Tory demands for Hate Crime Act to be repealed are rejected by MSPs

Scottish Tory calls for the new Hate Crime Act to be repealed have been rejected by MSPs.

A motion in Holyrood was voted down by 69 votes to 49 with five abstentions.

The Scottish Tories have led the charge against the Act, which came into force on April 1 and sparked an early deluge of complaints.

Data from Police Scotland shows that almost 9,000 online complaints were made in the first two weeks, although daily figures have significantly dropped from the near-3.500 on the first day.

Russell Findlay
Russell Findlay described the Act as a ‘clipe’s charter’ (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday, Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay described it as a “clipe’s charter” – referring to a Scots word for someone who tells on other people.

“From April Fool’s Day, (the Act) has transformed Scotland into a place of international mockery,” he said.

“It’s transformed the birthplace of the Enlightenment into a place where free speech has been de-based and de-valued – a place of sinister police billboards instructing people to snitch on those who hurt their feelings.”

Mr Findlay, a former journalist, said the process of police investigation under the Act could be seen as a punishment.

“Being subject to an investigation can be daunting, disruptive, humiliating and financially costly,” he said.

“Police arriving at your home or workplace, taken away in handcuffs, phone seized, forced to pay for a lawyer – stigmatising and damaging to personal reputations and employment prospects.”

The Act created a new offence of stirring up hatred against some protected characteristics – expanding a similar statute already on the books for race – but Justice Secretary Angela Constance said this week just nine instances of stirring up hatred were recorded in the first two weeks of the Act being in effect.

It is not clear how many of those nine recorded instances were relating to the old offence of stirring up racial hatred.

The Tory MSP added: “I despair at this Government’s sneering sense of moral superiority and failure to tackle the issues that truly matter.”

Speaking ahead of the debate, the First Minister told journalists the Tory push to repeal the legislation was “disgraceful”, adding that – if the push was successful – “there would be no protection against hatred, so people would have carte blanche to espouse hatred against people because of the colour of their skin, or their religion, or their sexual orientation or disability or any other characteristics”.

Responding to Mr Findlay, community safety minister Siobhian Brown said there had been “vexatious complaints” made “in order to overwhelm police systems” and she called on all MSPs to “send a strong message to all those making vexatious complaints to stop doing so”.

“However, my message to you is that it will not work.

“Legislation that protects people from hatred is not new, it is still needed, and the misinformation that has surrounded this Act has been irresponsible.”

She added: “Let’s all stop the gutter politics and the scaremongering and, as elected members, take responsibility to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

Scottish Labour backed the legislation when it was passed in 2021, but has criticised the implementation in recent weeks.

The party’s justice spokeswoman, Pauline McNeill, lamented that sex was left out of the Act in favour of a standalone Bill on misogyny.

“Three years on, there is still no sign of the legislation which was promised within one year of passing the 2021 Act,” she said.

“So we call on the Scottish Government to reconsider and bring sex as an aggravator now.”

Ms McNeill also urged the Parliament to carry out “urgent” post-legislative scrutiny to look at how the Act was implemented.

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