SNP supporters are threatening to leave the party over its controversial hate crime Bill, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
Last week, the Scottish Government agreed to raise the threshold of the ‘stirring up’ offences from behaviour ‘likely to stir up hatred’ to behaviour ‘intended to stir up hatred’.
However, ten other dangerous aspects of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill – including the threshold of ‘abusive’ words and the absence of crucial free speech clauses – remain unchanged.
One voter said: “I feel I am now unable to support both your government and party. Please do not allow legislation which even slightly curbs free speech, regardless of its content to pass into law.”
Another added: “In the period of your tenure as leader of the SNP I have gone from being a lifelong, staunch supporter of the SNP to a vehement opponent of the direction in which you wish to take the country.”
a betrayal of the party’s historic commitment to freedom of speech
A former councillor for the party branded the Bill “a betrayal of the party’s historic commitment to freedom of speech”, urging the Scottish Government to scrap the legislation.
The Scottish Conservatives’ Shadow Justice Secretary Liam Kerr commented: “The fierce barrage of criticism from the SNP’s own ranks confirms that this is about more than politics. The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill will have a chilling impact on our fundamental right to freedom of speech.”
Writing in The Times, columnist Alex Massie also criticised the legislation. He highlighted the “remarkably broad” transgender definition in the Bill, which includes ‘non-binary’ people and cross-dressers.
Free speech clauses are included in relation to sexual orientation and religion, which will provide some protection for legitimate debate, but there are no such clauses for transgenderism.
Responding to last week’s change, The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert said: “Humza Yousaf has agreed to change one aspect of his unpopular hate crime Bill. This is a start and is welcome as far as it goes.
“But the criticisms levelled at the legislation by institutions and individuals across Scotland are much more far-reaching, and so more changes are needed.”
He added: “Unless the Part 2 offences are amended further, they will continue to present a danger to freedom of speech.”