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Scottish Conservatives launch bid to scrap hate crime bill

Douglas Ross - Image credit: Scottish Parliament

Scottish Conservatives launch bid to scrap hate crime bill

The Scottish Conservatives will attempt to scrap the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime bill when it is debated in parliament.

The Tories will bring forward a debate in the Scottish Parliament that the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill be withdrawn when MSPs debate the bill on Wednesday.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Scottish Government should “go back to the drawing board” as the bill was “wasting time” in parliament.

The motion will call for the Scottish Government to withdraw the bill and bring forward a new law that tackles hate crime without attacking free speech.

The controversial bill has been criticised by organisations including the Law Society of Scotland Scottish Police Federation, Faculty of Advocates, Catholic Church, Humanist Society and the National Secular Society.

A group of over 20 authors, comedians, journalists and academics published an open letter warning that it could threaten free speech.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Whatever the original good intentions of this bill were, the breadth and depth of opposition to its clear flaws are too strong for the SNP to try and force it through.

“We cannot allow such a blatant attack on freedom of speech in Scotland to progress any further.

“Everyone agrees on the need for legislation to tackle hate crime in Scotland, but by trying to fix a doomed bill that clearly needs to be reworked, we’re wasting time that the parliament needs to hold the SNP government to account on care home deaths and their domestic record.

“We saw what happened with named persons. The SNP arrogantly persevered with a hopelessly flawed bill, costing the Scottish public millions, until they eventually saw sense and dropped it.

“We’re asking that opposition parties unite with the Scottish Conservatives to accelerate the process so the same mistakes as named persons do not happen again.

“The Hate Crime Bill is too important to allow it to progress with these attacks on free speech. The SNP must withdraw it and go back to the drawing board.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats also said the bill required “substantial changes”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said “Scottish Liberal Democrats are strong supporters of robust action against the perpetrators of hate crime and remain supportive of the overall aim of updating hate crime law.  

“However, the broad brush ‘stirring up’ provisions are such significant flaws that they risk undermining those aims.  

“For this bill to receive the support of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, these issues need to be addressed and the Justice Secretary must agree to remove any potential threat to free and open debate. 

“We remain committed to working with ministers and others to help deliver legislation that is effective but strikes the proper balance in this complex and sensitive area of law.”

Labour and the Greens are also expected to propose amendments rather than move to scrap the bill altogether.

The bill has raised strong feelings, with nearly 2,000 responses sent to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in its call for views.

Changes are expected to the bill as justice secretary Humza Yousaf has already promised to “reflect on whether there needs to be changes made and how these could be done in an appropriate and effective way”.

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