an attempt to stir up hatred against the most evil law of which I have ever been a subject
It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
On March 11th, the Scottish National Party’s infamous Hate Crime And Public Order Bill was passed by overwhelming majority by the SNP, Labour, “Liberal” Democrats, and Greens in the Scottish Parliament. Nonchalantly passed off in all official communications along the lines of updating and consolidating existing hate crime legislation, the law specifies a handful of legally distinct victim groups against whom it is now illegal to “stir up hatred”.
One might think that “victim of a crime” would be grouping enough, but one would be woefully behind the moral fashion: the law is not concerned with actual victims, as we might call such a group, but rather narrative victims. Even if one believed the Orwellian lunacy that “hate” could or should be made illegal, one might still hope for a law eliminating hatred from the human condition under which we might all be equal. But instead, the victims have been narratively predetermined. And if readers are unsure how they ought to behave to avoid transgression against members of these segregated classes, this is likely futile as what is legally relevant is only how any such “hate” is perceived by its alleged (narrative) victim.
It may well be the most widely discussed and derided piece of legislation to ever emerge from the Scottish Parliament, with severe criticism arriving even from former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sellars, who called it, “one of the most pernicious and dangerous pieces of legislation ever produced by any government in modern times in any part of the United Kingdom.” The Scottish Police Federation warned the law will oblige its members to, “police what people think or feel,” damaging public opinion of the legitimacy of the police.
With all this in mind, I don’t expect to add much to the political debate around the bill, now being wrapped into a de facto campaign point in advance of the Scottish Parliament elections on May 6th. But I would like to draw attention to some more philosophical aspects of the discussion, as I believe the implications go well beyond Scotland.
The first is that, as well as being morally repugnant, the bill is amusingly incoherent. It literally makes no sense as a set of sentences in English. What is made illegal is the “stirring up [of] hatred.” If the reader ponders this for a moment, she will realise not only that it is a metaphor — which ought to be a concerning discovery in a legal text— but that, as a metaphor, it is clearly inapplicable to the context in which it used.
As Dr Catherine McCall wrote in Think Scotland,
“To stir means moving the substance in a circular motion, as you do when you stir a cup of tea or stir the porridge. ‘Stirring up’ means moving the physical substance in such a way that the bottom of the substance is moved towards the top. If you take, for example, a pot of soup: you might want to stir up the soup so that the lentils that have sunk to the bottom of the pot are distributed throughout the pot.
So how does this metaphor work for “stirring up hatred”? It appears to mean that you do something to move the hatred at the bottom of the metaphorical pot so that it is distributed throughout the metaphorical pot.”
She goes on to argue that in order to “stir up” hatred, the hatred has to already exist, and it has to be somebody else’s hatred, not your own. So, if we are to try to take this bill seriously (which I would not recommend, but as an academic exercise, let’s say) what has been criminalized is not the hatred of the accused, but the pre-existing hatred of some third party being brought to the top of their metaphorical mind. It really is the stupidest law I have ever had the displeasure of trying to understand.
Perhaps this should not be all that surprising from a party whose recent attempts at “governance” include the proposal to cancel Adam Smith for insufficient wokeness on the painfully contemporary topic of the transatlantic slave trade, having written of slavery in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, as only a dead white male could,
“There is not a negro from the coast of Africa who does not, in this respect, possess a degree of magnanimity which the soul of his sordid master is too often scarce capable of conceiving. Fortune never exerted more cruelly her empire over mankind, than when she subjected those nations of heroes to the refuse of the jails of Europe.”
And so, of the novel illegality of “stirring up hatred”, note that I am not saying that it is foolish, or evil, although it is these things too. I am saying it is stupid. It makes no sense. It is not a meaningful proposition. It’s bad enough to be subject to totalitarianism, but it is perhaps bearable if your overlords at least have good taste and read good books. But it’s another matter altogether if they are illiterate imbeciles who cannot express coherent thoughts or write coherent laws.
The second problem is that it only dawned on me after the bill was passed that the purpose of probably the most objectionable part of the law — the non-exemption of utterances in one’s own home — is to encourage children to rat out their parents. There is arguably nothing else to say on this point. It is so shocking it defies commentary, even in irony. It is a transparently totalitarian policy: a minor plot point in 1984 as Winston Smith’s neighbours are arrested having been denounced by their children, as well as something known to have been official policy in Communist Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu, for example:
Ceausescu regime used children as police spies
The secret police of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu recruited thousands of children to spy on schoolfriends…
And during the Cultural Revolution in China:
China's Cultural Revolution: son's guilt over the mother he sent to her death
They beat her, bound her and led her from home. She knelt before the crowds as they denounced her. Then they loaded her…
But perhaps the most offensive philosophical issue is that one could hardly dream up a law that is more starkly anti-Scottish. The reader may not be aware, but good-spirited, tongue-in-cheek debate is the lifeblood of Scottish culture. Offence is given on purpose, not only as a joke but as a challenge to stress-test the merits of arguments. What matters is first and foremost the truth; second that all involved, particularly the audience, are entertained; and not in the slightest that no offence is taken and that nothing said could be conceived of as “hateful” if taken out of context. No true Scotsman would heed such kenable shite.
