THE rising tide of bile and hysteria directed at the new hate crime legislation in Scotland tells us more about the standard of political debate in this country than it does about either the legislation itself or the motivation behind it.

It’s yet another example of how a well-meaning attempt to tackle a recognised problem can be twisted and portrayed as something else entirely to portray the Scottish Government as either incompetent or duplicitous for cynical political reasons.

It leaves those of us who support the underlying aims of the legislation open to being described as apologists for “woke” policies by those who are opposed on principle to accepting any initiative by the current Scottish Government as reasonable and praiseworthy.

We are now expected to believe the worst of any Scottish Government moves because, well, they’re the Government and that anyone who does not immediately jump on the anti-SNP bandwagon has lost the power of critical thinking and become supine supporters.

The National: J.K. Rowling.

In this world we are now expected to believe that commentators such as JK Rowling, whose every word is seized upon and reproduced by almost every newspaper in the land and who could get a column in every one of those newspapers simply by asking, is being denied a voice by those who disagree with her.

READ MORE: Rangers pub bans filming and sectarian songs amid hate crime fears

In this world we are expected to believe that “champions of free speech” are being silenced and robbed of their rights to be vile to whoever they choose to vilify on any given day by the “woke thought police”.

All this is another example of the Government attempting to act on widely condemned dangerous behaviour only to be attacked for reducing the public right to behave however it wants.

Remember when you could not buy a newspaper or read a website without seeing sectarian abuse being described as “Scotland’s secret shame”?

Remember when action to curb that abuse faced a storm of protest from the very same voices who had demanded that very same action?

The legislation was then described as an attack on “working-class traditions” and an infringement on a right to free speech, which suddenly became more important than any other human right in existence.

The squashing of that legislation paved the way last weekend for Ally McCoist “joking” that he and 48,000 other Rangers fans would be breaking the hate crime legislation at an Old Firm match as if that was somehow striking a blow for freedom.

The National: Ally McCoist

The argument that so many people sing sectarian songs and so many people commit hate crimes that the police are powerless to stop it is just one of many ridiculous claims made by opponents of such a clampdown.

The number of people who did not wear seat belts or who smoked in bars and restaurants didn’t stop new laws from making such behaviour simply unacceptable.

The main weapon being used against the hate crime law is not rational argument or a genuine concern that real and cherished human rights are under threat.

READ MORE: Hate crime law will not divert police away from serious crime, says senior officer

It is a never-ending onslaught of blatant misinformation so confusing that it becomes impossible to tell truth from lies.

When you talk to its critics it quickly becomes apparent that they don’t know if their concerns are genuine. And who can blame them?

You don’t have to believe the legislation is perfect to believe that discussion on it should be based on fact rather than made-up nonsense.

So let’s look at what the new legislation actually does. According to James Chalmers, regius professor of law at the University of Glasgow, the new legislation has less of an effect on what is and what is not illegal.

The National: James Chalmers, Professor of Law at Glasgow University Law School

It more affects which category of crime the more serious cases would be placed in.

Most of the offences covered by the new legislation were already illegal. They are now simply grouped together under the same act.

The legislation adds just one additional characteristic to give protection against hate crimes and that is age. The other characteristics mentioned have been protected already.

The new legislation does not allow someone to be prosecuted just for being nasty. That is specifically excluded from the act, as is being the subject of a joke.

An offence has to have the aim of stirring hatred against protected characteristics. It’s not enough for someone to feel offended. To qualify as an offence it would have to be identified by a “reasonable person” as having the aim of stirring up hatred.

It has been illegal in the UK to stir up racial hatred since 1986 and homophobic hate crimes have been recognised by law in England and Wales since 2008. Transgender people were already specifically protected from hate crimes in Scotland before the recent changes.

The hysteria around the new legislation in Scotland certainly does not seem to be justified by police statistics compiled in the first week since its introduction.

Since the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into force, Police Scotland says it has received more than 7000 online reports.

Exactly how many of these allegations refer to events which would have been illegal under the previous laws is not clear. What’s certain is that the police have ruled that only 3.8% were authentic – 240 were logged as hate crimes and 30 as non-hate crimes.

Although the level of authentic cases has been low it hasn’t silenced critics who have been foaming at the mouth saying that all this extra work will drag resources away from so-called real crimes such as assault.

The police themselves have dismissed those fears. Stewart Carle, the general secretary of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, has insisted that the number of reports will not divert attention away from serious crimes.

Asked if there was concern about that possibility he said: “No, the police will continue to prioritise and respond to serious crimes, particularly those involving violence or sexual assault.”

Of course, how can serving police officers know more about the situation than the Daily Record, which said the police were “swamped” with complaints; or The Times, which said the police “cannot cope” with the “flood of hate crime reports”; or even Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who said the complaints were wasting police time.

The National:

So, how did legislation aimed at, in the words of Humza Yousaf, protecting “people from hated being stirred up against them and that it really important when we have far too many incidents of hatred that can be because of their age, disability, sexuality or religion” descend into such controversy?

Well, it’s not because that protection isn’t necessary or because vulnerable people are not suffering or because Scotland need not concern itself with such issues.

In fact during this whole debate, the voices we have not heard are from those who will benefit from the legislation.

In fact, the debate has been hijacked by those who see its potential for boosting their own agenda.

These include: 

  • Those who now see everything though an anti-trans prism and always seek new evidence for their claim that women’s rights are being attacked – despite many women and almost all feminist organisations seeing no threat to those from trans rights;
  • Those members of Scottish Labour who voted for the hate crime legislation only to keep their mouths shut when the controversy began. Labour’s leader in Scotland Anas Sarwar has shown the lessons he’s learned from Keir Starmer’s fence sitting by saying he would not repeal the legislation if given the chance but does not oppose Starmer’s refusal to implement similar laws in Westminster;
  • The massed ranks of Unionist politicians who will stop at nothing to discredit the SNP and by extension the independence movement. There is nothing the Scottish can do that they will not seize upon as proof that they are simply incapable of running the country’s government. Expect them to redouble their efforts after a poll this week showed that despite the SNP’s recent travails support for independence now has a two-point lead.

For me, there was one story this week that suggested the new hate legislation has already proven its worth.

The Bristol Bar in Glasgow has introduced new moves to stop sectarian songs within the premises for fear of falling foul of the new rules. Sometimes it takes one little push to do the right thing.