‘Hate Speech’ Laws Are Killing Comedy

The leak of the Police Scotland training materials telling officers they should target actors and comedians for ‘hate speech’ under the new law coming into force on April 1st has intensified concerns that the draconian legislation will kill comedy. The Telegraph‘s Dominic Cavendish has more.

When the Herald newspaper published its report on March 19th, advising that “Police Scotland’s officers are being told they should target actors and comedians under Scotland’s new hate crime laws”, the comedian Al Murray delivered a pithy, pretty unprintable response on X: “F___ this.” Later he elaborated: “I normally suck my teeth at the ‘haven’t you got anything better to do copper?’ reflex, but for this I make the exception…” He added: “It’ll mean the law looking daft.”

To recap: legislation due to come into force on April 1st (the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act) entails a new offence of “stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins”.

An offence may also be committed if hatred is stirred up against a group bearing these characteristics: age, disability, religion (or perceived religious affiliation), sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. Those convicted can expect to face fines and/or a prison sentence of up to seven years. These groups (except age, a new group added by the new laws) are currently protected to some degree by specific laws which the new offence consolidates.

In the face of initial resistance to the proposed legislation, which saw then Justice Secretary (now First Minister) Humza Yousaf roundly criticised, with Rowan Atkinson joining the fightback, modifications were made and legal provision given for freedom of expression to be protected. But the Herald report suggested that Police Scotland’s officers would indeed investigate actors and comedians if complaints are made; the leaked training material referenced the “public performance of a play” as an example of how hateful material could be communicated.

“When I turned down a safe space contract from SOAS in 2018 to make the point that our ability to make jokes is being threatened by a creeping climate of authoritarian censorship, many in the comedy industry laughed at me,” Konstantin Kisin, the Russian-British comedian and co-host of the Triggernometry podcast, tells me. “They’re not laughing now.”

Police Scotland issued a statement insisting that it wasn’t “instructing officers to target comedians, or any other people or groups” – but this hasn’t been conclusively reassuring to those following the issue closely.

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