3 April 2024

Scotland’s Tories are at a crossroads with the Hate Crime Act

By Philip Patrick

Well, the Hate Crime Act is up and running and over the next few weeks and months, Scotland will find out just how like North Korea we have become. Not everyone is taking it lying down: Scottish Family Party (SFP) member Niall Fraser and activist ‘the Glasgow Cabbie’ marked the momentous day with a funeral for free speech ceremony (complete with coffin) outside the Scottish parliament.

Meanwhile, J.K Rowling has been defying the police to arrest her for her gender critical views, and stand up comic, author and GB news presenter Andrew Doyle is promising a Comedy Unleashed event with anti-woke comedians, daring the police to shut them down.

What is striking about these protests is the distinct absence of any representation from the ranks of the Scottish Conservatives. Rowling has donated to the Labour Party while Andrew Doyle is a left winger who supported Jeremy Corbyn. Even the SFP, while they could probably be described as social conservatives, are fiercely critical of the capital letter variety. Even nationalists are making more noise than the Tories. Veteran SNP politician Jim Sillars is trying to launch a repeal of the Hate Crime Act. Best-selling author Val McDermid, who has spoken out strongly against the Act, is an SNP supporter and Nicola Sturgeon’s bestie.

Protest from the Scottish Conservatives about the Act has been reserved to former deputy leader Murdo Fraser’s attempt to challenge the non-crime hate incident recorded against him. His Twitter updates on this have attracted 500,000 views. But Fraser is focussing only on his personal situation and not the wider implications of the Act. Comb through the Scottish Conservatives website and you will find a promise to ‘work towards the repeal of the bill’, but only because its provisions ‘go too far’ not because the whole concept is flawed and dangerous.

This weakness and mealy-mouthed reluctance to hit back at legislation that Rowling has described as ‘ludicrous’ and many believe is the most dangerous threat to free speech ever enacted in the UK, is as puzzling as it is maddening. There is surely a great opportunity here for the Scottish Conservatives, if only they could grasp it. The Tories should be at the forefront of the opposition, not loitering in the shadows.

And some sort of clear and robust opposition is desperately needed. No one yet knows what the immediate or long-term effects of the Act will be, but the options appear to be bad, awful and downright terrifying. While the police have now said they will not prosecute Rowling following a deluge of complaints against her, they will certainly have a much-expanded workload for years to come. That means they will likely have to give up on even more of the common variety of crime. And they only recently declared that they would not be investigating allegations of wrongdoing without leads or CCTV footage available.

Then there will almost certainly be the deadening effect on the arts, a major concern with the Edinburgh Festival just round the corner. The last few years have been bad enough with edgy performers like Jerry Sadowitz forced out and a Comedy Unleashed night with Graham Linehan refused a venue and forced to perform outside the Scottish parliament.

With the Act in place, God knows what bland, regime-friendly fare we’ll be left with – the equivalent of the Soviet Mass Cultural Festivals of the early revolutionary period. Well, that and the habitual appearances of SNP notables for soft ball interviews.

And that’s being optimistic. In the worst case scenario there could be actual prosecutions and fewer resources. Even if these aren’t great in number, the potential will be there. Scotland could well become a nightmarish, frightened nation of people holding their breath, worried about their every utterance, trusting no one, waiting for the knock on the door.

From such a hell the Scottish people will look for a champion, and the only realistic option politically will be the Scottish Tories. And for once any promise will have a degree of credibility as the party will be able to point to Westminster’s blocking of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (GRRB) as an example of a successful forestalling of woke overreach.

70% of Scots opposed the GRRB, many of whom will have loathed the Tories. There is evidence that a similar percentage of Scots oppose the provisions of the Hate Crime Act. An unambiguous promise to repeal the Act shouted from Kirkaldy to Kirkwall and all points in between would surely hit home even amongst the most Tory-phobic sectors of Scottish society and potentially alter the political calculus north of the border.

But are they up to it? It seems doubtful. Scottish Tories look a beleaguered and defeated lot at the best of times. They vote against measures such as the Hate Crime Act and make the occasional vaguely conservative sounding pronouncement but don’t follow up with meaningful action. Too often they appear to have given up, to be going through the motions. Buffeted by the ‘progressive’ winds that blow through Holyrood and an incessant barrage of… let’s say it, hateful abuse (Humza Yousaf has vowed to work towards a ‘Tory-free’ Scotland), the Scottish Conservatives appear to lack courage and conviction.

It’s time for them to find both.

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Philip Patrick is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.