Should the SNP Legislate Against Hate?

“The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill unites a diverse coalition of opponents from the Christian Institute to the National Secular Society.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 10/08/2020 [Online] Available:  [Accessed: 2020, Aug 12] 

I spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon in Perth with a friend in his seventies who has been a Scottish National Party member for over half a century but whose allegiance is currently in turmoil. His concern relates to the progression of Scotland’s governing party towards an authoritarian strain of policy proposals. As far as he is concerned, the repealed Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, shelved Named Person scheme and backing for the Greens’ smacking ban, mark a disturbing trajectory.

On another recent Sunday afternoon, I sat in the garden at the home of Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology at Abertay University. He is supporting the Free to Disagree campaign against the SNP’s latest proposal – the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill – which has united a diverse coalition of opponents including the Christian Institute and National Secular Society. Dr Waiton says the bill could be “the most intolerant piece of legislation in any liberal democracy.”

My first encounter with Dr Waiton was at a hustings last November where he stood as a candidate for Dundee West. Representing the Brexit Party, he struck me as a peculiar candidate having opened by announcing his dislike for Nigel Farage. His background is situated on the far left of the political spectrum and rooted firmly within the revolutionary communist tradition, having been a committed anti-racism campaigner and defender of free speech.

Dr Waiton’s concerns with the new bill begin not with the SNP but with New Labour. He says: “As a symptom of having lost touch with their working class roots, Labour moved towards an emphasis upon the politics of behaviour.” He adds: “They became a middle-class, expert-led entity who believed that, to solve problems, you needed to culturally engineer with legislation which colonised people’s privacy and undermined their autonomy.” Dr Waiton believes the SNP simply utilise the same approach now.

The bill carries a maximum seven year jail term for anyone who stirs up hatred or insults anyone on the basis of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or “variations in sex characteristics” and extends to those who possess “inflammatory material” or employers who fail to report those who promote it. In The Herald on Sunday, columnist Iain Macwhirter wrote: “The Catholic Church rightly sees that its views on sex and gender will put it in the ‘stirring up’ frame.”

The timing currently lends itself to the bill in the sense that recent polling shows the SNP have a commanding 30 percentage point lead over their nearest opponent and Nicola Sturgeon has experienced a revival in her approval ratings during the pandemic but will the bill still prevail in reaching the statute books? Dr Waiton says: “This proposed legislation will only fail if enough artists, academics and journalists start acting upon their concerns and campaign against it.”