For Real Independence and a Scotland of Equals
AUTHORITARIANISM OF THE HATE CRIME BILL IS A THREAT TO THE VALUES WHICH IT SEEKS TO DEFEND
While the Scottish Government is right to defend the principles behind its proposed Hate Crime Bill, it is how the current draconian drafting of the Bill would seek to uphold these principle which causes so much concern to a wide cross-section of Scottish society – including many in the wider YES movement. For the authoritarianism of the Hate Crime Bill is a direct threat to the values which it seeks to defend.
Of course we must be vigilant against hatred in our society, and all elected representatives can give examples of this. When first elected in 2012 I referred a Lesbian constituent, and her partner, to the Police Diversity Unit due to harassment. The perpetrator was taken to court and successfully prosecuted. At the moment I am dealing with another constituent who is suffering constant harassment by a neighbour which is racially aggravated.
What we need to ask is will the terms of the Hate Crime Bill help or hinder victims of hate crime. My contention is that the Bill will cloud rather than clarify the situation because it fails to make crucial distinctions between satire, offence, and hate speech.
The satirical tradition in the English-speaking world, which gained great strength and momentum from the early 1700’s onwards, was generally, but not exclusively, aimed at politicians using the tools of parody, sarcasm, and double entendre. Not only is this a vital component of a energised and living literary and artistic scene but of a free society itself. Does satire sometimes veer into the realm of offence, most certainly, but so long as that is not its primary aim then maintaining a free society means risking offence to some. Sustained and rabid hate is easily distinguished from satire and mere offence, but the Hate Crime Bill makes no distinction between these. Little wonder that many independence-supporting writers, such as Val McDermid, have been critical of the Hate Crime Bill.
The Bill requires radical amendment by MSP’s as Part Two of the Bill, which the Justice Secretary seems to have no intention of amending, seeks to reintroduce the censorship of the stage and theatre which was abolished in the UK by the Theatres Act 1968. This is of fundamental concern as comedians and satirists would then be working in a culture of fear, like something out of Vichy France, where artists would internalise that fear and simply err on the side of caution. Recently the BBC Scotland channel repeated a documentary outlining the irreverent views of Billy Connolly on religion as he saw in the 1970’s. As it replayed clips from his live performances of that decade the Big Yin took a lance to all religions equally, without fear or favour. With shock I realised that under the Hate Crime Bill his act would probably have been banned.
Whilst the inclusion of the intent to hate by the Justice Secretary is welcome he must pull back from the blurring of demarcation lines between the public realm and the private realm. Yes, we must police the streets and the public realm but we cannot police the minds of individuals in their own private homes as that is the ultimate description of a totalitarian society. The Bill must enshrine satire as protected speech, as is the case in the USA, Italy, and Germany and become legislation most Scots can be proud of, rather than ashamed of.
Cllr Andy Doig,
Co-Founder and Nominating Officer,