Rabbie Burns captured as much in his masterpiece, A Man’s A Man For A’ That (which, trigger warning, is not gender-neutral):
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
What Burns is saying — and I need to explain this because the SNP has made clear by its actions and its platform a shocking ignorance of Scotland’s history and culture — is that adornment with conspicuous marks of status ought not to lead a person to be taken seriously but, if anything, to be mocked. Today, such marks are less likely to be clothing but rather vanity morals or proclamations of one’s narrative victimhood. Anybody who follows the lead of our national poet and laughs has likely committed a “hate crime”.
Likewise, the discussion at the Poker Club, whose members included Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and David Hume, would certainly be illegal under the Hate Crime Bill, and is it highly doubtful The Scottish Enlightenment would have emerged from such spaces at all under as oppressive as intellectual climate as Scotland in 2021. Western Civilization would have had to have sprung from somewhere like France or, God forbid, England …
Despite presenting itself as mair Scots than haggis, the SNP peddles boilerplate social democracy — which, incidentally, given the lack of effective opposition will see a sizable proportion of productive people leave the country within six months of any successful independence referendum — with woke frillings to attract the student vote, and comically irrational hatred of the English that, unlike my jest above, is funny on account of its incongruous sincerity. The party is most concisely and accurately described as “national socialists”.
Indeed it will be interesting to discover if its axiomatic jingoism falls foul of the new law. I suspect not, as nobody considers the English to be victims, hence no legally relevant narrative exists. The English themselves certainly do not, which removes legal weight from the argument even further as their “perception” might otherwise be rock-solid evidence.
The majority of SNP supporters do not have the slightest clue about the latest woke mandates and couldn’t care less about what “hatred” it is fashionable to feign vicarious offence over, but have simply been whipped into a perpetual state of finely wound tension and anxiety that “the English” are out to get them and the SNP is the last line of national defence. This all comes together in a peculiar ideological melange in which astroturfed cultural and disingenuously-suggested-to-be-ethnic strife is used as a political base to push overt totalitarianism. It’s all rather unpleasant, really. It’s mingin: awfae’ wickit an aw.
There are political options for countering the SNP that readers can find on their own. I don’t want to endorse any, for two reasons. First, I don’t want to endorse a political position at all but rather a philosophical one. Second, the political issue is likely applicable to a minority of readers, whereas the philosophical one is applicable to a greater or lesser extent in the entire anglophone world, and likely beyond. The SNP’s hate platform may be fuelled by hyperlocal cultural trivialities of no interest whatsoever to anybody south of Carlisle. But what is especially worrying about its totalitarian turn is its infection by the American leftism du jour.
It pains me to even have to say “leftism” in describing this phenomenon. Non-American readers need not worry their local labour rights movement or working-class political party is disproportionately likely to become subject to infection. They may well become infected — and let’s be honest, at least a few of them probably will— but not without contradiction. American leftism du jour is a decidedly upper-class phenomenon that “speaks for” the oppressed as an expression of vanity morals aspiring elites use as credentials: a kind of “proof of work” of having kept up with the latest intellectual fashions, a necessary condition of which is having no real work needing doing.
America is in the midst of exporting its very own Cultural Revolution, and all anglophone elites are susceptible, regardless of their nominal political affiliation. Scotland is not the only victim, nor will it be the last. If you don’t want your allegedly leftist representatives grovelling before the altar of postmodernist power as if they are permanently auditioning for a guest spot on the New York Times editorial board by unironically mimicking Czesław Miłosz’s caricatures from The Captive Mind, I would strongly advise taking steps to buttress your cultural institutions to reject this virus. If not, you will soon find yourself dealing with such abominations as the Hate Crime Bill.
Everybody who voted for this bill, and anybody who supports it, is a shameless, spineless scoundrel: a daftie, a numptie, and a bawheid.
Is saying so a “hate crime”? I guess we’ll soon find out …
follow me on Twitter @allenf32
and full disclosure, Dr Catherine McCall is my mum :)