Scotland's Hate Crime Act: Spurious complaints to hard-pressed police could see real criminals escape justice – Murdo Fraser

Just after Police Scotland's announces it will no longer investigate some ‘minor’ offences, hard-pressed officers are gearing up for numerous complaints about alleged hate crimes

If you hate crime, the chances are you are really going to hate the Hate Crime Act. Humza Yousaf’s greatest ‘achievement’ as Justice Secretary becomes operational next month – on April Fool’s Day no less. And while it tries to define things some people might see as hateful as crimes, as a piece of effective legislation itself, well, you could say it is criminal. It leaves a lot to interpretation and frankly gives far too much leeway to the imaginations of vexatious complainers.

New crimes will be committed while old crimes will now go undetected in modern Scotland. Police Scotland recently announced that they will not any longer investigate what they say are minor crimes, if they do not have enough evidence for a quick investigation.

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No witness, no CCTV, may mean no investigation. Criminal damage, perhaps, theft from a garage or a car, and if there is no obvious evidence of a bag clearly marked ‘swag’, Police Scotland will not investigate. Red hands get caught, any other shade might not even be bothered with. But if there is an allegation of a new ‘hate crime’ – someone saying or doing something that somebody else might feel offends them and their identity – then Police Scotland have pledged to investigate every single one.

Police Scotland's officers, seen taking part in a training exercise, have more serious things to do that investigate every spurious complaint under the incoming Hate Crime Act (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)Police Scotland's officers, seen taking part in a training exercise, have more serious things to do that investigate every spurious complaint under the incoming Hate Crime Act (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Police Scotland's officers, seen taking part in a training exercise, have more serious things to do that investigate every spurious complaint under the incoming Hate Crime Act (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

‘Two-pipe problem’ for Holmes and co

Now it used to be said that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, but thanks to the First Minister’s new law that has been reversed somewhat. Broken bones there may be, but if there is no clear evidence of those darn sticks and stones then there may be little action from Police Scotland. However, if there is an allegation of hurtful words, then that becomes what Sherlock Holmes might have called a “two-pipe problem”, for our own gendarmerie.

Now this government-designed boom in new crime – thanks to their legislation – might be difficult to resource, considering not just the number of police officers’ jobs that are no longer funded by the Scottish Government, or the number of local police offices which have been closed because of their cuts.

But fear not. Presumably to fit with the kind of complaints the Scottish Government expects, premises like a sex shop and a mushroom farm have been designated places where these new crimes can be reported. If this sounds like an absurd plot from the pen of someone like Tom Sharpe, turned into a satirical comedy drama on the BBC iPlayer or Netflix, one where police stations are closed and shops that sell whips and French ticklers become places of justice and investigation, you would be wrong. This is what in Scotland in 2024 is called ‘Scottish Government policy’.

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It is little wonder that rank-and-file police officers are in despair at what is coming their way. ‘Minor’ crimes of theft, vandalism or disorder are no longer priorities, but if someone is ‘misgendered’ on social media, they may be expected to drop everything and launch a full investigation. Such will be the volume of spurious and vexatious complaints taking up their time that the real criminals will be left to have a ball.

Stirring up hatred

Now, where this will end really is anyone’s guess, although repeal must be a favourite. It seems as though the Scottish Government hasn’t seen their failed Offensive Behaviour at Football Act as a morality tale not to act so foolishly, and has instead seen the type of thinking behind that piece of legislation as an impresario might see an undiscovered chorus line dancer and decide to give her her own Broadway show.

The need for this law has never been properly explained as, even without it, the authorities in Scotland have found ways of prosecuting criminals for hateful behaviour or stirring up hatred, some would say for centuries. But now someone in a new ‘protected category’ can allege a hate crime if they feel the perpetrator was ‘stirring up hatred’ against that group. Being a woman is not a ‘protected’ category, but someone like, say, Isla Bryson, the transgender woman who has been convicted of raping women, could make the allegation of a hate crime against a woman if she felt her (Isla Bryson’s) identity had been misrepresented.

It is fair to say that, at a stroke, this piece of legislation makes Scotland the most hateful country in the world, and at the same time as becoming one of the most absurdly laughable nations on the globe. It says something profound about this SNP administration that there has been no attempt at an ‘Economic Growth Bill’, or a ‘Wealth Creation Bill’, or a ‘Close the Educational Attainment Gap Bill’, or a ‘Treat Patients on Time Bill’, but they have found time to create new crimes, new acts to be offended by, new chances to clype on your neighbours.

Trouble for Yousaf ahead

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As his own SNP colleagues have been pointing out – long-serving MPs and old advisers – the First Minister’s rhetoric of making Scotland ‘Tory free’ is offensive. It is hateful, but you do not need a new piece of legislation to spot that in the current incumbent of Bute House.

Doubtless unable to make any impact on the crime figures, when Humza Yousaf was an ambitious Justice Secretary he saw this piece of ill-conceived legislation as a way of making a name for himself. May I suggest, with kindness, no rancour and nothing approaching hatred, instead of making a name for himself he may well have written his political epitaph.

If the First Minister is in any way offended by that I am sure he could pop into a sex shop to complain. And he might get a visit from a weary, over-worked police officer who has just left the scene of a burglary to take his statement.

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