There has been significant controversy over the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) bill in recent weeks, with an unusually high level of concern expressed by the legal profession, police federation, media outlets, artists and comedians among others as well as church, faith and humanist groups. At the Evangelical Alliance we share these concerns and have been involved throughout the consultation process.

We want to encourage engagement with this bill and would encourage you to contact your MSPs to raise any concerns. However, in a highly charged media and social media environment it is also important to be clear about the what the bill does and does not do, where the concerns are, and how to most usefully get involved.

What the hate crime bill does

Hate Crime is any crime that is committed against a person that relates to a protected characteristic’ for example race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. These crimes are given an extra level of legal weight in the form statutory aggravations that must be taken into account when sentencing people who are convicted of these crimes. 


The Scottish Government’s rationale for the bill was explained by the Justice Committee in their recent call for evidence:

According to the Scottish Government, this Bill provides for the modernising, consolidating and extending of hate crime legislation in Scotland. In its view, legislation in this area has evolved over time in a fragmented manner with the result that different elements of hate crime law are located in different statutes, there is a lack of consistency, and the relevant legislation is not as user-friendly as it could be. In its opinion, the new hate crime legislation will provide greater clarity, transparency and consistency.”

Specifically, part one of the bill functions as the consolidation piece while part two extends the legislation creating a series of new Stirring Up Hatred’ offences.

There is much that is well-intentioned in the bill and it is important to recognise this. As Christians it’s important to state that we do not wish to see anyone suffer from hatred or be threatened or assaulted because of any aspect of their character or identity. We are a people of love not hatred and so we stand against all forms of hatred and anything that denies the human dignity of any human being.

However, there are a number of significant concerns in relation to this bill that if left unchanged could seriously impact on freedom and could damage the very community cohesion that the bill is seeking to promote. 

What the concerns are

The concerns we (and numerous others have) relate primarily to part two of the bill. You can read the full detail of them in our submission to the justice committee.

The biggest single danger from this bill is the wide scope and vague definitions of many of the key terms in part two, meaning that in many areas what might be robust disagreement (or even comedy) could meet the criteria for stirring up hatred. There are many areas of legitimate disagreement on all sorts of issues and it is important that reasonable disagreement is protected in a mature society even when offence may be caused. 

Principally the concerns relate to two areas – lack of defence and lack of adequate free speech protections.

  1. Lack of adequate defences
    There are some existing offences in relation to stirring up racial hatred. Each of these offences has clear defences in law to avoid anyone being criminalised unintentionally. These have been replaced by a reasonableness test’ in the proposals where the onus is on the defendant to prove their actions were reasonable – something that places much greater legal burden on the defendant than in normal circumstances.
  2. Lack of adequate free speech protections
    Fundamentally this issue is one of freedom and the Scottish Government recognises that some free speech protections are needed within the bill. However, both the existing clauses are not as robust as current similar laws in different parts of the UK and there are some areas (such as the current gender identity debate) that are not covered at all. It is vital to protect the principle that disagreement does not equal hatred and to have clear free speech protections in the legislation.

What happens next

There are three stages to a bill becoming law in the Scottish Parliament. Once a bill is introduced a committee of MSPs (in this case the justice committee) considers the proposals and calls witnesses to give evidence before a vote of all MSPs in the chamber on the general principles of the bill. The second stage involves the committee again and is where amendments are discussed before the final stage which involves all MSPs in a final vote on the bill with any new amendments.

The hate crime bill is currently at stage one. However due to the controversy of the proposals Humza Yousaf, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, has this week announced amendments to the bill to mandate the need to prove intent. The committee witness sessions will run from October until December when a stage one chamber vote is currently scheduled.

How to get involved

The Evangelical Alliance team is in regular contact with MSPs from across the parties and also with the Scottish Government. We have previously met with Humza Yousaf and continue to raise our concerns.

You can also get involved and we would encourage you to do this by contacting your own MSPs. This is particularly true of those members of the justice committee and if you live in Glasgow, Orkney, Highlands and Islands, North East Scotland, Strathkelvin and Bearsden, Cowdenbeath, Dundee or Coatbridge & Chryston, at least one of your MSPs is on the committee. 

In all correspondence it’s important to be courteous and clear, and remember to pray regularly for your MSPs as you do this. If you’re not sure who your local representatives are you can use the Scottish Parliament’s online tool to find your MSPs.