MY experience is as a journalist, not a lawyer, so there may be legal points in the Hate Crime Bill which I overlook. Nevertheless, here are some questions.

Since 2012, people in Scotland have been protected by specific laws on grounds of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Apart from adding age to the list, what need is there for this new bill?

Section one discusses “aggravation of offences by prejudice”. The Latin pre-judice means judging ahead. While growing up, most people have to form some sort of pre-judgements. In normal conversation, that is one way of getting to know and understand people. To say that “society will not tolerate crimes motivated by prejudice” is to claim control over society.

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The bill aims to “create new offences” relating to “stirring up hatred in relation to all listed characteristics, disability, age, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variation in sex characteristics.” (One wonders how many more sexes are to be revealed.) This is identity politics. Surely “stirring up hatred” is already a well-kent sin? It is always wrong. Prejudice is only occasionally a sin. If all prejudices are to be designated crimes, must we all be put in prison?

Section two deals with “stirring up offences.”. It lists “threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour” in stirring up racial hatred. But unlike the first two, “insulting behaviour” can be a purely subjective judgement. Lord Bracadale was right to ask for it to be removed. He also called for a clear distinction to be made between legitimate debate and rabble-rousing.

Almost from its very beginning, Scotland has been a Christian country. Christianity, by founding and supporting the universities, has encouraged and championed debate and freedom of speech. Some modern governments, whether communist, fascist or socialist, have clamped down on this (witness today’s China). It will be a sad day when the Scottish Government starts enforcing what it believes to be politically correct and gagging the public.

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The phrase "politically correct" was first used by Lenin. In India and Pakistan, governments have now termed anything politically incorrect as "blasphemy" in order to suppress and control. So we should indeed avoid using the term blasphemy in law. Nevertheless, because Scotland is still largely Christian, it should be remembered that to insult God and to take His name in vain is hurtful to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

This bill says that it “seeks to control malice and ill-will”. Malice is one thing, but ill-will can be very widely interpreted. By the time I have finished writing, I am likely to have ill-will towards the Scottish Government: this does not mean I will throw a stone through one of the parliament windows, nor that I bear any malice towards them at all (having supported the SNP for 58 years).

But again and again in this section, it is being emphasised that there do not have to be any specific victims of hate crime. Only that crime may have been aggravated by prejudice. Does this smack of George Orwell’s "thought control".

Paragraph 23 maintains that there does not even have to be legal corroboration to prove that an offence was aggravated by prejudice. This gainsays the just and ancient Scottish legal tradition of the necessity for corroboration.

Paragraph 33 deals with the offence of stirring up hatred against a group of persons defined by certain characteristics. One wonders whether medical evidence, when called upon, will be considered as stirring up hatred against a group? The high incidence of cancer among smokers? The high incidence of liver and mental degeneration among alcoholics?

Section four considers culpability where an offence is committed during the public performance of a play. Now have we really touched rock bottom? Have the Thought Police moved in? Not even works of imagination are to go uncensored. Yet:

The play’s the thing
With which to touch the conscience of the King.

Of whom is the Scottish Government afraid? Of what are civil servants afraid? Yes, of course: the Sword of the Imagination!

In section five paragraph 47 creates an offence of racially inflammatory material. It provides that “it is an offence for a person to have in their possession threatening, abusive or insulting material to another person.” Does this include libraries? So it will also be an offence to possess inflammatory material under section five, “which discriminates against age, disability, religion, perceived religious affiliation, sexual orientation, transgender identity; and variations in sex characteristics”: well, we all know that. In paragraph 56, we are told: “A constable or member of the police staff may enter premises (by force if necessary), search them and seize and detain any material found there”. Will they have to read all our books?

In paragraph 65, what is the public policy which is affirmed? Do the public know what the public policy is? People should feel free to examine religious beliefs robustly, and indeed have courageous discussion about sexual orientation and same-sex marriage.

Last but not least, we are told that the existing laws protecting religion and race (sexual orientation, disability, transgender identity, etc) are hereby repealed. Does this not put parliament under pressure to hastily pass this bill in order to protect the very basic human rights pertaining to race and religion which they already had?

A very sleekit bill.

Lesley J Findlay
Fort Augustus