MSPs urge SNP to go back to the drawing board over Hate Crime Bill

The Scottish Parliament In Edinburgh(Reuters)

MSPs have warned that the SNP's proposed reforms to hate crime law will have a detrimental impact on Scotland's democratic values. 

Thomas Kerr, Conservative councillor for Shettleston, said in the Glasgow Evening Times that the Hate Crime Bill presents a "serious risk to the democratic freedoms we all cherish".

While he supports legal protections against hate crimes, he said the proposals in their current form "represent a serious overreach", and may encroach on fundamental human rights. 

He said it was time for the SNP to "go back to the drawing board".

"As a Tory from the East End of Glasgow I'm well used to being demonised for having the audacity to think and speak differently from what society expects of me," he said.

"I cherish that right and will fight tooth and nail alongside my Scottish Conservative colleagues to preserve it on behalf of the communities we serve." 

He continued: "It is clear that new laws are needed to tackle hatred and bigotry in this country, not least against visitors from England who were hounded as 'plague carriers' and just a few weeks ago told they were not welcome in Scotland by nationalist protesters – with tacit support from SNP elected representatives.

"Those laws need to be targeted and well drafted and avoid the criminalisation of our democratic values." 

The bill was debated in Holyrood last week, when a number of MSPs raised concerns about the wording around the proposed crime of "stirring up hatred". 

Alex Rowley, Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said during the debate that the bill in its current form was "not fit for purpose". 

Critics of the bill include the Scottish Catholic Church and the Christian Institute. 

Nigel Kenny, the Christian Institute's Scotland Officer, has warned that if passed, the bill will have "profound consequences for free speech and religious liberty".

Christian advocacy group CARE said there was no need for the legislation as existing laws provide sufficient protection against hate crimes. 

"It is essential that Scotland upholds the freedom to hold and express unpopular views," it said. 

"Without specifically protecting the expression of religious and philosophical convictions of every sort, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill undermines all its people."