LEADING independence supporters from the performing arts, literature and journalism have raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s hate crime legislation proposals.

Yes campaigners including the actress, Elaine C Smith, playwright Alan Bissett, novelist Val McDermid and The National columnist Ruth Wishart are among more than 20 signatories to an open letter voicing criticism of the plans.

Others who have signed the letter include the comedian Rowan Atkinson, the broadcaster and presenter Nick Ross, the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, the novelist Christopher Brookmyre and the academic Professor AC Grayling.

They fear the bill could undermine free speech and artistic expression and say measures are needed in the legislation to protect these rights.

The letter is co-ordinated by the Humanist Society and published in The National today. It also highlights concern over the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill’s proposal to not require proof of intent over the proposed stirring up offences.

READ MORE: Letters: We fear new Hate Crime Bill could stifle freedom of expression

Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland said: “The Bill as proposed has behind it some sound intentions, however it is clear from the broad support to our joint letter that concerns remain about poorly drafted provisions.

“The failure of the bill to require intent to be proven in court on some offences risks a significant chilling effect on free expression.

“This is why the UN Rabat Plan has six tests on controlling hate speech including that any laws must ensure intent is proven.

“This strikes a sensible balance between protecting individuals from hate crime and protecting freedom of expression and the bill needs amending to properly achieve this.”

Arts administrator Dame Seona Reid, the artistic director of Dundee Rep, Andrew Paton along with Cartoonists Rights International and Prof Timothy Garden Ash also signed the letter.

Last month the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said the bill could mean officers “determining free speech”, leading to a breakdown in relations with the public.

In submissions to two Holyrood inquiries, the SPF opposed a provision giving officers powers of search and entry by force if necessary and expressed concern the bill undermined the right to a fair trial.

The bill would replace criminal intent with “something altogether more nebulous”, it said, with “some form of ‘accidental effect’” being enough to secure a conviction.

The submissions also predicted the bill would see a “significant increase in police workload and demand” and said the timing of its publication during the pandemic was “unfortunate at best.”

The legal body the Faculty of Advocates has warned the bill would criminalise hundreds of social media posts every day. The organisation said there was “no alternative but to reconsider” the legislation, warning it had the potential to swamp the courts.

Under proposals put forward by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, any behaviour or material that “stirs up hatred” or has the “potential” to stir up hatred would be liable for prosecution.

The Faculty said forwarding an insulting WhatsApp message, for example, could become illegal, warning the bill could “potentially criminalise a number of social media postings made on a daily basis”.

It added: “If it is anticipated that criminal proceedings will be raised in such cases, then a large number of prosecutions could result.

“While supporting the principles behind the reforms, the Faculty warned of a chilling effect on legitimate, if controversial, debate and the performing arts.”