OF COURSE the majority of the Scottish Government’s time is being spent, as you would imagine it would be, on the response to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

It still has other parts of its agenda that it is pushing forward with, despite this including a Proposed Hate Crime Bill, which is bound to be controversial.

Anytime legislation that polices thought or speech is brought forward, it is always without fail controversial, as it should be.

The right to free thought and speech are fundamental rights so it is imperative for governments to be careful in this area and the opposition to keep a watchful eye and push back when attempts to go too far are made.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has already had to come out and defend his proposals; and due to poor drafting and planning, he has had to promise that they will not lead to the imprisonment of people for criticising the SNP Government.

While, of course, the aims of this bill, to play a part in eliminating racism and bigotry in the country, are laudable and supported, it is important that it is done within a robust and fair legal framework.

The robust aim is that of Humza Yousaf himself who said that, “robust laws will ensure action be taken against perpetrators and send a strong message that offences motivated by prejudice are not tolerated”.

Now the issue is that his proposed bill is not “robust” but is actually extremely vague, in my opinion, when it comes to definitions of who will be considered to be breaking the law.

That is always worrying but even more so when you are dealing with the right to free speech.

His bill uses the terms “hatred” and “threatening or abusive” which create legal ambiguities, which will make convictions more difficult to secure and thus acquittals more likely.

This is because whilst threatening already exists as a concept in hate crime legislation, abusive does not and is a much more subjective use of language.

These ambiguities raise the key question of who gets to decide that?

What one person would consider abusive or what they consider the likelihood of outcome to be will be completely different from another.

This creates the worry of what will the impact and burden on the police be.

Will they need to spend even more time looking through Facebook and Twitter investigating potential culprits?

When any government is creating a new law, it is important that it is clear and capable of enforcement. The new Hate Crime Bill currently fails this test and it is important the SNP government fixes this going forward.