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Scotland’s Bill Is Still Authoritarian

Under sustained pressure, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Humaz Yousaf, has slightly diluted his dismal hate-crime bill, admitting that it could undermine free speech. In its current form, the bill could land a person found guilty of “stirring up” hatred (whatever that means) with a seven-year prison sentence. From today’s Sun:

Today, Mr Yousaf said he would change the Bill so a crime would only be committed if there was “intent” to stir up hatred against minority groups based on characteristics of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex.

Yousaf said:

I hope this fundamental change will provide necessary reassurance that the new stirring up hatred offences strike an appropriate balance between respecting freedom of expression while protecting those impacted by people who set out to stir up hatred.

Well sorry, it doesn’t. The bill is intrinsically authoritarian and ought to be rejected outright. James Gilles, the spokesperson for the Free to Disagree Campaign, a coalition of civil-liberty groups and free-speech proponents, commented:

Crucially, the government and other proponents have not demonstrated how these specific proposals would reduce hate-related crimes, or lend greater protection to citizens. Existing laws already catch violence, harassment and abuse. The Criminal Justice and Licensing Act criminalises those who intentionally or recklessly cause fear or alarm. And there are aggravated offences for crimes motivated by hatred and prejudice.

Tackling hatred and prejudice can be achieved by other means – good education and support for families and communities and training for public bodies, rather than punitive measures. In championing these things, the Scottish Government can help to engender an atmosphere of kindness, tolerance and respect in Scotland, without undermining other important rights. We call on Mr Yousaf to reconsider and take this better approach.

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