, former Deputy President of the UK’s Supreme Court, and quite possibly the most significant legal brain of his generation, who joined the Scottish Conservatives in calling for the Act’s repeal. With opposition ranging from our former most senior judge to JK Rowling and SNP MPs like Joanna Cherry, surely it is time for Humza Yousaf to start listening?

Spell out ‘hate incident’ criteria

I have continued my efforts to understand where Police Scotland policy now sits in relation to the recording of non-crime hate incidents (NCHIs). An NCHI was recorded back in November in relation to a social media post of mine, in line with Police Scotland policy. The perception of the complainer was the only determining factor. As I pointed out in this column last week, this same policy appears not to have been applied in relation to the numerous complaints made against both JK Rowling, and the First Minister himself.

At the end of last week, I received a reply from Deputy Chief Constable Alan Speirs. In an exercise of obfuscation, he provided no answers to any of my questions, but in comments to journalists, Police Scotland said that the complaints against Humza Yousaf and JK Rowling did not “meet the criteria” to be recorded as NCHIs.

But what are these criteria? Where might they be found? We have absolutely no idea. And why were these criteria applied in the cases of these two high-profile individuals, but not in my case? Is it really one rule for the rich and powerful, and a different rule for the rest of us?

We really need to have answers on these questions, and it is simply not good enough for Police Scotland to believe spin will bamboozle those of us complaining and we will just lose interest and go away. I have written back to the Deputy Chief Constable requesting an urgent meeting and I hope that this will be possible. The police do have to be answerable for their actions.

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I have also had a response from Martin Evans as chair of the Scottish Police Authority, offering a meeting, and will be taking this up. It is the SPA which has the power to demand answers from the Chief Constable, and I will certainly be pursuing that route. My own experience illustrates just how woefully ill-equipped the police have been to deal with this new law consistently, particularly given their inability to explain the approach that they are taking.

Growing inventory of inefficacy

Humza Yousaf has been in office as First Minister for little more than a year, but has already seen the collapse or withdrawal of a range of his most prized priorities from the Gender Reform Bill to the deposit return scheme and the alcohol advertising ban. All once stoutly defended by the First Minister before being abandoned.

Today Parliament will have the chance to add the Hate Crime Act to that inventory of inefficacy. That will come down in part to whether Labour’s Anas Sarwar and the Lib Dem’s Alex Cole-Hamilton now believe a leader can have a backbone and admit they were wrong to support this appalling piece of hateful legislation. Even if our motion is defeated, the Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up at Holyrood for free speech, individual liberty and common sense.

Humza Yousaf is fond of putting his own career in political context. It was Mahatma Gandhi who once said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Sadly for Humza Yousaf, first he won. Then the country fought him. Then we laughed at him. Hopefully we can now ignore him and repeal another awful Act of his.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife