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Artillery Row

Preparing for the worst

How gender critical commentators are preparing for the impact of the Hate Crime and Public Order Act

Much has been written about the Scottish Government’s new Hate Crime Act, which was timed perfectly to come into force on April Fool’s Day 2024. The consequences of this vaguely drafted Act has been dissected and commented on by legal experts and social media commentators across the world.

Despite those in favour of the Act desperately trying to convince the rest of us that because the threshold for criminal conviction is high there is nothing for anyone, particularly women, to worry about, the impact of the new legislation has already had far reaching consequences. 

At the point of writing this, Scotland is 2 ½ days into operating the new law, and the police have had to set up a special taskforce to deal with nearly 4,000 hate crime reports. Given that Police Scotland have stated they respond to a domestic abuse call out every eight minutes, and are now having to respond to 60 perceived hate crime’s every hour, one wonders if their forced re-direction of resources will impact on the many women who are hated by the men who live with them.   

When JK Rowling dared the police to arrest her, many women were grateful for her activism, which resulted in a clear message from the police that misgendering is not a hate crime. But despite this brave act of defiance by Rowling, the chilling effect of the Act will not be quite as swift to resolve, because the punishment always resides in the process.

The law is written in a way that gives a monopoly of victimhood on every complainant’s perception of “hate”, and even if a crime hasn’t been committed, the police have stated they will record all non-crime hate incidents (NCHI) on their vulnerable persons database. True to their word they have already logged an NCHI against the Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Murdo Fraser, but in decisions that appear to change daily Police Scotland have confirmed they won’t be recording one against Rowling. At this stage who knows or can trust what on earth the police’s policy and procedure is?

Inevitably the lack of transparency and consistency will leave many people not knowing whether they have a black mark against their name*, and any recording of an NCHI could potentially lead to rejection from jobs that require a disclosure or barring check. Give it a few more months and perhaps another Police Scotland task force will need to be set up to deal with a plethora of subject access requests (SAR) coming in. 

The facts remain, the process of applying this legislation has the potential to prevent innocent people from gaining employment — due to the perceptions and hurt feelings of a small minority of trans rights activists, and women all over Scotland know this. They also know how vexatious and powerful the trans lobby can be; and when I spoke to women living in Scotland, I realised they had already prepared for this legislation in ways that curtails their daily freedom of expression:  

Professor Sarah Pedersen explained to me: 

My fears concern the chilling effect this new law will have on women’s speech. We have no protection under this law, but it makes us even more open to attack. While politicians assure us that no one can be wrongly convicted, we are all aware that the process will be the punishment. The seizing of computers and phones, the possibility of having a Non-Crime Hate Incident on your record. This could materially impact those who work in education, the caring professions or government — areas all dominated by women of course. My preparations are continuous, checking my speech, rehearsing what I am about to say. It doesn’t make for easy conversation.

Verdi Wilson, who works in the violence against women sector, told me: 

My plan is to continue as before, as I have never said anything motivated by “hate”. But I expect vexatious complaints and have deleted all my chats and messages to ensure other women’s safety if the police decide I need to be taught a lesson. It is very sad that women I know are now going back to being anonymous on social media as they are worried about their livelihood. The threat of having a non-hate crime incident against you is frightening if you need a disclosure for work, it could seriously impact your future. The example of Murdo Fraser is terrifying. I’ve joined the Free Speech Union for some protection, because expecting decency, protection, and common sense from the police is not something that can be trusted these days.

I also spoke to women who had changed their social media profiles and deleted their chat history, these women wanted to remain anonymous for obvious reasons:

I didn’t want anyone using my opinions on social media to make complaints that might make things difficult for family members.

I’ve deleted back history of some chats and put others on a timer.

Another anonymous women’s rights campaigner described to me how her published work is being checked by legal experts:

A publication I am involved with has been sent for an additional legal reading for safety — the threshold risk for the publisher isn’t whether anyone will go to prison — but more cautiously whether there’s any risk of police responding to a report. 

Lucy Hunter Blackburn, from Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, sums up the nightmare the Scottish Government (SG) have created: 

It was reckless and short-sighted of MSPs to reject amendments to the Act that could have gone a long way to reducing concern by writing specific protections into the law for those who reject the belief that people can change sex, and think this matters in language, policy, and law. This would have reflected better the recommendations of the SG’s own review, and in addition, it was recommended by the Law Commission in England. But MSPs have left women waiting to see how the police interpret this, case by case, in what is the most contested area of debate. It’s rather like asking us to walk blindfold across a minefield. 

The Scottish Government and all the MSPs that voted for this legislation have only proved one thing — just how much they hate women who will not wheesht. The real-life and long-lasting consequences of Scotland’s Hate Crime Act does less for victims of actual transphobic abuse, and way more for the legacy of misogyny that so many MSPs single-handedly preside over and celebrate. 

*I’ll leave it a bit before I put my SAR into Police Scotland for writing this article, lest we forget: It is a well-established principle in Scots law that anything published on the internet, which can be read in Scotland, is deemed to be published in Scotland.”

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