Elon Musk: SNP hate crime law threatens freedom of speech

Elon Musk has given his view on Scotland’s controversial new hate crime bill, condemning the legislation as a threat to freedom of speech.

As reported by the Times, Elon Musk has given his view on Scotland’s controversial new hate crime bill, condemning the legislation as a threat to freedom of speech.

The comments by the owner of social media platform X – and self-styled “free speech absolutist” – come in the wake of warnings by JK Rowling who vowed to continue “calling a man a man” in defiance of the new laws.

Although the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act was given Royal Assent in April 2021, it wasn’t activated immediately, partly because Police Scotland needed time to work out how it could implement the legislation on the ground without immediately being swamped by groundless or malicious complaints brought by every perpetually offended woke scold north of the border.

As part of the Scottish Government’s self-proclaimed attempt to “consolidate, modernise and extend” existing hate crime legislation, the Act broadens the offence of ‘stirring up racial hatred’, extending it to the protected characteristics of disability, religion, sexual orientation, age, transgender identity and ‘variations in sex characteristics’.

Putting aside race (which is handled slightly differently to the other protected characteristics) committing the offence requires:

1) Behaviour or communication to another person of material that a “reasonable person” would consider threatening or abusive; and

2) Intention to stir up hatred against a group of persons defined by a protected characteristic.

As per the legislation’s protections for freedom of expression, it will not be deemed “abusive and threatening” to engage “solely” in “discussion or criticism” about age or any of the other protected characteristics.

Scots are also expressly permitted to voice “antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult” for religion.

However, that carve-out does not apply to the legislation’s other protected characteristics, raising serious free speech concerns, not least for those who hold and manifest the gender critical belief that the category of biological sex must take precedence over a person’s ‘gender identity’ in policy and law. Those concerns are unlikely to have been assuaged by news that attendees at a recent Police Scotland hate crime training session were asked to consider the case of a fictional gender critical feminist called “Jo” [as in, Joanne Kathleen Rowling – geddit?!] who has a large social media following, thinks sex is binary, and bizarrely calls for transgender people to be sent to the gas chambers.

Another free speech concern is that unlike the Public Order Act, Scotland’s hate crime legislation removes what’s known as the ‘dwelling defence’ (i.e., that an offence cannot be committed if both the defendant and the person threatened are in a private dwelling). This means that people can be prosecuted for stirring up hatred in their own home, which raises the spectre of children testifying against their parents in court.

The Bill won the backing of a majority of MSPs in March 2021, despite concerns that the entire section on stirring up hatred (section three) was “fundamentally flawed” and represented an “attack” on freedom of speech.

Activation of the legislation was then delayed while Police Scotland began the process of “training, guidance and communications planning”.

Two-and-half years later, in September 2023, the national police force established a dedicated hate crime unit to help identify, record and prosecute the new crimes created by the Act. It also began training its 16,400 officers in preparation for the Act’s activation.

A series of ‘third party reporting centres’ have also been established by Police Scotland, on the basis that victims or witnesses “sometimes… don’t feel comfortable reporting the incident to the police” and “might be more comfortable reporting it to someone they know”.

The nationwide network of walk-in snitching parlours are located everywhere from charities, council offices, mushroom farms (no, really), caravan sites and housing associations – Glasgow’s easily offended can even drop-in to ‘Luke and Jake’, an LGBT+ sex-shop where specially trained staff are available seven days a week to help you report a ‘hate crime’.

Needless to say, the FSU is concerned that the new law will give officers carte blanche to question people for expressing lawful but dissenting, offensive or contentious views that those with particular protected characteristics – as well as the many activists who purport to speak on their behalf – happen to perceive as ‘hateful’.

We’re also concerned that any reported ‘hate crime’ that doesn’t meet Police Scotland’s criminality threshold will still be logged against the alleged perpetrator as a hate incident (non-crime incident), because the defining factor there is only ever the complainant’s perception of what happened. This information is sometimes subject to disclosure under an enhanced criminal records check.

Musk’s intervention on the issue will be regarded as the most significant yet. However, his remarks appear to be predicated on erroneous reports that Police Scotland would instruct officers “to target actors, comedians or any other people or groups” when it comes to enforcing the new law.

Citing a post on the news report by Ian Miles Cheong, a right-wing influencer, Musk described the new laws as an “example of why it is so important to preserve freedom of speech”.

Cheong had mistakenly suggested that jokes shared online or commentary of a transgender person broadcast on livestream would lead to arrest in Scotland.

Police Scotland dismissed the reports, saying that it was “not instructing officers to target comedians or any other people or groups”. They said that the training for the new act reminded officers of their human rights obligations and that it reflected all aspects of the new legislation, including the protection it included around freedom of expression.

Worth reading in full.