Scotland’s hate crime laws spark controversy

A hate crime is an illegal act based on prejudice or discrimination. Under Scottish legislation, the maximum penalty for “stirring up hatred” is now seven years in prison.
scotland hate crime laws

New hate crime laws have come into effect in Scotland, making it illegal to incite hate based on age, disability, religion, sexuality, or gender identity.

A hate crime is an illegal act based on prejudice or discrimination. Under Scottish legislation, the maximum penalty for “stirring up hatred” is now seven years in prison.

The laws have been described as a threat to free speech, drawing criticism from high profile figures like J.K. Rowling and Elon Musk.

Scotland’s government

Scotland is a country but it’s also part of the United Kingdom.

As a result, it has two governments, the UK and Scottish governments.

The Scottish Government’s responsibilities include law and order, education, healthcare and social services.

The UK Government’s responsibilities include Scottish immigration, energy and employment.

Hate crime laws

Inciting racial hatred has been outlawed across the UK since 1986. However, a 2018 review of hate crime legislation found Scotland’s laws were outdated. It called for hate crime regulations to be strengthened and expanded.

Scottish Parliament passed legislation in 2021 to specifically outlaw inciting hate against people based on age, disability, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

These groups were broadly protected from hate crimes under existing legislation.


The laws don’t include specific protections for women. However, a government taskforce has recommended separate legislation ensuring protections against misogynistic harassment and abuse.

Minister for Victims and Community Safety Siobhian Brown said nobody
“should live in fear” and that the government was committed to “building safer communities that live free from hatred and prejudice.”

“This legislation is an essential element of our wider approach to tackling that harm,” Brown said.

Freedom of speech

A special provision designed to support freedom of speech and expression is included in the legislation.

It means if a person is charged under the laws but can prove their behaviour was an expression of “information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb,” they may be able to avoid a criminal conviction.


The hate crime laws have been opposed by the Scottish Conservative Party, whose leader Douglas Ross called the legislation “dangerous” and a threat to free speech.

Concerns have also been raised by Scottish Police, who said they were expecting an influx of online abuse complaints.

Tesla CEO and X owner Elon Musk has weighed in on the laws, which he described as “an example of why it is so important to preserve freedom of speech”.

JK Rowling

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who lives in Scotland, claimed the new laws would impact freedom of speech.

In 2020, following allegations she had engaged with transphobic social media accounts, Rowling said she was “worried about the new trans activism”, and said many women were “justifiably terrified” by trans activists.

This week, Rowling challenged police to arrest her under the new laws.

Police confirmed Rowling’s comments had been referred to them, but that they weren’t pursuing criminal action.

Become smarter in three minutes

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed, for free.

Be the smart friend in your group chat

Join thousands of young Aussies and get our 5 min daily newsletter on what matters in your world.

It’s easy. It’s trustworthy. It’s free.