Scotland's new hate crime law is no laughing matter

Beware the hate monster.(Photo: Police Scotland)

Most people and hopefully all Christians would agree that hate is bad. So, at a superficial level, it would seem that we should all be rejoicing at a Scottish government bill which bans hate. But as is so often the case in the world, things are not quite what they seem and words have different meanings.

None more so than in The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, passed three years ago. It was the brainchild of the then justice secretary for the Scottish government, Humza Yousaf. Yousaf is now the Scottish First Minister and his bill is about to become law on April 1st. Sadly it is no joke – other than to make Scotland a laughing stock throughout the world. It is one of the most draconian, authoritarian measures passed by a democratic government in recent times – and it has profound implications for the Church.

The bill will firstly turn any crime into an 'aggravated offence' if it is deemed to be motivated by hatred or prejudice. But the controversial part is that it will create a new criminal offence of behaving in an abusive manner 'designed to stir up hatred' against groups with certain protected characteristics.

The problem with the bill is that it does not clearly define what 'stirring up hatred' means. There are already considerable problems in Scotland with this. The main one is with the definition of hate crimes. Police Scotland have a working definition that if the 'victim' perceives it to be a hate crime, then it is. An additional problem with the lack of clarity about 'stirring up' offences is that Police Scotland define a hate crime as 'any crime which is understood by the victim or any other person as being motivated, wholly or partly, by malice or ill will towards a social group'.

This means that the subjective feeling of a perceived victim, or of a policeman, could be enough to have you accused of a hate crime – one which carries a sentence of up to seven years. Take for example JK Rowling. If she tweets that a man cannot become a woman, she could be arrested for hate crime. Same for a Christian preacher who says that he does not believe that Muhammad is a prophet or a teacher who says they believe marriage is between a man and a woman.

The police in Scotland have said they will investigate every report of hate crime, despite having recently announced that they would not be investigating every case of 'low level' crime, including apparently some cases of theft! If the TV series, Taggart, were being made today, instead of Taggart saying, "There's been a murder," he would be crying out, "There's been a misgender."

Police Scotland have also gone into full swing with their anti-hate propaganda, putting out a cartoon of the 'hate monster' and explaining that, "The Hate Monster represents that feeling some people get when they are frustrated and angry and take it out on others, because they feel like they need to show they are better than them. In other words, they commit a hate crime."

In an astonishing statement they give an example of the kind of people who commit hate crimes as those with "deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement".

By targeting white working-class men as being more likely to commit hate crime, Police Scotland are breaking their own law. At least they would be if they were to be consistent. But therein lies the danger of this law. It has nothing to do with consistency or justice. As for 'equality before the law', that's just so old-fashioned! Now we have the State creating a two-tier justice system where some groups are afforded 'protected' status and others are attacked.

We have been heading this way for some time. Back in 2018, I reported the police to themselves for hate crime over their ill-judged "Dear Bigots" post campaign. They replied that because the Scottish government campaign was not motivated by hate towards any particular group, they would not be taking any action – thus putting themselves in the position of breaking their own rule that the perception of the victim is what counts, and setting the Scottish government and its now political police wing above the law. Expect much more of the same after April 1st.

This Act will pervade through all of Scottish society. Even children are to be targeted. School handbooks now explain that all hate crimes should be reported to the police. Journalist Jim Spence wrote in the Courier that Scotland is about to become a "two-tier society" where "some folk are given protection by the law from some kinds of hate crimes, while others will simply have to suck up abuse." For example, "while it will be an offence to stir up hate against trans folk", it "won't break the law to stir up hate against women", because astonishingly under this Act sex is not a protected characteristic.

Stuart Waiton, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Abertay, Dundee, warns, "There is now a serious danger that lecturers will be reported to the police for simply expressing ideas that some students don't agree with or like. We could even find students like Lisa Keogh, who was taken to a disciplinary for arguing that women don't have penises, ending up with a police record, as every complaint is recorded by the police. This is likely to create a chilling atmosphere in universities."

Sadly it won't just be in the universities. The police are to set up Third Party Reporting Centres throughout Scotland where you can go and 'clipe' (a Scots word for snitch or tell-tale) on anyone. These reporting centres include a sex shop in Glasgow, a mushroom farm in North Berwick, and a demolished office block in West Dunbartonshire!

And then there are comedians and actors. The Herald reported on police training which encouraged officers to go after anyone who produces material deemed 'threatening and abusive'. You could be prosecuted for a negative portrayal of a trans person in a play, for example.

But the thought police are not finished there. The hate crime law states that "giving, sending, showing, or playing the material to another person" will make you liable to prosecution. If you repeat a joke on the internet which someone in the 'protected' characteristic finds offensive, you could be guilty of a hate crime.

And as if that were not extreme enough, you could be reported for expressing 'hate' in your own home. As Jim Spence pointed out, "It's a recipe for disaster cooked up by a liberal political class which thinks that you can expunge human emotions, sentiments, and behaviour, from real life."

The delusions of grandeur from the Scottish government don't just extend to thinking that by decree they can eradicate hatred in their 'Scottish values' paradise. No, they want to deal with the whole world. The law holds that anything that can be read in Scotland is to be considered as published in Scotland. So, I could be sued in Australia for writing something in Australia, if someone went to a sex shop in Glasgow to anonymously report me for a hate crime.

The opposition to this is strong, bringing together unlikely allies including The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the Adam Smith Institute, amongst others. Scottish Catholic bishops have also expressed concern, but the Church of Scotland has been strangely silent. And sadly, some well-know Christian MSPs have gone along with the party whip and voted for this ill-considered, authoritarian policy. It's a great example of turkeys voting for Christmas.

I asked Humza Yousaf, the architect of this new Scottish blasphemy law, the following question – a question which he has refused to answer. The last person to be prosecuted (180 years ago) under the old blasphemy law was an Edinburgh bookseller, Thomas Paterson, who advertised amongst other things "that the Bible and other obscene works not sold at this shop".

Under the new law would an Edinburgh bookseller be free to advertise something like "the Quran and other obscene works not sold at this shop"? I think Paterson was wrong then and a bookseller would be wrong and unwise to do that today, but if Mr Yousaf's law means that such a bookseller would be prosecuted then we have ended up in a far worse situation now than we have been for the past 180 years because we now have a blasphemy law which will be enforced. And the blasphemy is not against God, but against the Holy State and whatever it decides is 'hateful' (i.e. against their values).

Scotland, a country once described as 'the land of the people of The Book', is becoming a great example of what happens when a country turns from its Christian roots and reverts to a kind of pre-Christian 'progressive' paganism. It becomes an authoritarian, confused and unjust basket case (with apologies to all baskets – who I hope will not report me!). May the Lord have mercy and turn us again!

David Robertson is the minister of Scots Kirk Presbyterian Church in Newcastle, New South Wales. He blogs at The Wee Flea.