Threat to free speech
No one likes obnoxious or abusive language. Mindless prejudice coarsens our public spaces and can make some feel unwelcome in their own country. That is why the SNP’s proposed Hate Crime Bill may appear desirable at first glance.
Look closer, however, and what confronts you is a broad and sweeping piece of legislation that risks criminalising speech currently considered merely offensive or even an expression of political belief.
Humza Yousaf, who introduced the Bill, initially assured MSPs that only ‘threatening and abusive’ conduct would be covered. Now he admits abusiveness alone would be enough for charges to be brought.
That opens up vast swathes of speech and behaviour, currently allowed under law, to potential prosecution on the basis of vague and ill-defined principles. The threat to freedom of speech is severe and the opportunity for unintended consequences ripe.
The SNP is straying into a potential minefield – and risks endangering the fundamental principles of free speech.