Supporters of the SNP and independence have criticised the SNP for the controversial Hate Crime Bill, a freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives has shown.
The bill, one of justice secretary Humza Yousaf’s flagship policies, has been labelled as an attack on freedom of speech by its critics.
Last week, Mr Yousaf succumbed to pressure to amend the bill and announced it would be changed after the Scottish Government accepted the draft law could be used to “prosecute entirely legitimate acts of expression”.
He told MSPs he had listened to the many concerns about a new offence of “stirring up hatred” within the Bill, which would not have required proof of "intent” for an offence to be committed.
As a result he said, the Scottish Government would make changes to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to “balance protection of vulnerable groups affected by hate crime with people’s rights to freedom of expression.”
Many SNP supporters and voters said they would consider switching their vote to the Scottish Conservatives if the bill was signed into law.
One said: “As a supporter of both independence and the SNP, I feel I am now unable to support both your government and party.’
“Please do not allow legislation which even slightly curbs free speech, regardless of its content to pass into law. At the cost of loosing support for the SNP or independence as this will certainly be a vehicle the opposing parties will use as a stick to beat the SNP with.”
Another added: “In the period of your tenure as leader of the SNP I have gone from being a lifelong, staunch supporter of the SNP to a vehement opponent of the direction in which you wish to take the country.
“At the ripe age of 70, for the first time I am actually considering the unthinkable - voting Conservative. I no longer trust the SNP nor the Scottish Labour party.”
One former SNP councillor wrote to ministers labelling the bill a disgrace.
They said: “Added to that fatal vagueness is more than a hint of authoritarianism which is a disgrace to the SNP Government, and a betrayal of the party’s historic commitment to freedom of speech."Unless there is radical revision of the kind I suggested then I urge the government to scrap the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill forthwith.’
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, Liam Kerr MSP, said the criticism showed the bill was about “more than politics”.
He said: “Even the SNP’s own supporters are slamming the most controversial bill in Scottish Parliament history.
“The fierce barrage of criticism from the SNP’s own ranks confirms that this is about more than politics. The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill will have a chilling impact on our fundamental right to freedom of speech.
“If Humza Yousaf thinks he can gloss over the Bill’s severe flaws by crossing out a sentence here and a word there, then these letters confirm he needs to go much, much further.”