In 2020 Scotland became the first part of the UK to ban the smacking of children, to prevent child abuse. Whilst this may be a worthy cause at face value, in a wider context this is a sign of government overreach and interference with private family life. Humza Yousaf, Justice Secretary for Scotland, has proposed extending hate crime laws to the household; under this legislation, people could be prosecuted for “stirring up hate” in the privacy of your own home. If passed, this could set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech and civil liberties, and shows signs of totalitarianism. People need to speak out against this, or risk sacrificing privacy in the name of “hate speech.”
What Has Yousaf Proposed?
The Scottish government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill (HCPOB) aims to simply and unify all kinds of hate crimes into one single piece of legislation. Already controversial, the HCPOB defines a hate crime as ‘stirring up hatred against any of the protected groups covered by the Bill.’
Under Scottish law, people are already protected (under specific laws) on the basis of age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. HCPOB wishes to add sex to that list at a later date, and to consolidate these “hate crimes” and anything deemed to “be stirring up hatred”, especially and including the aforementioned protected groups.
To its credit, the Bill also abolishes blasphemy offences, which Scotland has not seen somebody be prosecuted for in over a century and a half. Humza Yousaf, Justice Secretary for Scotland, has come under fire for suggesting that the HCPOB be extended to private settings.
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”George Washington, first United States President
When grilled by the Justice Committee, he said that he was “committed to finding the right balance” between the new proposals and free speech laws. In a particularly chilling response to a question, he said that he disagreed “in principle and policy” of adding a defence for speech in the home.
He said: “As a parliament, even as a society, are we comfortable with giving a defence in law to somebody whose behaviour is threatening or abusive, or let’s just give an example, which is intentionally stirring up hatred against Muslims, are we saying that that is justified because it is in the home?”
The Public Order Act 1986 (POA), applicable to the entirety of the UK, allows people to use otherwise illegal language in their own homes (illegal language in this context meaning speech which falls outside the legal boundaries of freedom of speech, i.e. calls to violence). Yousaf has opposed this, instead using amendments to try and streamline existing legislation via the HCPOB, effectively usurping the POA.
Why is This so Controversial?
The HCPOB is controversial because it would effectively extend the criminalisation of speech from the public to the home and private settings. By superseding the POA, there would be no boundaries against the criminalisation of speech, as well as removing any defence in a court of law. It would spell the end for individual privacy, and leave people at the mercy of what the Scottish government deems as ‘hate speech’.
It is one thing to regulate what people say outside the home and online, but another thing entirely for that to be extended to your own private moments. A person with certain views – however abhorrent and deplorable as they may be – would no longer have any safe place to speak freely. How can an Act, specifically created to protect the public, be extended to the home?
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”Edward R. Murrow, former American broadcast journalist
There has been significant backlash to this. The Times reports that an unlikely alliance of religious figures, humanists, journalists and otherwise secular groups have strongly opposed and condemned the Bill.
Under the Bill, all speech and printed publications deemed to be ‘hateful’ would be subject to prohibition by the Scottish Parliament. Some have described the legislation as ‘the beginning of the end for free speech’; others have called it draconian and Orwellian.
The issue arises from the premise that what is deemed to be ‘hateful’ is incredibly subjective and open to interpretation, and should not be left to any single group of individuals to determine what is ‘hate speech’ and isn’t. Such a law could easily be twisted and abused to benefit one group of people over another.
Why is this dangerous?
The Bill would also raise two issues. The first would be whether or not the aforementioned groups of people are seen as more important than others who do not fall into those categories, creating a heirachy of people, which could easily be weaponised. The other issue is to whether the law is worth police resources, as many feel as if the police could be used to solve actual crimes instead of policing speech.
There would be lasting consequences and legal ramifications to this law. For example, in religious texts, there are many verses which, without appropriate interpretation, could be deemed as offensive to certain groups of people. If the HCPOB were to be passed, the Bible, Torah, Qu’ran and other religious texts could be banned – or worse still, altered – to conform with Scottish legislation.
That would affect religious freedom, a clear violation of UK law. Under the Human Rights Act 1998, Act 9, religious freedom and the practice therein is an absolute right. The government has no legal grounds to interfere with a person’s faith; neither do they have the right to compel or coerce a person to follow a particular faith or discourage somebody from following. This includes religious texts.
From a secular perspective, this would limit the free press and the media in general. Journalists would have to think twice about what to publish, in the name of ‘hate speech’. Comedy would be essentially obsolete and useless, as its nature is often based on mocking or ridiculing groups of people and the situations they find themselves in. Comedy itself is also incredibly subjective. Effectively, this would be state-mandated censorship.
Calling something a Hate Crime Bill is itself asking for trouble; it’s asking for victimhood, it’s asking for people to be offended…. nobody has the right to not be offended.George Galloway, former Labour MP
Government Overreach Must Be Stopped
This is not the only time that Scotland has discussed or passed legislation that is nanny-state like. Recently Scotland has become the first UK country to ban the smacking of children. Many have praised the legislation, with the prevalent narrative that ‘might isn’t right’ when it comes to disciplining children.
Whilst it is perfectly acceptable for governments to act in a manner which protects its citizens, there is a concern that the government is overstepping its mark. Smacking is part of the culture of some communities, especially ethnic minority groups. It is therefore arguable that to legislate against the smacking of kids is to legislate against a culture itself. This raises issues.
With this in mind, in addition to the HCPOB, it also raises concerns about the motive of the Scottish government. As legitimate as their motivations are, it could be argued that those motivations could – and will – be used for more sinister purposes.
The idea that the government should wield such power that it’s able to interfere in day to day family life is extremely worrying. At that point, it stops being a democracy and becomes a police state/totalitarian regime.
“Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”Ronald Reagan, 40th US President
It implies an attitude of inferiority and patronisation from the government; the idea that people are in desperate, constant need of protection from ideas they don’t like. It shows a fundamental lack of trust in its citizens, and adds insult to injury by passing unpopular laws and oppressing the same people that elected them in the first place. Does the government answer to us, or do we answer to the government?
All in all, Scottish citizens must think about these things in a wider context. History has shown that the curtailment of speech and government overreach never ends well. The HCPOB would effectively resurrect blasphemy laws; with the ‘victim’ being the government.
If Scotland claims to be a democracy, it cannot behave like a police state. The Scottish public must fight back against such a law if they wish to preserve their way of life, as well as set an example to other democracies fighting similar battles.