By Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online.
The ruling Nationalists are proposing a new Hate Speech Law that criminalises everything from articles to jokes if they are deemed abusive. Hate may be an ugly emotion, but the state has no right to legislate against feelings.
I am as English as they come, but I really rather like Scotland. As a place it's gorgeous to look at, its whisky is the finest on Earth, I even like haggis and think a deep-fried Mars Bar is a work of culinary excellence when executed properly. Intellectually, it has produced titans like Adam Smith and David Hume. Scots have been responsible for inventing television, telephones and penicillin. Culturally they have given the world Robert Louis Stevenson, Robbie Burns, Arthur Conan-Doyle and Billy Connolly to name but a few. Yet despite all this I wouldnt want to live there, and no, it isnt because of the weather.
Since 2007, the merry band of intellectual pygmies known as the Scottish National Party (SNP) have had stranglehold on the countrys government, and now, thanks to the total collapse of the Labour Party north of Hadrians wall, are the third largest party in the whole of Britain. During this time, they have brought in a series of appalling new laws (Scotland has a separate legal system to England and Wales as a result of the Acts of Union in 1707) that have imposed despicable restrictions on speech. Their latest proposed act of wanton vandalism on freedom of thought is a new Hate Crime Bill, which has been enthusiastically put forward by their Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf. Read more Arrogance of BoJo is fracturing UK into sovereign states & accelerating the break-up of the union Arrogance of BoJo is fracturing UK into sovereign states & accelerating the break-up of the union
This proposed legislation seeks to modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law ensuring it is fit for the 21st century. The new bill repeals an arcane blasphemy law that has, admittedly, remained on Scotlands books for far too long, although no one has been prosecuted under it since the nineteenth century. However, having done away with the heresy of the past, it then goes on to enshrine in law the new, modern, secular blasphemy of hate speech.
If it passes into law it would be an offence to stir up hatred against people over their age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. On top of this (because how could that possibly be an exhaustive list of characteristics), they are also considering a standalone offence of misogynistic harassment, because, despite Scotland having a female leader in the form of Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP apparently believes there are hordes of Caledonian women haters that particularly need bringing to heel, along with an assortment of racists, homophobes, and transphobes who are stirring up hatred.
This is thought policing, plain and simple. It may not be a nice aspect of humanity but hating some things and some people is a fact of life. This law would make it an offence to behave in a threatening or abusive manner or communicate threatening or abusive material to another person, but crucially unlike the current law on stirring up religious hatred in England and Wales the proposed Scottish legislation doesnt require intent. It also doesnt account for the fact that whether or not language is threatening or abusive is almost entirely subjective and incredibly dependent on tone.
For example, this new law would no doubt make Boris Johnsons much maligned newspaper columncomparing burka-wearing women to bank robbers and letterboxes, a 2018 Sunday Times article by Rod Liddledescribing Wales as a third world country, and almost every an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar joke ever coined, potentially illegal (heres one of my favourites, by the way, but dont blame if you end up getting arrested). All a prosecutor would have to prove is that hatred will likely be stirred up as a result of the remarks, completely ignoring the intent behind them. This is a ridiculous and dangerous state of affairs. Also on rt.com Our NHS, hallowed be thy name Brits need to see health service for bloated bureaucracy it is and reform it now
In a free society people have to be allowed to love, loath, mock, endorse, worship, revere, despise and yes, even hate anything they like. Though it is not a pleasant emotion, a Celtic football fan has just as much right to hate Rangers as an atheist does to hate Islam, and a government has no right to threaten to imprison someone for up to seven years should he or she express these abusive thoughts.
Scotland already has draconian free speech laws, as the sorry saga of Mark Meechan (aka Count Dankula) and the Nazi pug showed. Back in 2016, he was arrested after posting a video on YouTube titled M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi which showed his girlfriends dog, Buddha, raising his right paw in response to the phrases Seig Heil and gas the Jews. After being dragged through the courts for two years, he was found guilty of breaching the Communications Act 2003 and fined £800 after the court ruled that his claim that it was a joke lacked credibility.
How anyone could feel comfortable with granting a legal system that already impugns motive and disregards context to this extent further powers to clamp down on whichever views the government of the day regards as beyond the pale is beyond me.
As an Englishman I want my Scottish cousins to have the freedom to hate whatever and whoever they like, including filthy Sassanachs like myself, although I suspect the SNP might give them a free pass on that one.