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Tories lose bid to repeal Hate Crime Act

Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay led the debate | Alamy

Tories lose bid to repeal Hate Crime Act

A Conservative bid to get rid of the Hate Crime Act has failed after being voted down by government and other opposition MSPs.

Shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay had brought forward a motion which read: “That the Parliament believes that the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 should be repealed.”

While such a motion would have no effect on the law as it stands, it would have sent a strong signal to government to act.

But MSPs backed an amendment to that motion put forward by the Scottish Government which removed all reference to repeal, instead stating the new law would “provide greater protections for those who are targeted victims of hate crime”.

The number of MSPs who backed that amendment was 66, compared to 49 against.

A Labour amendment criticising the implementation of the act, though not backing its repeal, and calling for sex to be added as an aggravator was also defeated by 97 votes to 20.

The new law came into force on 1 April, extending protections against offences aggravated by prejudice against the protected characteristics of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

But its introduction has proven controversial due to confusion over what it means and how it interacts with freedom of speech.

Findlay, whose party voted against the act in 2021, said it had “transformed Scotland into a place of international mockery” and “debased and devalued” free speech.

He said the legislation encourages people to “snitch on those who hurt their feelings” and added: “Every single complaint, no matter how groundless or absurd, is subject to police investigation while despairing officers are being told not to pursue real crimes. Welcome to Scotland, home of Humza Yousaf’s hate crime law, aka the clype’s charter.”

He also warned of a “chilling effect” it was having on free speech, stating that “some fear being subject to investigation and prosecution for stating truth about biological sex”.

Community safety minister Siobhian Brown argued the act would help to tackle hate crime and that it protected the “same group of characteristics that is protected in England and Wales under current hate crime legislation”. She accused the Conservatives of wanting to “remove those protections”.

She added: “This government has no intention to repeal the Hate Crime Act. Repealing the act in full would leave Scotland as the only country on the United Kingdom without specific legislation to protect communities from hate crime. Why would anyone not want our communities protected from hate and crime?

“I understand that the Conservatives want this act to fail because they need to justify why they didn’t support it in 2021, so they will do everything they can to discredit it. My message to you is that it will not work.”

Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill argued that while the act has “merit”, the Scottish Government “must take responsibility” for its implementation which she said had been a “shambles”.

Scottish Labour backed the legislation in 2021.

McNeill called for urgent post-legislative scrutiny about its implementation and associated communications.

She went on the criticise the fact that sex was not included as an aggravator. “Women are regularly the targets of offending behaviour based on hostility towards their sex,” she said.

The Scottish Government is set to bring forward a standalone bill outlawing misogyny, as recommended in an independent review by Baroness Helena Kennedy.

Lib Dem Liam McArthur called for this bill to be brought forward “without delay”, arguing this was a better option that adding sex as an aggravator in the Hate Crime Act.

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