New Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross emphatically condemned for ‘disgraceful’ bid to kill off vital hate crime bill

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross

New Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has faced anger after making an attempt to defeat a hate crime bill one of his top priorities.

Ross, who took over the party leadership last month, has vowed to kill off the Scottish government’s new bill – which consolidates and updates existing hate crime laws, and expands laws banning the “stirring up of racial hatred” to cover other protected groups, including LGBT+ people.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross says his ‘first mission’ as leader is to stop hate crime bill.

Speaking to the Scottish Daily Mail on Monday, Ross said: “The SNP’s hate crime bill is the biggest attack on freedom of speech in Scotland since devolution.

“One of my first missions as leader of the opposition in Scotland will be to fight this head on. The Scottish Tories will use every tactic at our disposal to stop this legislation in its tracks.”

Ross is an MP and does not sit in the Scottish parliament, meaning he would not be able to vote on the bill, but he indicated that Scottish Tory MSPs would bring forward a motion on Wednesday scrapping the bill entirely.

Douglas Ross, the new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party

Douglas Ross, the new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

He called on opposition parties to “unite behind the Scottish Conservatives and stop this awful legislation from the SNP once and for all,” describing it as “a disaster waiting to happen” that “opens the door to ordinary, decent folk facing the threat of jail for speaking their mind”.

The attempted plot to kill off the bill is unlikely to succeed, The Telegraph reports, because the Scottish Green Party are expected to support the SNP proposal, giving it a likely sizeable majority in the Scottish Parliament.

‘Disgraceful’ attempt to kill hate crime bill condemned by LGBT+ groups.

Supporters of the bill acknowledged concerns about its impact on free speech, but questioned why Ross was seeking to kill it off entirely, rather than put forward amendments likely to gain support.

Colin Macfarlane of Stonewall Scotland slammed Ross as a “disgrace” for his vow to defeat the bill.

He tweeted: “If this is true it is disgraceful and I have written to [Conservative leader in the Scottish Parliament] Ruth Davidson, [Scottish Liberal Democrats leader] Willie Rennie and [Scottish Labour leader] Richard Leonard to say so.

“The bill has really important considerations for LGBT+ people who still face unacceptably high levels of hate crime in Scotland.”

“At Stonewall Scotland we believe the stirring up of hatred offences are needed. We also believe in the principle of free speech and are open to amendments to the proposed stirring up of hatred so they do not impact on free speech. This is the correct way forward.

“To call for the bill to be ‘scrapped once and for all’ as the Mail quotes Douglas Ross as saying, without going through the proper process of scrutiny and discussion, would be a disservice to the many organisations and individuals who have taken time to respond to the consultation.

“We will be shocked if Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats back the Scottish Tories’ proposed motion as is reported in the Mail and warn this will send the message that all three do not care about tackling hate crime in our communities.”

Scotland’s Equality Network agreed: “If this story on the front page of today’s Daily Mail is true, it is a disgrace. It says the Tories will try on Wednesday to kill the hate crime bill ‘once and for all’, and that the Tories believe they can get the support of Labour and the Lib Dems for that.

“The hate crime bill has some important provisions for LGBT+ people, including (in part one of the bill) fixing the incorrect inclusion of intersex under the transgender hate crime aggravation, and updating the language around trans.

“We also think that the stirring up hatred offences in part two are needed, but we (like other supporters of the bill) are open to those being amended to ensure that they do not impact free speech. That is what should be done with the bill, not scrapping it ‘once and for all’.

“Needless to say we would be shocked beyond measure if [Labour and the Liberal Democrats] supported such a proposal – it would completely undermine their reputations as parties of equality.”

The Scottish government’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf wrote: “While recognising concerns around hate crime bill, there are many sections of society – often minorities – who are targets of hatred, verbal and physical. Parliament should listen to their voices. Correct approach is to debate and amend bill where necessary, not silence those voices.”