Exclusive:Hate Crime Act: Half of Scots believe legislation should be repealed, poll shows

A poll by Savanta for The Scotsman found just 36 per cent thought the Hate Crime Act should remain law

Almost half of Scots believe the Hate Crime Act should be repealed, a new poll for The Scotsman has found.

The poll by Savanta found 49 per cent thought the legislation should be repealed, while 36 per cent said it should remain law and 15 per cent did not know.

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The research showed a generational and gender divide over the issue, with older people and men more likely to want the law scrapped. It came as the number of hate crime complaints reported to Police Scotland reached almost 10,000 in the space of just over a month.

Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesPicture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act took effect from April 1, with critics raising concerns over its potential impact on freedom of expression.

Lord Hope of Craighead, one of Scotland's most senior legal figures, previously condemned the Act as “unworkable”. But former first minister Humza Yousaf accused some opponents of spreading “misinformation" about the legislation.

Last month, the Tories launched a failed bid to ditch the law, claiming it was placing an intolerable strain on Scotland's overstretched police.

The new poll found men (56 per cent) were more likely to believe the Hate Crime Act should be repealed than women (43 per cent). Those aged 55 or over were also substantially more likely (62 per cent) to think the Act should be repealed than those aged 16 to 34 (34 per cent).

A total of 74 per cent of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 general election said the legislation should be repealed, compared to just 41 per cent of SNP voters and 46 per cent of Labour voters.

Controversy has also focused on the police practice of recording “non-crime hate incidents” when a complaint does not meet a criminal threshold, but is perceived to be “motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards a social group”.

More Scots believed the police should record these (44 per cent) than not (39 per cent), while 17 per cent did not know. Women (50 per cent) were substantially more likely to back the practice than men (38 per cent).

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Again, there were also divisions along political lines. Just 25 per cent of those who voted Tory in 2019 thought the police should record non-crime hate incidents, compared to 66 per cent who said they should not. Meanwhile, 54 per cent of SNP voters backed such incidents being recorded, compared to 31 per cent who did not.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said: “Our research suggests a gender and generational divide in the Scottish public’s views towards the Hate Crime Act.

"Simply put, if you’re older or male, you’re much more likely to want the law to be repealed than someone who is younger or female. SNP voters are the only party supporters where a higher proportion want the Hate Crime Act to remain in place than not.

“The Scottish public are broadly split on whether the police should record ‘non-crime hate incidents’. This divide is down party lines, with Conservative voters strongly saying they don’t want the police to record non-crime hate incidents, whereas SNP and Labour voters believe that they should.”

Savanta interviewed 1,080 Scottish adults aged 16 and over online between May 3-8. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of Scottish adults by age, gender, region and past voting behaviour.

As of May 5, a total of 9,604 online reports had been received by Police Scotland in relation to hate crime since April 1, alongside 64 phone calls and 195 emails. However, just 1,062 hate crimes had been recorded.

David Kennedy, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, previously warned officers were being overwhelmed by complaints, adding: “While the vast majority end up being deemed for no further action, each has to be checked and assessed, using resources which could be used elsewhere.”

Jo Farrell, chief constable of Police Scotland, said hate crime reports had increased in line with the expanded range of protected characteristics, but had tailed off from a deluge of mostly anonymous complaints when the new law was introduced in April.

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She said: “The vast proportion of it was anonymous, we had dedicated teams in our communications rooms to manage that. So now as we get to the new norm, as I’ll call it, we have seen an increase in hate crime as an extension in terms of the number of protected characteristics.”