Humza Yousaf's Hate Crime Act will see barely trained police officers make fundamental decisions about free speech – Susan Dalgety

If a complaint is made about my views on trans issues, police will need to make an initial call as to whether I have committed a crime, have been responsible for a 'non-crime hate incident’, or am just another opinionated woman, writes Susan Dalgety

Satire is dead in Scotland. Who needs to use humour and exaggeration to ridicule our political and public establishment when they do such a good job lampooning themselves? In the week that the First Minister, aka hapless Humza, celebrated his first year in office, one thing has dominated the news agenda – and it isn’t useless Yousaf’s bid to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wander onto the SNP’s website and you will find a list of his ‘achievements’ in his first 12 months in office. Among them is his campaign to secure justice in the Middle East. Apparently, and I am quoting directly here, “from the early days of the Israel-Hamas conflict, the First Minister was among the first world leaders to call for a ceasefire and set an example others soon followed”. Well of course, we all suspected that US President Joe Biden did not make a move following the Hamas terror attack on Israel until he got a call from Bute House.

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“Hold on there, Tony,” the POTUS presumably said to his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “before I pick up the phone to Bibi, I need to know what the Prime Minister of Ireland, sorry, Scotland thinks about the situation. That young man knows what he is talking about. He is remarkable. I’m serious.”

Humza Yousaf began work on the Hate Crime Bill when he was Justice Secretary (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/pool/Getty Images)Humza Yousaf began work on the Hate Crime Bill when he was Justice Secretary (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/pool/Getty Images)
Humza Yousaf began work on the Hate Crime Bill when he was Justice Secretary (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/pool/Getty Images)

No law for the ladies yet

But hapless Humza – sorry, this “statesman of the highest standard”, according to the SNP – has had to suspend his peace efforts this week and turn his attention to the hate crime law which comes into force on April Fools’ Day. I told you satire was dead in Scotland.

By now, most of you will be conversant with the Scottish Government’s latest piece of world-leading, boundary-breaking, progressive legislation. It was agreed as a priority by the social justice warriors in St Andrews House in the early days of the pandemic, and was steered through parliament at the height of Covid by none other than the aforementioned Humza Yousaf, when he was plain old Justice Secretary.

The law builds on legislation that makes it an offence to stir up racial hatred, extending it to cover disability, religion, sexual orientation, age, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. At the time, those pesky women who have campaigned in recent years to protect their sex-based rights asked why sex was not included. “Don’t you worry your pretty little heads,” said Yousaf, or words to that effect anyway. “Me and my big boss Nicola will make sure there’s a law specially for the ladies… eventually.”

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It took three years from the Scottish Parliament passing the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act to it coming into force. Plenty of time for our national police force, which will enforce the law, to get their act together. You would think. But, as is now typical in Scotland, our public servants let us down.

Perhaps we should feel some sympathy for the high heid yins at Police Scotland. The new law is ‘open to interpretation’. It will be up to police officers – some only a few months into the job – to decide whether or not someone has been “threatening or abusive” or were simply exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Honey Monster’s evil cousin

A man who self-identifies as a woman is free to report me if I say on social media, or even in a private setting, that he is not a female but a man masquerading as one. His hate crime is my strongly held belief, and it will be up to the police to make the initial decision as to whether I have committed a crime, have been responsible for a “non-crime hate incident”, or am just another opinionated woman.

Given the complexity of the new law, Police Scotland has been running training courses for its officers over the last three years, updated its 2021 hate crime guidance which applied to previous legislation, and explained clearly to the public the difference between a hate crime and a non-crime hate incident, and how they will deal with each. Sorry, April Fool! That’s not what happened.

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Police Scotland only started its training last month, when it rolled out a two-hour online training course. There is no new guidance in place, just days before the law comes into force. And there’s absolutely no clarity as to how the police record complaints, some of which may be malicious. But they did find time to expand a national network of third-party reporting centres, where the public can report a hate crime.

There are now more than 400 across the country, including a mushroom farm in East Lothian. They also spent thousands on propaganda – sorry, an ‘awareness raising campaign’ – starring the Hate Monster, the Honey Monster’s evil cousin, and insisted that the biggest perpetrators of hate crime are young white men from housing estates.

Which was news to senior Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who revealed earlier this week that he had been reported for a "non-crime hate incident” without his knowledge, after posting a comment on social media about one of my articles with a hyperlink to it. I have since asked the police if I too have been reported for being ‘hateful’ at any point over the last five years.

But don’t worry folks. Humza – “a statesman of the highest order” – is in charge. Just don’t mention the war, any war. Or make fun of men in drag. And remember, look who’s listening. Careless talk could cost you.