A former Deputy Leader of the SNP has warned that the Scottish Government’s hate crime Bill threatens Scotland’s identity as a “free speech society”.
Jim Sillars fears that centuries of progress made combatting bigotry and creating a peaceful society could be destroyed if the Bill becomes law.
Proposed changes to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill are currently being considered by a group of MSPs.
Writing in The Times, Sillars said: “Hostility, racism, religious phobias and malignant prejudice, today defined as ‘hate crime’ by ministers, is not new to Scotland.”
However, Sillars argued, it was the “cleansing, disinfecting air of open discussion” that would finally rid the nation of them and not the “hammer of the law”.
He added: “We are different and better today because we were a free speech society”.
The SNP veteran said: “the view that the boundaries of free speech must be set wide is the mark of a sensible society, knowing it is the best medium to advance truth against what is false”.
He continued: “The proposed hate crime bill at Holyrood would restrict those boundaries.
“That its ministerial author should even contemplate that the law should monitor our private conversations in our homes shows how dangerously far the boundaries could shrink.
“The bill should be rejected as a salutary lesson to those who would thoughtlessly destroy the most precious freedom we have, to speak what our minds think.”
Sillars concluded: “What lies at the centre of the bill — the suppression of free speech — remains and everyone who values that ancient right in Scotland has grounds to be concerned.”
Protecting free speech, he said, “is the lifeblood of democracy, and a society free of the fear of being arrested for saying what one thinks.
“A parliament that sees that as its priority would reject this miserable bill.”