Jake O’Kane: ‘Big Brother has found a home in Scotland thanks to its new Hate Crime Act’

Jake wonders how the new legislation is actually going to work - and if it goes too far

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

JK Rowling’s comments did not fall foul of the new law
JK Rowling’s comments did not fall foul of the new law (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Haters are gonna hate. I doubt a week has gone past where I haven’t been insulted or even occasionally threatened on anti-social media, yet I haven’t felt the need to report this to the police. I think they’ve much more important things to be getting on with than tracking down some anaemic nonentity, cowering in his childhood bedroom.

As a boy, I was the perfect target for bullying, being both chubby and having a head of almost fluorescent ginger hair. Most of my time in the school yard was spent answering insults with that old faithful, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names will never hurt me”. No doubt these early experiences helped prepare me for the online world where wimps walk tall, and trolls are brave in their anonymity.

I doubt an already-stretched PSNI could function if every instance of sectarian stupidity were to be classed a crime, yet this is now the reality in Scotland. The Scottish government have just enacted the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 which creates a new offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ relating to age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or being intersex.

You’re at risk of a conviction if you communicate material, or behave in a manner “that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive”. It sets the bar for this lower than other legislation as it includes ‘insulting’ behaviour, with the police only needing to prove that the stirring-up of hatred was ‘likely’ rather than ‘intended’.

Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf, said the new law was designed to deal with what he called a “rising tide of hatred”, no doubt referring to online platforms such as X and Facebook.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has again urged the UK Government to stop selling arms to Israel
(Jane Barlow/PA)
Read more:

Police Scotland have promised to investigate all reports of such hate crimes, though how they’re going to achieve this is remains unexplained, especially as only last month they admitted to no longer being able to investigate every ‘low level’ crime, including some cases of theft and criminal damage.

The first test of the new hate legislation came via Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who challenged police to arrest her over comments she made regarding the transgender community. On the day the new law came into effect, Rowling described prominent transgender women activists as ‘men’ in a series of posts on X, but Police Scotland confirmed on Tuesday that her comments “did not amount to a crime”, demonstrating how ineffective the new law may prove to be.

In a classic case of good intentions scuppered by unintended consequences, who, for example, will be the final arbiter of what constitutes a ‘reasonable person’ in relation to adjudicating hate speech?

Under the new legislation, someone could be convicted of stirring up hatred by a comment they make not in public but in their own homes. George Orwell’s prophetic novel 1984 seems to have been out by 40 years, as his Big Brother has found a home in Scotland.

The abuse of discrimination legislation is best demonstrated in what has happened to public discourse following the horrific attacks by Hamas in Gaza on October 7 2023. The deliberate twisting of discrimination laws has all but silenced reasonable debate and criticism of the Israeli state and the IDF.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Protesters condemned the bombing of Gaza (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is easily understood by those here old enough to remember when being a Catholic was viewed by some as synonymous with being a republican and/or member of the IRA.

In the same way, criticism of Israel should not be seen as support of Hamas: this trope has been used too often as another way to silence critics of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The World Central Kitchen charity has said it is calling for an ‘independent investigation into the IDF strikes that killed seven members’ of its team in Gaza on Monday (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP)
The World Central Kitchen charity has said it is calling for an ‘independent investigation into the IDF strikes that killed seven members’ of its team in Gaza on Monday (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP) (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP)

The blatant murder of seven aid workers this week by the IDF – three of whom were British – will hopefully be a turning point in the genocidal war being perpetrated by Benjamin Netanyahu and his military.

In this column on October 14 2023, a week after the attack by Hamas, and before the Israeli invasion, I predicted ”a humiliated Netanyahu will now attempt to redeem his standing by indulging in an all-out orgy of destruction, not only of Hamas but the very state of Gaza. His actions will result in Israel being less secure and possibly end in a regional conflict”.

The first prediction has been realised, with Gaza reduced to rubble and over 30,000 Palestinian civilians killed, including 10,000 children. The rocket attack by Israel on the Iranian embassy in Syria this week could very well be the harbinger of the predicted regional conflict.