Tory demands for Hate Crime Act to be repealed are rejected by MSPs

Legislation described as ‘clipe’s charter’ after early deluge of complaints to police

Scottish Tory calls for the controversial new Hate Crime Act to be repealed have been rejected by MSPs.

A motion in Holyrood was voted down by 69 votes to 49 with five abstentions after the Conservatives led the charge against the Act, which came into force on April 1 and sparked an early deluge of complaints.

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Data from Police Scotland shows that almost 9,000 online complaints were made in the first two weeks, although daily figures have significantly dropped from the near-3.500 on the first day.

Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman Russell Findlay described the Hate Crime Act as a 'clipe's charter'Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman Russell Findlay described the Hate Crime Act as a 'clipe's charter'
Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman Russell Findlay described the Hate Crime Act as a 'clipe's charter'

The party has been consistently against the legislation, arguing that it would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Speaking in Holyrood, Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay described it as a “clipe’s charter” – referring to a Scots word for someone who tells on other people.

“From April Fool’s Day, (the Act) has transformed Scotland into a place of international mockery,” he said.

“It’s transformed the birthplace of the Enlightenment into a place where free speech has been de-based and de-valued – a place of sinister police billboards instructing people to snitch on those who hurt their feelings.”

Mr Findlay said the process of police investigation under the Act could be seen as a punishment.

“Being subject to an investigation can be daunting, disruptive, humiliating and financially costly,” he said.

“Police arriving at your home or workplace, taken away in handcuffs, phone seized, forced to pay for a lawyer – stigmatising and damaging to personal reputations and employment prospects.”

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The Act created a new offence of stirring up hatred against some protected characteristics – expanding a similar statute already on the books for race – but Justice Secretary Angela Constance said this week just nine instances of stirring up hatred were recorded in the first two weeks of the Act being in effect.

It is not clear how many of those nine recorded instances were relating to the old offence of stirring up racial hatred.

The Tory MSP added: “I despair at this Government’s sneering sense of moral superiority and failure to tackle the issues that truly matter.”

Speaking ahead of the debate, First Minister Humza Yousaf said the push to repeal the legislation was “disgraceful”, adding that – if the push was successful – “there would be no protection against hatred, so people would have carte blanche to espouse hatred against people because of the colour of their skin, or their religion, or their sexual orientation or disability or any other characteristics”.

Responding to Mr Findlay, community safety minister Siobhian Brown said there had been “vexatious complaints” made “in order to overwhelm police systems” and she called on all MSPs to “send a strong message to all those making vexatious complaints to stop doing so”.

Scottish Labour backed the legislation when it was passed in 2021, but has criticised the implementation in recent weeks.

The party’s justice spokeswoman, Pauline McNeill, lamented that sex was left out of the Act in favour of a standalone Bill on misogyny.

Former SNP minister Fergus Ewing described police recording of non-crime hate incidents as a “perversion” of the justice system.

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Mr Ewing, who is now an outspoken backbencher, said it was an “abnegation” of the right to a free trial in a democracy. He compared the practice to something out of the writings of Franz Kafka.

Non-crime hate incidents are recorded when a complaint does not meet the threshold for a crime, but is perceived to be “motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards a social group”, according to Police Scotland guidance.

Their recording predates the new legislation, but there are fears the law – and the publicity around it – will lead to an increase in such incidents.

Addressing MSPs, Mr Ewing said he would not vote for a Tory motion to repeal the Hate Crime Act. He said: “I do think, however, that there’s a strong case that it should be reformed in many ways.”

Before the debate, Mr Yousaf hit back at JK Rowling after she accused the First Minister of showing “absolute contempt for women and their rights”.

The author spoke out after Mr Yousaf said a forthcoming Bill on misogyny would also cover transgender women who suffer misogynistic abuse. This aligns with the position of human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, who led a review that informed the proposed legislation.

The pledge to create a standalone Bill dealing with misogyny resulted in sex being left out of the recent Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which came into force on April 1. This has led to criticism from some campaigners and politicians, with Scottish Labour calling for the hate crime law to be amended to include sex.

Writing on social media on Tuesday, Ms Rowling said: “Once again, @HumzaYousaf makes his absolute contempt for women and their rights clear. Women were excluded from his nonsensical hate crime law, now he introduces a 'misogyny law' designed to also protect men.”

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She said “trans-identified men” had sent violent threats to women, but would now receive “double protection” for their “so-called gender identity, and for also being, in the eyes of the Scottish government, a woman”.

Asked about Ms Rowling’s comments by LBC, the First Minister said: "It's an astonishing accusation to suggest the Government is bringing forward a Bill to tackle misogyny that has contempt for women. It doesn't make any logical sense.

"What I would say to people, to everybody, is unfortunately we are living in a day and an age where not only disinformation is being spread, but clearly many issues end up becoming culture wars issues, and they shouldn't be. This is an issue I would encourage anybody to simply look at the facts.”



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