Scottish councillors are overwhelmingly opposed to the SNP’s hate crime Bill, a new survey has suggested.
The Free to Disagree campaign asked local councillors for their views on free speech and the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, with almost seven in ten respondents saying it “threatens free speech”.
Of the 176 councillors who replied, 85 per cent said the plans were controversial, and two-thirds said they were opposed to the Bill.
The legislation proposes to criminalise the ‘stirring up of hatred’ against people on the basis of particular characteristics including religion, sexuality and transgender identity, even where there is no intent.
But councillors thought this wording was inappropriate, with almost 9 in 10 (88.5 per cent) agreeing “the term ‘hatred’ means different things to different people”, while more than three quarters (76.5 per cent) agreed that for an “offence under the Hate Crime Bill to be committed, there should be a proven intention to stir up hatred”.
Almost 100 per cent of respondents believe free speech is an “important right”, and 98 per cent agreed that disagreement and debate “benefit society”.
The survey contacted 1,227 councillors from across the political spectrum.
Of the 176 respondents, 41 per cent were Conservative and 17 per cent were SNP, with Independent councillors making up a further 21 per cent.
Free to Disagree spokesman Jamie Gillies said: “Regardless of their individual party affiliation, they’re aware of the threat posed by the new stirring up of hatred offences.”
He added: “With more public figures speaking out every day, pressure is mounting on the government to act. By withdrawing the ‘stirring up’ provisions ahead of Stage 1 scrutiny, Ministers could put public anxiety to bed and build consensus around other non-contentious elements of the bill. We call on them to do this.”