LAST week saw a climbdown by the Scottish Government on one of the most controversial aspects of its Hate Crime Bill. After a huge public backlash, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced the offence of stirring up of hatred included in the draft legislation will be amended to ensure that no citizen can commit an offence unless “intent” to stir up hatred can be proven by the court.

This is a welcome change. It diminishes the chance of specious convictions should the new “stirring up” laws reach the statute book. It is not, however, the end of the saga. Mr Yousaf was a step in the right direction but he still has a long way to go if he is to allay free speech fears.

Expert groups such as the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Police Federation have stressed remaining aspects of the “stirring up” offences threaten to undermine freedom of speech and expression, obfuscate criminal law and place an unmanageable burden on police officers and prosecutors.

There are still serious issues with the proposals: the language is hopelessly vague – the term “abusive” could create a distressingly low threshold for offending; free speech clauses are sorely lacking; there is no “dwelling defence”; and prosecutions would not be limited by referral to the chief prosecutor, as in other parts of the United Kingdom.

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As a former SNP politician and party member, I see no logical reason why the Government should refuse further amendments. In fact, in order to remain consistent in its approach to freedom of speech and expression, it should be prepared to go further.

The votes of SNP MPs were crucial to securing free speech protections in previous stirring up of hatred offences passed at Westminster in 2006. The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill would have criminalised “threatening, abusive or insulting” behaviour “intended” or “likely” to stir up racial or religious hatred – very similar to the Holyrood proposals.

On the day of the key House of Commons vote, five SNP MPs – Alex Salmond, Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie, Angus MacNeil and Michael Weir – backed a successful amendment to ensure that the threshold was “threatening” – not “threatening, abusive or insulting”.

They also backed a robust free speech clause stating that nothing in the offences “prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse”. In order to see these amendments passed, they broke with the usual convention of abstaining on England-only legislation. And quite rightly, as a legal opinion had warned that Scottish citizens could be caught by the English provisions.

All of this raises questions in my mind. Why is the term “abusive” in the stirring up proposals when it was considered too “subjective” by the SNP previously? And why do free speech provisions in the bill only permit “discussion and criticism” when the SNP previously voted to allow “expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse”?

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To avoid a charge of hypocrisy, the SNP must limit the stirring up offences to “threatening” behaviour and ensure much more robust free speech provisions are included. If these changes are not made, there will arguably be more free speech rights south of the Border than in Scotland.

There’s still a lot of scrutiny to come on the bill. Next month, the Justice Committee will begin line-by-line analysis of the stirring up proposals. The Government could save itself a fearful headache by backing changes at an early stage.

The most important amendment needed is that Clause 1, line 1 should read “All of the offences alleged and prosecuted in any court proceedings should be judged against the following standard: that pre-eminence is given to the presumption of free thought and free speech in a free society.”

Jim Sillars is former depute leader of the SNP and a spokesperson for the Free to Disagree campaign