Scotland’s Orwellian Anti-Free Speech Regime

Posted on Thursday, April 11, 2024
by Shane Harris


scotland flag and free speech written over it

According to a new law which went into effect on April 1 in Scotland, telling an off-color joke, poking fun at someone online, or even expressing traditional religious views could land you in prison for up to seven years.

The law, officially titled the “Hate Crime and Public Order Act,” was first introduced in 2020 by Humza Yousaf, leader of the far-left Scottish National Party and the highest-ranking member of the Scottish government. Under the provisions of the legislation, it is now a criminal offense to “stir up hate” against certain protected identity groups, specifically racial minorities and individuals who identify as LGBT.

Despite supporters of the law claiming that it will create “safer communities that live free from hatred and prejudice,” its clear purpose is to use the power of the state to strike fear into anyone who dissents from left-wing cultural Marxist ideology. As National Review reports, “the law gives the police powers of entry, including the seizure of property, against suspects.” Notably, just one accusation that someone has committed a violation is enough to warrant a police raid.

Moreover, “citizens disturbed by wrong-think can drop into Stasi-esque reporting sites across the country, which… include an LGBT sex shop in Glasgow.” George Orwell himself could hardly have envisioned a more chilling system to suppress free speech.

The most terrifying aspect of the law is how vague its language is. According to a document published by the Scottish government in an effort to quell backlash to the legislation, anyone who “behaves in a threatening or abusive manner or communicates threatening or abusive material to another person” so that “hatred is intended or likely to be stirred up” is subject to being arrested and prosecuted.

And just who gets to decide what constitutes “threatening or abusive” language and whether or not “hatred” is “likely” to be stirred up? Inevitably left-wing prosecutors and judges of the same ideological persuasion as Yousaf and his allies.

Under the provisions of the bill, it is easy to imagine a transgender activist filing a complaint against a Catholic priest for opposing so-called “gender-affirming care” for minors. Making a joke on social media about a certain racial group could also now land the person who wrote the post in handcuffs. The expansiveness of the law allows the Scottish government and their left-wing activist allies to prosecute virtually anyone who threatens to undermine their ideology or break their grip on power.

Despite the Scottish government’s promise to throw people in prison for disagreeing with them, however, some courageous voices have already publicly challenged the law – including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Rowling, an outspoken liberal who currently lives in Scotland, is perhaps an unlikely hero for the conservatives leading the opposition to the law. But in recent years, Rowling has had a notably rocky relationship with the left due to her opposition to biological males participating in women’s sports and using female-only spaces.

In a series of posts on X shortly after the law went into effect, Rowling intentionally described trans-identifying males as men, daring the Scottish government to prosecute her. “I have been DELIBERATELY DEFIANT,” Rowling wrote in one post. “A full investigation MUST be mounted. #ArrestMe.”

Rowling’s open and public violation of the law effectively forced the Scottish government into a lose-lose situation. They could either enforce the law and arrest her, thereby creating a massive media firestorm, or not enforce the law, thereby publicly acknowledging that, since a famous author is not bound by the law, neither is anyone else. So far, Rowling has not been charged with any violation.

However, despite this apparent victory for free speech, the law remains in effect.

Moreover, while Scotland’s law might be the most blatant example of left-wing censorship and speech policing to date, it is hardly the only one. In Canada in 2021, for instance, a man was put behind bars after he refused to refer to his daughter, who began identifying as a boy, by male pronouns.

The Canadian Parliament is also now advancing its own “hate speech” bill that could prove even more radical than Scotland’s. As The New York Times reported on April 9, the proposed legislation would supposedly address the “anarchy and lawlessness of the internet” by allowing the government to prosecute “hate” as a crime in and of itself, rather than just adding it to other charges. It would also set up an entirely new agency to investigate and prosecute “hate speech.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has come out in opposition to the bill, as has renowned Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale – and another outspoken liberal.

Americans may feel inclined to rest easy by pointing to the First Amendment as a safeguard against such laws in the United States. And indeed, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1929, the First Amendment does guarantee “freedom for the thought that we hate.”

But First Amendment protections have not stopped the American left from using social media to censor speech that they disagree with in the online public square – all under the guise of stopping “hate speech” and “disinformation.” A generation of Americans have also now grown up in an education system that teaches that offensive speech is tantamount to physical violence. It is not a far ideological leap to argue that hate speech should, then, be prosecuted just as hate crimes currently are.

The First Amendment, like every other foundational American legal principle, is only as strong as the people’s belief in it. What is happening in Scotland and now Canada should be a dire warning for Americans to remain vigilant in protecting their fragile and precious liberties.

Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneHarris513.

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