Why the hate crime bill has no place in a free so­ci­ety

The Herald - - Herald Voices - STU­ART WAITON

THE Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed hate crime bill, if passed, will quite pos­si­bly be the most il­lib­eral and in­tol­er­ant piece of leg­is­la­tion in any lib­eral democ­racy, world­wide. Thank­fully, op­po­si­tion to this bill is grow­ing. If you haven’t read the bill, you should, be­cause you can have your say by writ­ing a sub­mis­sion to Holy­rood – the dead­line is the end of this week.

There is a prob­lem with all hate crime leg­is­la­tion of course, not least of all the sub­jec­tive, al­most in­fan­tile use of the term “hate”, some­thing that may work as a polem­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal term but at the level of law is a non­sense.

And of course, there is the prob­lem of un­der­min­ing the uni­ver­sal­ity of law by cre­at­ing car­i­ca­tured “pro­tected char­ac­ter­is­tics”, that many be­lieve en­cour­ages a com­pet­i­tive vic­tim in­dus­try. Putting th­ese broader points aside, the new hate bill re­mains in a league of its own.

Un­like the laws in the rest of the UK, where the crime of “stir­ring up” ha­tred needs ev­i­dence that it is de­lib­er­ate and also threat­en­ing, here we have a new law that po­ten­tially re­quires nei­ther. Sim­ply be­ing “abu­sive” or “in­sult­ing”, un­in­ten­tion­ally, could be­come a crime. Both th­ese terms are in­cred­i­bly flex­i­ble and sub­jec­tive, most espe­cially the idea of be­ing in­sult­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally, where other laws make a dis­tinc­tion between what you do and say in pri­vate com­pared to what you do in pub­lic, here the pri­vate sphere is be­ing tar­geted, open­ing up the pos­si­bil­ity of com­ments at din­ner par­ties be­com­ing crim­i­nal of­fences.

Hav­ing ma­te­rial that can be said to be hate­ful could also be­come a crime. At the age of 16 I read both Mein Kampf and Marx’s Cap­i­tal, or tried to. That I thought Hitler’s book was an end­less stream of te­dious ram­blings is un­likely to act as a de­fence if this law is passed.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions have to show an ac­tive at­tempt to en­sure no ha­tred is ex­pressed by their peo­ple. If ma­te­rial is shared that can be said to be hate­ful this could lead to a pros­e­cu­tion. What, I won­der, does this mean for news­pa­pers or even aca­demics?

Plays and art works are of­ten ex­empt from th­ese types of laws. Here they are specif­i­cally tar­geted. First they came for the foot­ball fans and we said noth­ing etc. etc.…..

The Free to Dis­agree cam­paign has been launched in op­po­si­tion to this pro­foundly dan­ger­ous piece of leg­is­la­tion. It’s time for aca­demics, artists, jour­nal­ists and any­one who wants to live in a free so­ci­ety to take a stand.

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