The Scottish Nationalist’s hate crime legislation “a significant threat to freedom of expression” by the Law Society Scotland, the professional body for Scottish solicitors. And campaign group Free to Disagree has warned that it threatens to drag in people living in England and Wales as well as Scotland. Among the scenarios where individuals could be caught up in so-called hate crime are women criticising aspects of the trans rights campaign by suggesting trans women are not real women.
Meanwhile a liberal commentator who writes an article for a national newspaper saying that organised religion should be banned because it turns people into “hateful lemmings” could also be arrested.
Free to Disagree spokesman Jamie Gillies said: “The Hate Crime bill contains broad provisions covering speech, writing and the possession of ‘inflammatory material’.
“Under the plans, speech and writing which is deemed ‘abusive’ – that is rude and insulting – in regards to age, religion, transgenderism and other categories is liable to prosecution.
“Many are asking what this means for non-Scottish journalists, actors, comedians and others who operate north of the border. The vague drafting of the legislation suggests that these individuals could also be caught by the law. This raises the prospect of Scottish police officers arresting content creators outside Scotland.”
The concerns have also been raised by the Society of Editors.
Executive Director Ian Murray said: “Although these are designed for Scotland, any media organisation that publishes or broadcasts north of the border could find themselves caught up or at the very least there will be a chill placed on their work.
“Looking to the future, there is also the risk that any draconian measures adopted by the Scottish government will be taken up in other parts of the UK, particularly in England and Wales where The Law Commission is currently consulting on a possible expansion in English hate-crime law.”
Others from outside scotland who could be caught up in the new law are activists attending rallies, people making comments on social media or theatre groups and comedians performing at the Edinburgh Festival.
The concerns have also been supported by new Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross who has demanded that Ms Sturgeon and her SNP government think again.
He said: “My concern about the SNP’s proposed legislation is that it will have far-reaching and unintended consequences.
“The definitions are woolly, confusing and potentially dangerous to freedom of speech.
“That is why lawyers, artists, religious groups and so many more organisations and disciplines across so many fields have raised serious concerns and objections to the draft Bill.
“The fact that, as the Faculty of Advocates raised, the bill as drafted would see our police having to address alleged hate incidents in tweets is deeply unacceptable and an extraordinary failure of policy-making by the justice secretary.
“The general purpose of hate crime legislation is commendable but it’s time for the SNP to withdraw this draft and think again.”
But the Scottish government has hit back at criticism of the draft bill.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Bill does not seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way, people can express controversial, challenging or offensive views as long as this is not done in a threatening or abusive way that is intended or likely to stir up hatred.
“The Bill includes explicit provisions on protection of freedom of expression. As with all criminal laws, the law will apply to conduct committed in Scotland irrespective of whether someone lives in Scotland or is visiting Scotland.
“England, Wales and Northern Ireland all have laws in place criminalising stirring up hatred in relation to religion and sexual orientation while Northern Ireland’s law also covers disabilities.
“We will fully consider the views collected in the consultation and continue to engage with Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, stakeholders and the opposition as the Bill progresses through Parliamentary scrutiny.”