MSPs urged to back call for law to be scrapped

Scottish Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Rachel Wat­son Deputy Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

DOU­GLAS Ross has pledged to use ‘ev­ery tac­tic’ at his dis­posal to stop the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill, in­clud­ing forc­ing a vote at Holy­rood.

The Scot­tish Tories will bring for­ward a de­bate this week in a bid to scrap the leg­is­la­tion ‘once and for all’.

MSPs will be urged to back a mo­tion call­ing for the Hate Crime and Public Or­der (Scot­land) Bill to be ‘with­drawn’ amid wide­spread out­rage at the plans.

On Fri­day, it emerged that an un­prece­dented 2,000 sub­mis­sions had been made to the Scot­tish par­lia­ment’s con­sul­ta­tion on the pro­posed law – with lawyers, po­lice of­fi­cers, sher­iffs and the BBC all rais­ing se­ri­ous con­cerns.

SNP min­is­ters have so far re­fused to scrap the Bill, which could re­sult in jail sen­tences of up to seven years for those con­victed of ‘stir­ring up’ ha­tred.

Crit­ics say that it is badly drafted and will un­der­mine free­dom of speech, while of­fi­cers fear the cost of polic­ing it has been grossly un­der­es­ti­mated. and this week,

Mr Ross will seek to send a clear mes­sage to the Scot­tish Govern­ment that the pro­pos­als must be scrapped.

He told the Scot­tish Daily Mail: ‘The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill is the big­gest at­tack on free­dom of speech in Scot­land since de­vo­lu­tion.

‘One of my first mis­sions as leader of the op­po­si­tion in Scot­land will be to fight this head on. The Scot­tish Tories will use ev­ery tac­tic at our dis­posal to stop this leg­is­la­tion in its tracks.’

On Wed­nes­day, the Tories will bring for­ward a de­bate on the Bill, forc­ing a vote on the is­sue.

Mr Ross said: ‘Op­po­si­tion par­ties can unite be­hind the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives and stop this aw­ful leg­is­la­tion from the SNP once and for all. Across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, ev­ery­one from po­lice of­fi­cers to faith groups, hu­man­ists and lawyers thinks this Bill is a dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen. It opens the door to or­di­nary, de­cent folk fac­ing the threat of jail for speak­ing their mind and that can­not be tol­er­ated.’

Mr Ross de­scribed the Bill as ‘uni­ver­sally detested’ and com­pared it to the

SNP’s ‘hated Named Per­son scheme’ which was scrapped only af­ter a court ruled that parts of it breached rights to pri­vacy and a fam­ily life.

It is un­der­stood the Tories be­lieve they can get the sup­port of Labour and the Lib Dems but are un­sure whether the Scot­tish Greens would back a mo­tion call­ing for the Bill to be scrapped.

Jamie Gil­lies, of the cam­paign Free to Dis­agree, said wide­spread op­po­si­tion to the plan in­cluded ‘those who would be re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing the new law – the judges and sher­iffs’.

He added: ‘A sig­nal from MSPs that they are not will­ing to progress the stir­ring up of­fences sec­tion of this leg­is­la­tion would be widely wel­comed’.

The Holy­rood vote would not be bind­ing but would record of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion to the pro­pos­als.

Dozens of or­gan­i­sa­tions have spo­ken out against the plan, in­clud­ing the BBC, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dents and the Fac­ulty of Ad­vo­cates.

The Sen­a­tors of the Col­lege of Jus­tice, which rep­re­sents top judges, high­lighted am­bi­gu­ity in the Bill’s word­ing.

A Scot­tish Govern­ment spokesman said: ‘We’ll lis­ten, en­gage and find com­mon ground with those who want peo­ple to be pro­tected from the scourge of hate crime while re­spect­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

‘The par­lia­ment can and must come to­gether and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans have a duty to work to­gether to en­sure we do our ut­most to pro­tect those who are most vul­ner­a­ble and tar­geted by hate.’

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