Douglas Ross: Humza Yousaf must repeal his Hate Crime Act

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Douglas Ross MP MSP

Humza Yousaf must repeal his Hate Crime Act

By Douglas Ross

HUMZA YOUSAF is used to seeing flawed SNP policies unravel before his eyes.

His chaotic first year in charge of his party has been marked by a series of ill thought-out initiatives being ditched or delayed.

The gender self-ID Bill, draconian fishing restrictions, the deposit return scheme, plans to centralise social care, the alcohol advertising ban. The list goes on.

Some were inherited from Nicola Sturgeon, others bear the fingerprints of his Green coalition partners.

Of course, it’s easier to bin a failed policy, or kick the can down the road, when someone else was its architect.

The question is whether the First Minister has the humility and belated good sense to U-turn on a policy for which he is personally responsible – the shambolic Hate Crime Act.

“It’s time for the SNP to admit they got this badly wrong and abandon it.”

This would require him to not just drop it, but – as it came into force, fittingly, on April Fool’s Day – repeal it.

As police, legal experts, the Scottish Conservatives and plenty others warned the First Minister, his ham-fisted attempt to police free speech is causing mayhem. It has to go.

That’s why this week my party will use the time we are given as the main opposition party at Holyrood to table a debate and then force a vote calling for the law to be repealed.

As they did with the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, it’s time for the SNP to admit they got this badly wrong and abandon it.

There are plenty of good philosophical reasons for objecting to legislation that curtails free speech and risks criminalising people even for opinions aired at the dinner table.

But it’s the immediate, practical impact of the law which has caught the headlines during its chaotic first fortnight – and especially the huge and unsustainable toll it’s taking on our over-stretched police force.

Official figures for the first week that the Hate Crime Act was in force show that the police were deluged with more than 7,000 complaints. As Police Scotland faithfully promised they would, officers ploughed through every one of them, concluding that only 240 – around three per cent – constituted a hate crime, while a further 30 were deemed ‘non-crime hate incidents’.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, have described it as unsustainable and warned that their members simply can’t cope with the workload.

This is not exaggeration or scaremongering – especially when you consider the backdrop.

Due to SNP Government cuts, the number of police officers in Scotland is at its lowest level since 2008. Indeed, resources are so scarce that just a few weeks ago Police Scotland were forced to announce that they would no longer be investigating certain crimes.

How on earth can SNP ministers who have hollowed out our police force to the point where they are having to turn a blind eye to certain offences, expect them to then handle a further 1000 complaints per day?

“From JK Rowling and women’s groups, to comedians, actors and Scotland’s legal establishment, the Hate Crime law has been panned as unacceptable SNP overreach.”

It’s ridiculous and, as the Federation have warned, will lead to an enormous overtime bill. It’s also almost certain to lead to more officers going off sick – or, worse still, leaving policing altogether – because of the stress caused by an unmanageable workload. The SNP are perpetuating a vicious circle that threatens the maintenance of public safety.

The new law is ripe for vexatious complaints; for individuals to exploit to settle scores with neighbours or public figures with whom they disagree. Indeed, the First Minister himself has been the subject of so many complaints that officers have been issued with a script on how to repel them. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.

We’ve had the absurd spectacle of SNP ministers claiming to be stunned at the mountain of spurious complaints their law has spawned. That would be the same group of ministers who launched a nationwide publicity drive – costing the taxpayer £400,000 – urging people to use the new law to report hate incidents to the police.

From JK Rowling and women’s groups, to comedians, actors and Scotland’s legal establishment, the law has been panned as an unacceptable SNP overreach.

Lord Hope, formerly our most senior judge, last week described it as “unworkable” and called for its repeal.

When the Hate Crime Bill was piloted through parliament three years ago by the then justice secretary Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Conservatives were the only party to oppose it. We were the voice of reason at Holyrood, who saw this disaster coming.

Labour and the Lib Dems whipped their MSPs to vote for this dangerous SNP legislation. Just as they did the equally flawed Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

This week they have the chance to make up for their error. I urge them – and sensible, pragmatic SNP MSPs – to take it.

Because if our motion passes, Humza Yousaf will have no option but to call time on his hapless and hated law.

Sign up to our campaign and tell Humza Yousaf to scrap his reckless Hate Crime Act →


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