Yousaf concerned, but not surprised, by high number of hate crime complaints

Scotland’s First Minister has said he is “very, very concerned” by the number of “vexatious” complaints lodged under the country’s new hate crime law in its early days – but he is not surprised.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into effect on Monday, prompting thousands of complaints in its first few days, including some against Humza Yousaf himself, according to reports.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Mr Yousaf said he is concerned about the high numbers but added any new law is likely to see numerous early “vexatious” complaints.

He told the PA news agency: “It’s not a huge surprise that when legislation is first introduced there can sometimes be a flurry of vexatious complaints.

“We’ve obviously seen that and I would say to people don’t make vexatious complaints – you should desist – because what you’re doing is wasting precious police resources and time.

“But I am very, very concerned about the fact that we have seen those complaints, but at the same time I know that police are very adept at dealing with vexatious complaints, they do it every day and they know how to treat them.”

The Act – which consolidates existing hate crime legislation and creates an offence of stirring up hatred against certain protected characteristics – came into force in the week leading up to an Old Firm game – the most highly-charged football fixture in Scotland.

Mr Yousaf said the law offers protections for free speech – a key concern of the Act’s detractors.

Humza Yousaf
First Minister Humza Yousaf was asked about the new legislation while on a visit to Dingwall Mart in the Highlands (Jane Barlow/PA)

The law has a “very high criminal threshold”, he said, with an offence required to be threatening or abusive and the accused having to intend to stir up hatred, adding he has “every confidence” in the police to handle Old Firm games.

The First Minister also hit out at Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who both voted in favour of the Bill in 2021, claiming they have “run for the hills” when it comes to defending the legislation in public.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said this week he would not repeal the Act if he was first minister, but would amend it to include sex as a protected characteristic – a move the Scottish Government decided against in favour of a standalone Bill outlawing misogyny.

Mr Sarwar added that there had been flaws in the Government’s implementation and messaging around the legislation.

JK Rowling
JK Rowling’s comments did not fall foul of the new law (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Within hours of the Act coming into force, the First Minister himself had been reported to Police Scotland over a speech he made in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in the United States, where he lamented the lack of ethnic minority representation in senior positions in public life.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling was also referred to police after a series of social media posts on Monday where she called prominent trans women men and challenged officers to arrest her under the Act.

Both instances did not result in an arrest and were not recorded as non-crime hate incidents.

But Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who had a social media post of his recorded as a non-crime hate incident last year, asked Police Scotland Chief Constable Jo Farrell in a letter if different standards are applied for such incidents if the accused are “high-profile and powerful figures”.

He also asked if the decision to record his case as such and not the First Minister’s “suggests political bias”.

A non-crime hate incident is recorded when an incident does not meet the threshold for a crime but is perceived to be “motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards a social group”, according to Police Scotland guidance.

A spokesperson for Police Scotland said on Thursday: “An initial complaint regarding the recording of a non-crime hate incident was responded to in writing today.

“Further correspondence was then received from the complainer, which will be responded to in due course.”