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Freedom of Information requests passed to Express.co.uk found letters from the public, including SNP members, lambasting the Hate Crime Bill for attacking freedom of speech. The requests, which were made by the Scottish Conservatives reveal tensions between the top of the SNP and supporters.
One wrote that the Bill is a “betrayal of the party’s historic commitment to freedom of speech” and another said, “I regret to say that the passing of this bill would signal the end of my intention to vote SNP at the next election, or indeed any election.”
Another added: “As a supporter of both independence and the SNP, I feel I am now unable to support both your government and party.’
“Please do not allow legislation which even slightly curbs free speech, regardless of its content to pass into law.
“At the cost of losing support for the SNP or independence as this will certainly be a vehicle the opposing parties will use as a stick to beat the SNP with.”
In another extract, a final person said: “‘I have always supported the SNP but now am very concerned the way things seem to be going.
“If not for the sake of the people of Scotland, then for the sake of your own position and the fortunes of the SNP come next election, especially in the eyes of disillusioned SNP supporters.”
Concerns were raised when the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was published that the offence of stirring up hatred could infringe on free speech with objections coming from hundreds of groups including catholic bishops, authors and actors.
But Humza Yousaf announced to the Scottish Parliament that the Bill will only cover offences where the stirring up of hatred is intended.
Addressing Holyrood, Mr Yousaf said: “The Bill does not seek to stifle robust debate, public discourse or artistic freedoms.
“Instead, the Bill seeks to offer greater protection to those who suffer from this particularly damaging type of offending behaviour while respecting freedom of expression.
“I want people across this chamber and across Scotland to come together so we can ensure hate crime law can deal with the problem of stirring up hatred in an effective and appropriate way.
“That is why I think it is important to put the concerns over the question of the operation of the new offences beyond doubt.”
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The Scottish Government will make the change at stage two, amending the stirring up of hatred offences for new protected characteristics including religion, transgender identity and sexual orientation.
The Justice Secretary said he is open to continued dialogue on the Bill, which has received more than 2,000 representations since the Justice Committee announced its consultation ahead of stage one proceedings.
Mr Yousaf added: “I am confident that, going forward, the debate around the Bill will help to build consensus on how we effectively tackle hate crime, and how we can keep working together on building an inclusive and just Scotland.”
However, Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Tory justice spokesman said the amendments do not go far enough, and he called for further changes to protect free speech and comments made in a person’s private home.
Adding of the FOI requests, the North East MSP said: “Even the SNP’s own supporters are slamming the most controversial bill in Scottish Parliament history.
“The fierce barrage of criticism from the SNP’s own ranks confirms that this is about more than politics. The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill will have a chilling impact on our fundamental right to freedom of speech.
“If Humza Yousaf thinks he can gloss over the Bill’s severe flaws by crossing out a sentence here and a word there, then these letters confirm he needs to go much, much further.”
Mr Kerr also asked why the stirring up offences were not scrapped to allow the Bill as a whole to progress.
Mr Yousaf said the change to intent only would mitigate the concerns raised around the Bill and would mean other parts of the proposed legislation, such as protections of free speech, can now be addressed.
He described the stirring up of hatred as “corrosive” in society, adding “those who are the target of hatred cannot afford to wait years and years for the vital protections they require”.
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