It is as bad as they say. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNooPy has long gagged the press by denying access to those deemed unfriendly, and is now about to enact a muzzle on speech for everyone, in the ‘Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill’.
Many a column has discussed and condemned the changes, and I cannot dissent from this: it is a truly sinister Bill. The main charge is that it will gag free speech – and it will do so in ways more effective that the cold wording of the Bill suggests. There is more to it than the gag too.
The defence of the new proposal has been a familiar one, that the law will only prohibit ‘hate speech’ and with the implied threat that to oppose it is to support hatred, but anyone who has not been asleep for the last twenty-odd years will know the reality of such accusations.
Before the gagging provision comes a gentle introduction: Clause 1 of the Bill takes the familiar provision that a crime motivated by racial prejudice should attract a higher sentence and takes it to a new level: it now covers a long list of prejudices and alleged prejudices, and applies if the offender evinces “malice and ill-will based on the victim’s membership or presumed membership” of a group in the long list; even if there is no specific victim. But then it says that “Evidence from a single source is sufficient to prove that an offence is aggravated by prejudice” – not sufficient evidence to suggest but to prove, so if a victim claims mendaciously that the thug who attacked him called out “oi, you [whatever epithet fits]”, that is that. Then Clause 2 gets serious: it is not enough for the sheriff to take this into account while thinking privately “well, he just said a bad word in the heat of the moment”: the court must state the matter in sentencing and say how much lighter the sentence would have been had the bad word not been uttered. Judges, it seems, are not to be trusted. Virtue signalling is something that must not only be done but must be seen to be done.
The main issue though is Part 2: ‘stirring up hatred’, and empowering the police to raid homes and seize unPC material. No one is sage (well all right; no one without the right political connections is safe, and even that can be withdrawn, as Alex Salmond found).
The whole of Part 2 needs a more fulsome description. In essence it will make a criminal offence any insult addressed by reference to any of a long list of characteristics. (That would make every conversation I have ever heard in Glasgow a crime.) It covers actions, publications, mere speech. It specifically targets plays, making the producer guilty, and the actor too. It covers websites anywhere in the United Kingdom.
There are two savings for “Protection of freedom of expression”: religion and sexual orientation, but they are so limited as to be meaningless: the exemption for religion is simply freedom for proselytising (including promoting atheism) and discussing or criticising religion. It does not however permit actual religious teaching, so quoting the Gospel (or the Koran, which I understand can be rather unPC) will still be a crime if the passage in question is insulting to a privileged group. Neither does the Bill contain any licence for scientific examination or for papers which are deemed insulting by self-appointed representatives of the listed groups
It is the actions of these self-appointed representatives which are the danger: they are the insulters and the haters, but they are to be protected while they accuse others, using a damning Act which will effectively allow no defence and will demand heavy retribution.
The breadth of the Bill belies its subtlety in squeezing out all defence. That needs a longer look next week.