Artillery Row

Is my t-shirt a hate crime?

Yesterday we glimpsed what Scotland’s new hate-free utopia might look like

In the first episode of The Thick of It, hapless minister Hugh Abbott is forced to come up with a new policy in the back of a car just minutes before his first major speech in front of the media. 

“What we need is something that the public want, is incredibly popular and is free,” says one aide.

“Return of capital punishment,” deadpans the other.

The Scottish Government is far too woke to bring back the rope. Instead, it offers bread and circuses in the form of its new Hate Crime and Public Order Act, which burnishes the country’s progressive credentials while distracting from the precipitous rise in domestic violence, rape and sexual assault and drug deaths.

As Lucy Hunter Blackburn explained in her superb analysis of the Bill, feminists were alarmed by its failure to address speech about sex and gender, arguing that it would increase the chilling effect on debate. The Scottish Government breezily responded that people would not be criminalised for making basic statements about the nature of sex and gender identity, in ordinary language. 

Bear in mind that Marion is being charged under the old law

But in Glasgow yesterday, we saw a glimpse of what Scotland’s brave new hate-free utopia might look like. Along with hundreds of others, I attended Glasgow Sheriff Court to support Marion Millar’s thrice-delayed plea hearing for the alleged hate crime of tying suffragette colours to a fence. 

What better time and place, then, to test the limits of freedom of thought and conscience?

As a minor but grizzled combatant in the gender wars, I have acquired a number of t-shirts stating biological facts, including one emblazoned with the basic, incontrovertible statement “Transwomen are men”. I thought it wise to ask the police if I’d be committing a public order offence or, worse, a hate crime, should I put it on.

Supporters of Marion Millar in Glasgow

The constables’ answer was textbook: “As far as we’re concerned, you’re free to wear what you like. But if it offends anyone and they complain to us, you will have committed a hate crime.” (You can watch some of our conversation here.)

This is the same Looking Glass world that Fair Cop has been exposing in England and Wales, where any complainant is automatically afforded “victim” status and the accused is recorded (often without their knowledge) as having committed a “non-crime hate incident” — all without due process of law. The difference is, however, that south of the border we’re only dealing with College of Police guidance. In Scotland, this is on the statute book.

Feminists and other gender critics aren’t the only ones concerned at the new law’s implications. While the constables I talked to were reluctant to discuss its merits and demerits, the Scottish Police Federation has made a blistering statement warning that the Act would “devastate police relations with the public”.

Bear in mind that Marion is being charged under the old law. The new version will make it even easier for people to maliciously report other people, since they do not even have to prove an underlying criminal offence.

The architect of the Bill, former Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf, clearly thinks he’s giving the public what they want: something that is both incredibly popular and free. Marion’s prosecution is a stark reminder of the price we all pay when conscience is criminalised.

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