Controversial Scottish hate crime law passes, despite concerns about impact on freedom of speech

Controversial Scottish hate crime law passes, despite concerns about impact on freedom of speech
Tony Marsh
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Scotland’s controversial hate crime bill has passed, as MSPs voted 82-32 in favour of the milestone legislation which seeks to criminalize speech that “stirs up hatred” on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or gender identity. 

The bill passed despite concerns raised about its impact on free speech. In its present form, the legislation also excludes women from its list of protected classes. Lawmakers opposed to the bill have highlighted that it would criminalize anyone whose views are considered by some to be transphobic.

The Guardian reports that in the final debate in the Scottish parliament on Thursday, Scotland's Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf assured MSPs that the legislation, which consolidated existing hate crime laws but also creates a new offence of stirring up hatred, offers protections for victims of a hate crime while safeguarding freedom of expression. 

He stated that the final revision of the bill, which was vigorously debated in parliament for several months, had “shown the very best of parliament.” 

Earlier on Wednesday, an effort to amend the bill and add sex to the list of protected characteristics was voted down, despite cross-party concerns about the exclusion of women. 

Former Scottish Labour leader MSP Johann Lamont argued that women, “who understand hate crime more than any other group does,” deserved to be included. She said it was wrong to “outsource our thinking to a working group, rather than wrestle with the issues of principle here in the parliament.”

MSP Joan McAlpine told her Scottish National Party colleagues: “The thing that finally turned me to my current position was the government’s decision to expand the definition of transgender identity to include cross-dressers who are not trans identified … It will seem bizarre to many people that men who enjoy cross-dressing are protected from hate crime, but women are not.” 

Yousaf disagreed with their assessments and urged them to listen to women’s organizations including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland, which warned that adding sex to the bill could be used as a tool for domestic abusers to use as a part of a wider pattern of coercive control. 

Yousaf pointed out how the legislation could be abused to coerce others if sex becomes a protected class, but ironically glossed over the fact that any member of a protected class could use their privilege to coerce someone else, or even use the legislation to vindictive ends. 

Despite the bill’s passage, the Scottish parliament voted to strengthen freedom of speech provisions after earlier iterations prompted anger from various cultural groups. 

One such amendment from Scottish Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins reinstated rights under the European Convention on Human Rights Article 10, emphasizing the right to offend, shock, or disturb, in relation to a ‘reasonableness’ defense. 

“So much fear has been stoked in relation to those matters that it is important to set that out,” said Tomkins. “Criticising policy relating to transgender identity is not a hate crime under the bill. Even if you express yourself in a manner that others find transphobic, it is not a hate crime to discuss or to criticise matters relating to transgender identity.”

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  • By Ezra Levant

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