A sledgehammer to crack a nut?

football player in white and blue jersey shirt
Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

Author’s note dated 11 March 2021: the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill successfully completed Stage 3 of the parliamentary process at Holyrood by 82 votes for to 32 against. It now awaits the formality of Royal Assent.

Today, I was talking to a group of students about the fact that cultural factors can sometimes be a much more powerful driver towards changing society’s attitudes about certain issues.

Sometimes when Governments take a very legalistic approach to societal issues e.g. equality and discrimination, they can end up being accused of overkill or using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. A good example of a current controversy is the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill making its way through the Scottish Parliament.

The Bill is about to embark on Stage 2 of the legislative process

Lord Bracadale, a retired Scottish judge, was commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2017 to review the state of Scotland’s hate crime laws and many of his recommendations are to be found in the Bill.

A link to Lord Bracadale’s Report can be found below:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/independent-review-hate-crime-legislation-scotland-final-report/

Now, most reasonable people are going to say hate crime is an issue which should be tackled, but when you ask how it should be tackled that’s when things get controversial.

Critics of the Hate Crime Bill say that it will stifle free speech, but it’s supporters say that it will clarify the law. Who is right and who is wrong?

A link to a recent article on the controversy surrounding the Hate Crime Bill can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-53580326

The Scottish Government, of course, has been criticised in the past for passing laws to combat discrimination – think the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications etc (Scotland) Act 2012 which was eventually repealed on 20 April 2018.

The Scottish Government also had to put its proposals on the back burner  to make it easier for transgender people to self-identify in the face of opposition within the SNP and in society more widely. 

These are just some examples of the difficulties faced when you decide to go down the legal route. You can pass a law, but will people respect it and, more importantly, obey it?

Conclusion

When I was discussing the significance of culture versus the law this morning, what I meant by that is that organisations and individuals can often drive change in society much more profoundly – even when there is no legal duty to do so.

One example at the organisational level is that of Glasgow University’s recent attempts to confront and make reparation for its historical links with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Individuals such as Glasgow City Councillor, Graham Campbell, have done a lot of good work to highlight the City’s historic links with the Slave Trade. Councillor Campbell has also taken a lead in pushing for the creation of a National Museum in Scotland to commemorate the victims of slavery.

Links to these stories can be found below:

https://www.facebook.com/BBCScotland/videos/glasgows-links-to-slavery-frankie-boyles-tour-of-scotland/514455532785635/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-49435041

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 6 January 2021