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First Minister Humza Yousaf says Hate Crime Act will not inhibit free speech on a visit to Dingwall

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Maree Todd, First Minister Humza Yousaf, candidate Lucy Beattie and MSP Kate Forbes. Picture: Callum Mackay.
MSP Maree Todd, First Minister Humza Yousaf, candidate Lucy Beattie and MSP Kate Forbes. Picture: Callum Mackay.

First Minister Humza Yousaf paid a visit to Dingwall Highland Marts this week where he discussed the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Act and the upcoming general election and how current politics could impact the SNP’s chances.

He was joined at the mart by his former rival for the party leadership and local MSP Kate Forbes, current ministers Maree Todd and Emma Roddick as well as a number of SNP councillors.

The Hate Crime Act has been dominating political discourse most of the last two weeks amid fears many have about its implications for free speech in Scotland as well as protections for people with protected characteristics.

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We asked Mr Yousaf if he was at all concerned that there could be unintended consequences of the Hate Crime Act in that it may inhibit people from freely expressing their opinion.

“I've certainly not seen any evidence of that in the last 50 hours,” he said. “I've seen quite the opposite – some people are being very vocal about their opinions and a whole range of issues.

“Let me just give you my own example. It was hardly a surprise to me that those particularly in the far right decided to put in vexatious complaints about a speech that I made a number of years ago or in diversity in public life.

“That doesn't stop me from speaking out about the need for greater diversity right across the country or in my need and our need collectively across society to tackle racism.

“So it doesn't have any chilling effect on me. I suspect that that is the same for other people.

“With vexatious complaints, there were always, frankly, going to be a flurry of that when the Act first came in and, I suspect that will taper down but the police are very well adept in order to address vexatious complaints.

“What is important about the Hate Crime Act is it does two things – one, it protects, of course marginalised communities in particular from having hatred directed against them.

“But equally it makes sure it gets the balance right by taking freedom of expression, which is an absolute bedrock of our democracy.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf at Dingwall Auction Mart. Picture: Callum Mackay.
First Minister Humza Yousaf at Dingwall Auction Mart. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Having such an explosive piece of legislation come into force in an election year could offer rivals significant material to attack the SNP so is Mr Yousaf concerned it could impact the party in the general election?

“No, I am not actually, I have to say because I knock a lot of doors and I have to say not a single person has raised it on the doorsteps with me. I'm going to be knocking on some more doors so it'll be interesting to see if it comes up.

“Something tells me, I suspect it probably won't because we know why – the vast majority of people don't engage in stirring up hatred so they have nothing to worry about.

“And, of course, those who do have anything to worry about often are victims of hatred who will welcome the additional protection that the hate crime Act is bringing for them.

“So to me, I have to say it is not an issue that I think will come up on the doorstep and if it is I think we can be very, very strong in terms of our response in relation to what the Hate Crime Act is seeking to do.”

The general election may offer another interesting clash as former SNP candidate Karl Rosie who resigned from the SNP and has since joined Alba could be a candidate for Westminster.

At the last election, he ran veteran Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone very close and only lost by just over 200 votes.

The First Minister could not have been clearer: I was sorry to see him go at the time though I disagree with his reasons, his rationale, for leaving at the time.

“Look, I've many concerns over a number of issues and, of course, you'd expect that as First Minister and leader of the SNP, Alba is not one of them.”

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