I LOVE being a comedian. I travel the world, drinking free beer and sleeping as long as I want. But I’m throwing my endless adolescence away to stand for election in Glasgow to repeal the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill. It could make comedy illegal.
Under this bill, if you say something that someone perceives as “abusive” or intended to “stir up hatred” – no matter what you actually said, or how you meant it – you can be prosecuted.
It adds to the lengthening list of protected characteristics that you can’t criticise, now including “asexuals”, “polysexuals”, “pansexuals” and even “monosexuals” – that’s people who have sex with themselves. Calling someone a “wanker” is genuinely a hate crime now.
The bill is so hazily worded, it’s a pick-your-own law for judges and politicians. There doesn’t even need to be a victim. If you call someone a tosser or wanker behind their back, I can report you to the police.
It does nothing useful. It adds to the creeping sense of dread that good people feel, the anxiety that they’ll say the wrong word and accidentally offend someone or breach some rule. But this bill is just tokenistic woke window dressing from the SNP to draw a politically correct veil over their xenophobia and incompetence.
Scotland has a proud history of iconoclastic, boundary pushing comedians. Billy Connolly, Jerry Sadowitz, Frankie Boyle (before he went woke) are national treasures but have all said things that would breach this hate crime law.
Connolly was condemned by the Church when he joked about Catholicism. Today, if he joked about certain religions, he’d be arrested. As for Boyle’s joke about Harvey Price, it was cruel but hilarious – and breached the hate crime bill in so many ways, they’d probably have to bring back hanging for him.
There’s a growing intolerance of contentious comedy and viewpoints that stray from the ordained “woke” norm. I’ve experienced the sharp end of cancel culture myself. My show “Right Wing Comedian” was banned from a comedy festival in Australia following accusations of transphobia. The fact I wrote the show with my transgender ex didn’t matter. The liberal inquisition wanted a scalp, and they were happy to silence a progressive trans voice to get it.
And it’s not just comedians who can be prosecuted. For the first time in history, private conversations in homes will be criminalised. Your children could be interrogated by the police and forced to testify against you because you cracked a joke, or accidentally used the wrong pronoun for Sam Smith because they looks like a man to you, or voiced a disapproved opinion, even if just a few years ago it was a perfectly normal point of view. Or called someone a wanker.
Promoters, writers, venues and directors can also be prosecuted over what is said on stage, piling on layers of stultifying self-censorship to our state-sanctioned entertainment.
Even worse, this bill can be used maliciously – anyone who wants to smear you can report you to the police. This happened to Harry Miller, who retweeted a limerick critical of gender self-identification. Even if the justice system clears you of any wrongdoing – as it did with Mr Miller – it’s recorded as a “non-crime hate incident” that will show up on DBS checks by any prospective employers.
This bill is unnecessary. Scotland is a famously warm, friendly, welcoming place. We don’t have a neo-Nazi rally on every corner. Humza Yousaf’s assumption that we’re all racist homophobes who need to be muzzled is the opposite of the truth.
When it comes to hateful attitudes, society polices itself. My social circle isn’t a hyper liberal Guardian-reading bubble but if anyone expressed any genuinely hateful views they’d be upbraided by the rest of us. Comedy audiences won’t accept genuinely hateful jokes. Existing laws deal with hateful communications. The only hate and intolerance I see in Scotland is directed from SNP supporters towards the English or “Tories”, so often used as a Nationalist dog-whistle against the English.
And it’s this xenophobia and nationalist fury that is on the rise – stoked by the SNP. The party has encouraged parochial attitudes amongst Scotland’s younger generation by bribing them to study in Scotland by paying their tuition fees from taxpayer’s money. And independence supporters have marched side-by-side with the ethno-fascist organisation Siol nan Gaidheal, who were kicked out of the SNP decades ago.
This legislation will just be used as a politically correct stick to attack people and silence the SNP’s opponents. If Alex Salmond’s claims hold a kernel of truth, it won’t be the first time the SNP has changed the law to let it send dissidents to the gulag.
It’s the latest in a line of authoritarian legislation from the SNP. The Offensive Behaviour at Football Act criminalised football fans for singing songs. The Named Person scheme removed the responsibility for children from their parents and allowed the state to snoop on families. They were both scrapped. The Hate Crime Bill should be scrapped too.
Given that Scotland has already seen the prosecution of people for jokes, there would seem to be more of a case for rolling back Scottish hate crime law than adding to it. We need to let conversation breathe. JK Rowling, whether you agree with her or not, makes points about protecting women and female-only spaces that just a few years ago wouldn’t just be acceptable, they’d be progressive.
With wokeism driving such a constant change in acceptable norms, doesn’t it make sense for public speech to be loosened rather than stifled, and isn’t there an obvious danger in wielding power over the speech and thought of others? As the Jewish comedic novelist Howard Jacobson says, he’s “far more threatened by those who would wipe out ethnic jokes than by those who unthinkingly make them.”
I’m far from the only person critical of the bill. The Scottish Police Federation are alarmed at the drift away from stabbings and burglaries and towards policing thought. General secretary Calum Steele said: “The bill would move even further from policing and criminalising of deeds and acts to the potential policing of what people think or feel, as well as the criminalisation of what is said in private.”
The Law Society of Scotland also voiced reservations that the Bill would “threaten freedom of expression”. The Catholic Church is concerned that it could render the Bible illegal while the National Secular Society is concerned that it will make criticism of religion illegal.
When legislation is opposed by the people who would enforce it, those who would use it, religious groups AND secularists, it needs to go. It’s fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. Neo Nazi rallies are not a burgeoning issue in Scotland, despite woke people’s best efforts to alienate working class white people. Surveys show that people are becoming more tolerant and open. Comedians aren’t spouting hate speech for the simple reason that audiences are generally nice people and wouldn’t accept hate speech. We don’t need to be legislated by autocratic wonks; let the audience be our jury.
I’m not a career politician. I’m running in Glasgow to repeal this legislation. If you’re sick of the woke Stasi lecturing good people on how to think, of good people being silenced, of living in an increasingly restricted society, vote for me. I don’t even need to win – if I get just a few percent of the vote across Glasgow, we’ll have a mandate to repeal this legislation. Your vote can make a real change this election, and send an important message: Scotland is a land of freedom.
Leo Kearse is an award-winning Scottish comedian and writer standing for election in Glasgow Pollok and the Glasgow regional list. Leo has produced a comedy video about the Hate Crime Bill here: https://youtu.be/8mnyb0Esv8A