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COLIN CAMPBELL: Health service is priority for older people, not ‘hate crime’

By Colin Campbell

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Senior citizen couple taking a walk in a park during autumn morning.
Senior citizen couple taking a walk in a park during autumn morning.

Humza Yousaf apparently wants to do something that will benefit older people. So what does he choose?

Three years ago before the last Holyrood election when Nicola Sturgeon was First Minister, Yousaf was part of an SNP cabal which floated the prospect of pensions being increased dramatically. But to achieve that, Scotland would first, of course, have to become independent.

This might have been tempting for some older people, but was best viewed alongside the promises of so much becoming better for everyone in that scenario, which at the time looked a semi-realistic prospect.

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Now the situation has changed under Humza Yousaf, and with him as SNP leader, independence looks further away than at any time in the past decade, so he has to ditch the promises and work with what he's got.

And his idea for benefitting older people? Include them - or us - as one of six "protected groups" in new laws on "hate crimes".

These laws have been widely condemned as a "snitches charter" which enables those who are so inclined to take offence at much of what was formerly regarded as free speech, and report the perceived "offender" to the police.

The Hate Crimes Strategy published online runs to 47 pages, and when you’ve finished reading it, apart from gaining the impression that no one should have to suffer an iota of “offence” about pretty much anything these days, you’re not much wiser about what you legally are "allowed" to say now. I wrote my first newspaper column in 1975. In the years since I've not seen anything which is as likely to have an intimidating effect on what should be honest and open public discourse and debate.

This new law is oppressive, sinister, draconian and worst of all, baffling. You may think you know what it's "reasonable" to write or say - and the requirement to be "reasonable" is, ludicrously, all the guidance you’re given - but it's literally impossible to know if someone would be offended by a comment you make regarding these protected groups. And whether they'd consider it to be reasonable or decide to report it to the police.

Apologists for these new laws now backpedal and insist there's a "high bar" for actual prosecution. What they cannot specify is exactly how high it is. And unless you’re JK Rowling there are numerous scenarios where a "reasonable person" now wouldn't know if his or her expressed views broke the law or not.

This is already emerging as a Yousaf-inspired fiasco. Given the eagerness these days of people straining to take offence at so much and so little, who would bet against an ongoing deluge of trivial, nonsensical or malicious complaints, all of which are required to be investigated by an already overstretched police force.

And what of the age element?

I have never come across an older person who has said they have been offended because of any wounding reference to their age. Most older people have more serious and substantial things to think about, and to worry about. That's first and foremost the health service, which seems to be in a state of permanent crisis with prolonged and worsening waiting lists and treatment delays.

If only Humza Yousaf could sort that out by bringing in a few new laws. But he can't. So he aims to protect older people against the threat of supposed age-related "hate crime", while leaving them fully exposed to all the real threats that actually matter.

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