SNP’s hate crime law now officially the ‘most controversial’ legislation since devolution

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Research undertaken by the Scottish Conservatives revealed it received more submissions than any other bill since Holyrood was created in 1999. The bill, which aims to reduce hate crimes, has attracted criticism from comedians, religious organisations and the police for being too heavy-handed with almost 2,000 submissions received.

The next highest number of submissions for other bills were 1331, 635 and 487, the analysis revealed.

Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf introduced The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill which looks to extend the law on ‘hate crime’ covering religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

If the law is passed by the Scottish Parliament, it means words or behaviour considered to be “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence.

However, the controversial legislation has already faced criticism from the Scottish Police Federation, the Catholic Church in Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland, along with groups including the Free to Disagree campaign.

Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson, said: “This Scottish Conservative analysis shows that the Hate Crime Bill is the most controversial law to ever come before the parliament.

“The problem isn’t hate crime legislation in itself – it’s the dangerous way this Bill has been constructed and drafted by the SNP.

“As drafted, the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill threatens our fundamental right to freedom of speech and that’s why so many Scottish people are furious about it.

“In the history of devolution, no bill has attracted this number of responses, and that goes to show just how contentious it is.

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“If the SNP presses on with this Bill in this form, the level of outcry among civic Scotland and the general public will only increase and it risks a controversy that looks likely to be worse than Named Persons.”

SNP adviser Alex Bell also lambasted Humza Yousaf’s “ill-conceived” Hate Crime Bill in a scathing attack on government “group think”.

Mr Bell worked as a Scottish Government adviser when Alex Salmond was First Minister.

Writing in The Courier, Mr Bell said the Bill was “yet another piece” of “ill-conceived, badly drafted and ultimately unloved” legislation.

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He said the SNP had “withdrawn, struck down or failed at too many policy initiatives”.

Mr Bell added: “If Bills were children, the Scottish Government would have filled an orphanage by now.”

He highlighted its broken 2007 manifesto pledges to scrap the council tax and cut classes in the first three years of primary school to 18 pupils.

Mr Bell also said the “good intentions” of the botched Named Person scheme and Football Act, tackling sectarianism, were “undone by bad politics and lamentable drafting”.

Hitting out “a group think in the dominant political party” he added: “The SNP have a tendency to like everything the leadership says, up until the official story is changed, then nobody remembers.”

Mr Bell added: “We have a political class easy with failure, if the bigger purpose of power, and independence, is still on track. And that is sad.

“It is also deeply worrying. There is no more aspirational policy than independence.

“But the party advocating it has repeatedly demonstrated it’s not very good at drafting things, it doesn’t have a handle on detail, and ministers are loathe to stand by policies that aren’t immediately successful.”

His intervention comes after Justice Secretary Mr Yousaf saw off a Tory bid to axe the Bill amid fears it will hit freedom of speech.

On Wednesday the Conservatives were defeated, with Labour, Lib Dem and Green MSPs backing a motion calling for improvement rather than see the proposals scrapped.

Mr Yousaf has pledged to find “compromise” with its many critics and make changes after admitting there are “legitimate concerns”.

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is heartening to see so many taking part in the democratic process and offering views.

“There has been a wide array of views with many organisations offering support for the intent of hate crime legislation, such as the Equality Network and Victim Support Scotland.

“This is because no one should doubt that hate crime is a significant problem, with Police Scotland recording 6,736 hate crimes in 2017-18, and 886 – an average of around 17 a week – being common assaults fuelled by prejudice.

“To abandon those who are the targets of hatred is to abandon the very people that need our protection.

“MSPs have shown in the last week that they want improved legislation as they joined equality and human rights campaigners, and those supporting victims of crime, in backing the need for the Hate Crime Bill.

“The Justice Secretary has indicated that he is willing to find a compromise and common ground and that potential changes to the Bill will be seriously considered to address concerns.

“All MSPs should now continue to work to send a clear message that hateful behaviour has no place in modern Scotland.”


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