Scottish Labour misses a moral imperative and an open goal

by Rob Marchant

Yesterday – as many wags observed, fittingly, the first of April – is the first day of possibly the most illiberal piece of legislation in the UK during at least the last three decades (and it has been almost 36 years since the enactment of Section 28, the Margaret Thatcher’s notorious anti-gay legislation, so that pretty much fits).

It essentially creates a hate crime, which can be pretty much whatever imagined slight the person who reports it says it is. It is also a crude attempt to secure gender self ID through the back door, because it talks about “gender identity” (not a protected characteristic) instead of “gender reassignment” (a protected characteristic).

In short, it is exceptionally poorly drafted, making it completely unclear what the objective criteria are for having committed this crime; it is severely limiting of free speech, in a similar way to blasphemy laws enacted in developing countries; it will undoubtedly be used to attempt to stifle dissent on the Scottish Government’s LGBT policies, and quite probably instigate punishment for anything understood as religious blasphemy; it will gum up the wheels of an already-understaffed and over-worked Police Scotland; and finally, it will almost certainly be politically disastrous for the hapless government of Humza Yousaf, a First Minister so inept that he has been in a disaster at every previous portfolio he has held in that government, and failed upwards.

The most pernicious aspect is this: hate crime is in the eye of the beholder, as it were. In other words, if you think something is a hate crime it is. It is difficult to quantify the amount raw stupidity you have to have to think that this makes for either a fair or a workable law.

Whether or not the SNP-Green coalition can cling onto power for the next two years is anyone’s guess, but it seems certain at this point that they will not win an election with the useless Yousaf at the helm.

Scottish Labour on the other hand, having waited patiently until now for an opportunity to come back from oblivion, has been shaping up recently. After the terrible Richard Leonard, they now have a sensible-ish leader in Anas Sarwar, and are starting to tip the balance against the SNP in Scottish polling.

But you did not hear a peep out of them this Monday, on a day when the press was full of criticism of this legislation, and that is because they voted with the SNP on this bill. Yes, back in 2020 they said they had some “serious reservations”, but they still voted for it; a subject where there is not just a moral imperative, but a political one that only the most dunder-headed could have missed.

In fact, as the Mail’s Stephen Daisley put it: “It’s actually ‘the SNP-Labour-Green-Lib Dem Hate Crime Act’. Those are the four parties that voted for the legislation. All four deserve credit for their law.”

The whole of political Scotland outside of the SNP, not to mention most of its press and pretty much anyone on the street, one suspects, if they had it explained to them, do not like this bill. It has had cross-party condemnation outside of Scotland.

Thankfully it looks like UK Labour is not getting embroiled in this foolishness: Pat McFadden said on the Times Radio programme this morning that “we are not planning to legislate for new crimes in this area”. But that is cold comfort to potential voters in Scotland, who now just see us as equally daft as our SNP counterparts. Scottish Labour, on the cusp of an electoral comeback, choose to throw their lot in with the very fools that Scots are clearly already sick of.

Wake up, Scottish Labour. Apart from the look, which is not a good one, you’ve got one shot at this.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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One Response to “Scottish Labour misses a moral imperative and an open goal”

  1. Spot on comment, Scottish Labour need to get it’s act together and fast.

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