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The only people afraid of Scotland's new Hate Crime law are people who "stir up hatred"

The only people afraid of Scotland's new Hate Crime law are people who "stir up hatred"

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
TL;DR: New hate crime legislation in Scotland, due to come into force on April 1st, will make it an offence to stir up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation, transgender identity, age or disability. The majority of people and media speaking against it are, well, voices who stir up hatred.

An extension of the law in Scotland will make it a hate crime offence to "stir up hatred" towards all protected characteristics within the Equality Act.

Right-wing media and a series of anti-trans voices have lined up to express their opposition to it, leading to Scotland's first minister calling out the "disinformation" being spread about what the law will mean - Sky News

The law itself isn't setting a new precedent. It mirrors a similar offence about race hatred already on the statute book and consolidates other hate crime regulations. But this move has led to questions from those who are concerned about what it means for 'free speech.'

Proponents of the bill say it limits hate speech - not free speech.

What's in The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act?

The law was passed by MSPs in 2021 and comes into force on April 1st.

It will criminalise threatening or abusive behaviour which is intended to stir up hatred based on certain characteristics, including age, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity - BBC

The law, however, includes a clause that would allow those taken to court under the Act to offer proof that their behaviour or communication was reasonable in the circumstances, as part of their defence. This allows for a number of exemptions on the grounds of freedom of speech, including for example around comedy and fiction.

As Adam Tomkins, The John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow, explained to The Herald:

"Offensive speech is not criminalised by this legislation: the only speech relating to sexual orientation, transgender identity, age or disability outlawed here is speech which (1) a reasonable person (2) would consider to be threatening or abusive and which (3) was intended to stir up hatred and (4) was not reasonable in the circumstances."

Who opposes the Scotland Hate Crime Bill?

Media like The Telegraph, Spiked and Unherd have published a series of articles claiming "Scotland is no longer a free country" following now denied claims that the law will target performers - STV

Billionaires like JK Rowling and Elon Musk have also been speaking out, with the author calling it "ludicrous" - The National

Gender-critical campaigners claimed Police Scotland's planning for new hate crime laws parodied the author in a training scenario about an influencer called 'Jo' who posted that all transgender people "belong in gas chambers" - The Telegraph

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was also worried for the author and said police could be "swamped" and innocent people would be investigated. "People like JK Rowling could have police at their door every day for making perfectly reasonable statements," he said in Parliament. The First Minister Humza Yousaf countered that freedom of speech was protected, and the problem was hate crime itself, not the law - BBC

Analysis: There's a reason they're worried about being criminalised

The prominent anti-trans voices we hear so much from don't just have private discriminatory beliefs about transgender people. They use their large platforms to stir up hate about transgender people in order to push their hateful agenda. This action could well see them fall foul of this law in Scotland if they continue. 

This bill does nothing more than extend protections against racist crimes to other protected characteristics, and it's telling that the usual chorus of anti-trans voices have lined up to call it out.

For these campaigners, the same rules, morals and ethics are fine and dandy when applied to racism and homophobia - until they are applied to transphobia as well.

You couldn’t make it up.

In the week we welcomed a tonne of new subscribers from our launchpad project, Trans+ History Week – JK Rowling picked the same time to bring the world's attention to the history behind the initiative.

She questioned the undeniable history of transgender people's persecution by the Nazis, who burned books at the world's first gender and sexuality institute.

This is the inaugural year of Trans+ History Week. The Trans+ led initiative will begin on May 06 2024 - the 91st anniversary of the Nazi raid on the world’s first trans clinic. It's the week they tried to erase us. It's the week we will remember.

Marty Davies, founder of the initiative, learned about the history they were denied in school, in part because of Section 28, and wrote an article about it for us. It quickly became a tool for people to use to shut down the idea that being trans is a 'modern' invention. This week, the whole world joined us to set out to record, capture and further amplify that history, reminding us:

History is a tool for our liberation. 

What really struck me about the latest Rowling story was how clear it made the power imbalance her narrative creates.

Only last month she donated Β£70K to the gender-critical group 'For Women Scotland', to assist them in a legal challenge in the UK’s highest court over the definition of the word β€œwoman” - The Times

Imagine what good QueerAF could do with 70K? We could:

  • Hire a full-time politics and fact-checking correspondent to put our community's stories front and centre in the upcoming general election
  • Get a full-time social media and outreach creative to build an even bigger platform for our community of LGBTQIA+ creatives to launch and build their careers on
  • Dedicate even more time to our work beyond this weekly newsletter: lobbying, meeting and working with media organisations to shift their approach to LGBTQIA+ representation

I get that you might not be able to pop over 70K like it's walking around money. But we're not afraid to lead on challenging this kind of misinformation - so if you can, consider funding our unique approach to journalism from as little as Β£4 a month: