What's the world saying about Scotland's new hate crime law?

It's not often Scottish legislation receives the attention of one of the world's richest men or best known authors, but the new hate crime act is making waves across the globe.

What’s the world saying about Scotland’s new hate crime law as Joe Rogan, JK Rowling and Elon Musk wade in? STV News

A controversial new law set to come into force in Scotland in a matter of days has drawn international attention.

While some commentators have accused it of threatening free speech, proponents – including the First Minister – have warned of “a lot of disinformation”.

It’s not everyday Scottish legislation makes it through to the UK mainstream never mind in the US and beyond.

But the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 has been making waves around the world.

‘Protecting freedom of speech’

“You see that wild s**t in Scotland where they’re targeting comedians with hate crime laws?”

That was the question asked by the world’s most popular podcaster during a recent show which garnered more than 2.5 million views on YouTube alone.

“Still?” one of Joe Rogan’s guests asks.

Everyone from JK Rowling to Elon Musk has waded in on the topic to express their views on whether the new law protects minorities or threatens free speech.

Characteristics including age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or variations in sex characteristics will be protected under the new law.Getty Images

It’s not the first time the debate around free speech in Scotland has received worldwide attention.

The news that a Coatbridge man had been convicted for “grossly offensive” behaviour after teaching his dog to do a Nazi salute went viral in 2018.

Mark Meechan managed to make a career out of the incident and now has more than one million YouTube subscribers.

But it wasn’t just comedians and podcasters like Rogan who have criticised the new hate crime act.

Elon Musk – at one point the world’s richest man – took to X, formerly Twitter, (which he owns) to denounce the bill.

The South African-born billionaire was responding to a post from a right-wing user, known for highlighting so-called culture war issues, which discussed a newspaper article reporting that police were set to target comedians and actors.

STV News

In the tweet, which has 26 million views, according to X, the account wrote: “Police officers in Scotland are being given training to target social media posts, including re-tweets, of material deemed ‘threatening and abusive’.

“Under the county’s new hate crime law, actors and comedians are not given a free pass to make jokes about sensitive subjects that offend people, either.”

Musk replied: “An example of why it is so important to preserve freedom of speech.”

The tweet received more than 114,000 likes.

‘Disinformation and inaccurate reporting’

Responding to the original article, published in The Herald newspaper, Police Scotland issued a statement denying that it would target comedians, and labelled the newspaper’s report “inaccurate”.

The law comes into force on April 1 – a date that its opponents have been keen to mock.

JK Rowling responded to a tweet that claimed she would be arrested for a post in which she referred to a transgender woman as a man once the Hate Crime Act is enforced.

“If you genuinely imagine I’d delete posts calling a man a man, so as not to be prosecuted under this ludicrous law, stand by for the mother of all April Fools’ jokes,” the Harry Potter author told her 14 million followers.

Adam Tomkins, professor of public law at Glasgow University, said the bill would not make misgendering someone a crime, nor would offending someone become a crime.

“What this law does is it extends that idea of stirring up racial hatred to a number of characteristics, including religions, transgender identity, sexual orientation and disability,” the former Tory MSP told STV News.

“If I engage in behaviour or use speech that is threatening or abusive, and moreover would be perceived by a reasonable person to be threatening or abusive, and in doing so I intend to stir up hatred on the basis of your transgender identity, religion or whatever it may be then I expose myself to the risks of criminal liability.”

‘Disinformation being spread on the Scottish hate crime law’

First Minister Humza Yousaf has blamed some of the negative reaction to the law on “disinformation” being spread on social media and said some media reporting had been “inaccurate”.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act was passed by MSPs in 2020, creating a new offence of stirring up hatred based on protected characteristics – matching a similar offence regarding race already on the statute book.

The new protected characteristics include age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or variations in sex characteristics, which can be known as intersex.

Yousaf has pointed to the legislation in the UK that made stirring up hatred on the grounds of race a criminal offence in 1986.

“If I have the protection against somebody stirring up hatred because of my race – and that has been the case since 1986 – why on earth should these protections not exist for someone because of their sexuality, or disability, or their religion?” Yousaf told the Scottish Parliament.

He said there was a “triple lock” to protect free speech that is baked into the law which made the bar for criminality “incredibly high”.

People will still have the right to be offensive, shocking or disturbing, proponents say.

Ireland looks to pass similar hate crime legislation

Scotland isn’t the only country looking to update its existing hate crime legislation to include new groups.

The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 in Ireland would criminalise intentional or reckless behaviour or communication that could incite violence or hatred against a person because of their protected characteristics.

That would include race, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

Like Scotland, the legislation in Ireland sparked criticism among some people including Elon Musk and one of Donald Trump’s sons.

More information on that bill can be found here.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code