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by Louise Wilson
21 March 2024
First Minister Humza Yousaf accuses Tories of ‘disinformation’ over hate crime law

The Hate Crime Act comes into force next month | Alamy

First Minister Humza Yousaf accuses Tories of ‘disinformation’ over hate crime law

The First Minister has accused the Scottish Tories of “disinformation” over the Hate Crime Act as leader Douglas Ross warned it was a “disaster in the making”.

The controversial new law comes into effect on 1 April, creating new offences relating to the stirring up of hatred against groups with certain protected characteristics.

But there have been serious concerns raised about the impact of the law on free speech, and how to police it.

Humza Yousaf told the chamber during FMQs that he had “absolute faith” in Police Scotland's ability to respond to the new law.

But Ross said the two-hour online training given to officers was not enough for the “complex and controversial piece of legislation”.

The Tory MSP warned that members of the public could be criminalised for “no good reason” and accused the government of having “created another bad SNP law”.

He added: “People like JK Rowling could have the police at her door every day for making perfectly reasonable statements.”

He said this could “undermine public trust in policing,” particularly as a time officers were “being told not to investigate actual crimes but instead they’ll have to look for the Hate Monster or police free speech”.

The First Minister said the threshold for committing a hate crime was high, and police were well able to deal with vexatious complaints.

He added: “There has been a lot of disinformation that has been spread on social media, in some inaccurate media reporting and indeed by our political opponents.”

Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill raised concerns about proper resourcing of the police to ensure the intentions behind the new law are delivered.

She said this could lead to the silencing of legitimate opinion.

Yousaf insisted the freedom of expression was safeguarded in the Act.

Former SNP minister Ivan McKee expressed concern about “demonising disadvantaged groups” after Police Scotland’s campaign said those most likely to commit a hate crime were “young men aged 18-30” and from communities which experience “economic deprivation”.

The First Minister said it was “exceptionally important” that no one was stigmatised by public messaging campaigns.

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