SNP's virtue signalling hate crime law is a danger to society, says Bill Rammell

Scottish hate crime law

The new Scottish hate crime law has concern across the country

Bill Rammell

By Bill Rammell

Published: 16/04/2024

- 18:26

Former Labour minister Bill Rammell says freedom of speech is under assault

Free speech fundamentally matters to our health, wellbeing, and democracy.

Free speech is also inextricably linked to the enlightenment, a movement which dominated Europe during the 17th and 18th century, and was centred around the idea that reason is the primary source of authority and legitimacy.

Freedom of speech grew from the enlightenment. England’s 1689 Bill of Rights granted freedom of speech in Parliament.

Free speech promotes growth of knowledge and provides a bulwark against tyranny, holding the powerful to account.

But restricting free speech to stop people being offended is wrong. Many enjoy being offended. They’re what Dr Jamie White has described as ‘offence masochists.’

And Andrew Doyle -left wing and of GB News - has powerfully argued, “Harassment, threats and defamation are already rightly illegal… but too often censorious ideologues claim that the mere expression of ideas is itself incitement to violence.” They do this to restrict free speech.

We are now living through an era of fundamental assaults on free speech.

The worrying trend to seek to “no platform” speakers and writers in Higher Education and elsewhere, because people disagree with them. Attempts to ban lecturers at University because some find their views offensive. Harassment of teachers teachers because they present balanced information about the prophet Muhammad. “Freedom restriction harassment” as documented in Dame Sara Kahn’s review into social cohesion and resilience, leading to doxing and threats of violence, disincentivising participation in public life.

All deeply worrying, which brings us to Scottish hate crime law.

There is a long history of laws against hate crime dating back to 1986.But this is much more widely drawn, and has been over promoted to assuage SNP posturing.

The law is monstrous. You can tackle extremism limiting yourself to tackling violent extremism and those who advocate violence, as we do through Prevent.

You can tackle discrimination in employment and services using civil law through the Equality Act.

But you should not criminalise free speech as the Scottish Government are trying to do. If someone says black people are less intelligent than white people, they are wrong, offensive and ignorant. But you tackle that through free speech and open debate. You can’t criminalise it.

The Bill was passed 3 years ago, but implementation was delayed until now whilst police worked out how on earth to develop guidelines to handle complaints.

You can report people anonymously far and wide including through sex shops and mushroom farms! Trust me I’m not making this up. This has echoes of the Stasi in East Germany encouraging children to report on their parents. The law has brought 8,000 complaints in its first weeks, literally overwhelming the police.

I believe this law is unworkable and will wither away or be repealed.
More than this, we need to reassert the importance of free speech.

We need to promote free speech and vigorous, open debate as the most effective means to expose and tackle extremism. And for the Tories that must mean an end to their confused double standards. They fulminate against ‘cancel culture’, yet that’s what they propose for anyone who disagrees with them. Take the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Its offensive and I disagree with it, because it implies denial of the right of Israel to exist. But it is a legitimate view on international affairs. You shouldn’t ban it as the Tories want to do.

We must assert free speech is the default position unless speakers advocate violence. We must end to no platforming. And assert that a critical part of education is about being exposed to all ideas and beliefs and testing them through research, argument and debate. We need debating to be promoted in schools and Labour’s commitment to oracy in the curriculum will help.

And really we must end virtue signalling law enactment which limits what we can say and drives some ideas underground when they need to be challenged and exposed.

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