Plans to pardon thousands convicted of witchcraft in Scotland dropped

Witches of Scotland is hoping to find another MSP to take on the campaign after the previous politician was forced to drop the proposals.

Plans to pardon thousands convicted of witchcraft in Scotland dropped iStock

Plans to pardon thousands of people historically convicted of witchcraft in Scotland have been dropped.

The SNP’s Natalie Don brought forward a private members’ bill last year to “right the historic wrong of witchcraft convictions”.

She said the bill was also “about influencing the gendered and patriarchal attitudes” that still exist today.

But the plans hit a setback after the MSP for Renfrewshire North became children’s minister under Humza Yousaf’s government earlier this year.

That’s due to a rule in Holyrood that says Scottish ministers cannot carry private members’ bills.

Campaign group Witches of Scotland is hoping another MSP will take on the legislation but, despite have support from the Scottish Government under Nicola Sturgeon, one is yet to be found.

Around 2,500 people were convicted of witchcraft in the nearly 200 years the law was in force, with just under 90% of those being women.

In total around 4,000 Scots were accused of the crime, which was in law until 1736.

Campaigners are calling for a pardon, a public apology and a national memorial for those accused of witchcraft.

On International Women’s Day in 2022 then-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised to those convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft 1563 Act.

Nicola Sturgeon
The First Minister issued an apology to the people accused of witchcraft in Scotland during an International Women’s Day in 2022.

“Those who met this fate were not witches, they were people and they were overwhelmingly women,” she told MSPs.

“At a time when women were not even allowed to speak as witnesses in a court room, they were accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable, or in many cases, just because they were women.

“It was injustice on a colossal scale, driven at least in part by misogyny in its most literal sense – hatred of women.”

In March 2022, plans were announced for a monument dedicated to those executed under the 1563 law.

KC Claire Mitchell, of Witches of Scotland, said: “This private members bill has not been ‘dropped’ or ‘scrapped’ – members of the cabinet do not take such bills so she cannot proceed with it.  

“We are looking for another MSP to take it forward.”

The Scottish Government said it had no plans to pardon people convicted of witchcraft but would consider proposals by MSPs.

A spokesperson said: “Natalie Don’s Members’ Bill was withdrawn when she was appointed as a Minister as it is a Parliamentary rule that Scottish Ministers do not promote Members’ Bills.

“Ministers have no plans to legislate in this area. As with all Members’ Bills, the Scottish Government would consider its proposals.”

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