Almost nine in ten Scots believe that freedom of speech is important and a significant number oppose major elements of the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime legislation, a new poll has revealed.
Conducted for the Free to Disagree campaign by Savanta ComRes, the poll found that 87 per cent of 1,008 Scottish adults believe that free speech is an “important right” and 69 per cent of respondents agree that there must be “a proven intention to stir up hatred” for behaviour to be classed as a criminal offence.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill aims to criminalise ‘abusive’ words or behaviour ‘likely to stir up hatred’ against people on the grounds of characteristics such as religion, sexuality, and transgender identity. There would be no need to show that stirring up hatred had been intended, or actually happened.
In response to further questions, three in four (73 per cent) said that disagreement is not the same as hatred, while 41 per cent agreed that the Bill should include a free speech clause to protect the freedom to publicly disagree with transgender ‘rights’ – with just 21 per cent disagreeing.
Jamie Gillies, spokesman for Free to Disagree, said: “The majority of Scots strongly support freedom of speech and, as a result, people are very doubtful about the more controversial aspects of the Hate Crime Bill.”
He added: “A diverse range of critics including the police, lawyers, academics, actors and comedians warn that the proposals could curb free speech, frustrate academic inquiry and stifle artistic expression. Today the Scottish public joins these groups in voicing its concerns.”
Following the results of the poll, members of the Free to Disagree campaign urged the Scottish Justice Secretary to axe the controversial aspects of the hate crime Bill.
The letter, signed by free speech champions including former Deputy Leader of the SNP Jim Sillars and Matthew Lesh of the Adam Smith Institute, highlighted their “grave reservations about the draft ‘stirring up of hatred’ provisions” in the Bill.
The members criticised “the lack of a requirement to prove intent to stir up hatred”, “the absence of suitably robust free speech clauses” and “the difficulty of defining – to a criminal law standard – what ‘hatred’ actually is”.
They concluded: “Rather than introducing wide-ranging and unpredictable stirring-up laws, with all the attendant risk and controversy, we suggest that you instead bolster the implementation of laws already on the statute book.”
Last week, the Scottish Justice Secretary was told that he cannot simply “magic away” criticism of his proposed hate crime Bill, after he attempted to dismiss concerns.
In an interview with Holyrood magazine, Humza Yousaf claimed that Scotland-based author J.K. Rowling would not be prosecuted for expressing her views on transgenderism.
But critics pointed out that determining what speech is “threatening” or likely to “stir up hatred” is too open to interpretation.
Savanta ComRes interviewed 1,008 Scottish adults aged 16+ online between 6 and 13 August 2020. Data were weighted to be representative of Scotland by age, gender, and region. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.