An academic and advocate on free speech is calling on Scots to oppose a Bill that could criminalise everyday speech.
The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill intends to criminalise ‘stirring up hatred’ against people on the basis of certain ‘protected characteristics’, including religion, sexuality and transgender identity.
Dr Stuart Waiton is a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of Abertay, and an ally of the newly-launched Free to Disagree campaign. He has said the Bill might “possibly be the most illiberal and intolerant piece of legislation in any liberal democracy, worldwide”.
Writing in The Herald, Dr Waiton said: “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.
He explained that simply being ‘abusive’, even unintentionally, could become a crime, which is particularly dangerous given that the term is “incredibly flexible and subjective”.
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.
“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.”
The lecturer added that it is time “for academics, artists, journalists and anyone who wants to live in a free society to take a stand” against the “profoundly dangerous piece of legislation”.
In an interview with TalkRadio following the campaign launch of Free to Disagree, which is calling for the draft offences to be scrapped or amended to protect freedom of expression, Dr Waiton highlighted that Christians should be worried about the proposed legislation.
He said: “If it stands as is, potentially simply having material that could be understood to be hate-based could be a criminal offence… That begs the question to me about the Bible to start with, in terms of what some people might think is hateful.”
Free to Disagree was launched last week and is also being supported by SNP veteran Jim Sillars, the National Secular Society and The Christian Institute.
Spokesman Jamie Gillies said: “Passing the Bill in its current form would divorce Scotland from its proud free speech heritage and undermine freedoms that were centuries in the making. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. MSPs must hold the Government to account and protect free speech.”
Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the SNP, added: “Freedom of thought, articulated by one’s speech, is so fundamental to the civic and intellectual life of our nation that any attempt by the government to restrict that freedom has to be robustly opposed.”
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said the new campaign had united voices from “across the political and philosophical spectrum”.
“In the current hyper-sensitive political climate, it is vital that politicians don’t add fuel to the fire by legislating badly-drafted speech laws that will cause further division, while doing nothing to help real victims of crime.”