Holyrood’s student union culture war politics is no laughing matter – Brian Monteith

The symbolism of April Fools’ Day has not been lost on critics of the Scottish Government

April Fools’ Day is regularly marked in Britain by newspapers and broadcasters placing a report of an outrageous but fake event in amongst everyday stories to “fool” the readers, viewers and listeners – only to later reveal the absurdity of such an idea ever being considered real. BBC Panorama’s 1957 film of spaghetti growing from trees in Italian-speaking Southern Switzerland probably the most famous of the genre.

Work colleagues, parents and children, teachers and school kids and many more all get in on the act of inventing pranks and hoaxes based on falsehoods, the more absurd the better – especially if the “victims” can be persuaded they are true.

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So bizarre is our world becoming, especially to older generations like mine who lived through the Sixties and Seventies and thought we had seen it all, it is increasingly difficult to decide what is fake and what is real news. Somewhere in The Scotsman today there shall be one such example of an intentional April Fool – but sadly it is not this column.

The symbolism of April Fool’s Day has not been lost on critics of the Scottish Government, for it is today the SNP/Green coalition has chosen to start enforcing its hate crime laws that seek to protect particular groups from the expression of hate by restricting the freedom of speech and offering perverse incentives to report such potentially hateful incidents so criminal proceedings may follow.

When I wrote about the topic last week I was, like probably the vast majority of Scots, unaware a report of a hate incident that did not meet the necessary standard for a criminal prosecution would still be recorded as a Non-Crime Hate Incident (NCHI) without the person accused of the non-crime necessarily knowing of the existence of the complaint, never mind the NCHI itself. The secrecy of the process was brought to light by Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser who revealed he had been unaware of an NCHI being recorded against him until the complainant had forwarded the NCHI to the Ethical Standards Commissioner in the hope of the MSP being found guilty of breaching the MSPs’ code of conduct.

As Fraser pointed out, not only was it outrageous he had not known of the complaint, it was also outrageous the police had not seen fit to tell him the failed complaint against him had now been recorded as a non-crime hate incident – and that this was over him tweeting not about any particular individual but about Scottish Government policy. Furthermore, the First Minister, Humza Yousaf, who as Justice Secretary was the man responsible for the law, justified the retention of these hate incidents as being useful to record any “spikes in hatred”.

This was erroneous to a stupid degree, for all the retention of NCHIs can show is how many non-crimes have been complained about – all of which could be intentionally spurious or vexatious – which is quite different from proven crimes being reported. No doubt politicians less scrupulous than a First Minister could then point to growth of certain non-crime hate incidents as a reason to commit more police resources to protecting specific groups from hateful expressions and of course demand even more laws to limit freedom of speech and expression.

In other words the First Minister and the SNP-Green coalition government he leads chose to double down on the need for hate crime law, just as it has in the past doubled down on other policies that take absurdity to surreal levels worthy of Dadaists.

Imagine for a moment an April Fools’ Day story revealing a far-off never-never land with a homelessness problem, where cities were declaring a “housing crisis” and the latest data showed private rents had increased more there than anywhere else. If you then reported the government had decided to cut the housing budget by £100 million while increasing the “active travel” budget to £150m, and it was introducing new rent controls that would result in landlords withdrawing their properties from the rental market would you not think it too stupid to be true?

Imagine a different paper reporting another April Fools’ Day story revealing the much hyped minimum unit price of alcohol controls introduced to reduce alcohol related crimes, hospital admissions and deaths had unquestionably failed as the statistics had turned out worse and youths were buying cheaper drugs instead. Would the story stretch beyond credulity if the Government announced it was not going to withdraw the minimum price control but instead was increasing it by 30 per cent? Would you not think it too daft to be believable?

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What we are seeing with the current SNP/Green government is a cell of politicians who treat the ever-hallowed and over-hyped Scottish Parliament as a student union; a political playground charging the masses an enforced subscription known as taxes so they can promote their own sectional causes, oblivious to the damage they cause to real people and real lives.

It is performative student politics where laws are passed so they may provoke reactions that heighten division, so they might create demands for further laws – ultimately provoking the use of the courts to restore sanity – just as was required when the amateur revolutionaries insisted male sex abusers could be sent to female prisons.

So here we are today with the Hate Crime Act now in operation – no matter how flawed it is shown to be, no matter how little training police officers have received, no matter how much it redirects scarce police resources away from crimes against the person or a person’s property, no matter how much it makes Scotland a laughing stock without it having to be April Fools’ Day – that we must suffer it until a court strikes it from the statute.

It's no hoax, and no-one sensible is laughing at the clown show that is Holyrood.

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European parliaments



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