Why we must all stand with JK Rowling

The SNP’s Hate Crime Act is an unhinged assault on liberty and common sense.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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JK Rowling has thrown down the gauntlet to the Scottish police. On 1 April, the day the new Hate Crime Act came into force in Scotland, Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, dared officers to arrest her. She posted a thread on X / Twitter in which she ‘misgendered’ various men who have pretended to be women, from a rapist who tried to be housed in a women’s prison to a balding footballer who cheated his way into a women’s team. ‘If what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act’, she wrote, ‘I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment’.

There could hardly be a greater demonstration of the authoritarianism and absurdity of the SNP’s hate-speech law than the fact it could well lead to the arrest of the author of Harry Potter. The new law has the potential to turn this mild-mannered, left-liberal children’s author into a criminal hate-speaker. Not because she is a racist or a homophobe or a transphobe. But because, as a feminist, she believes in the material reality of biological sex. Because she believes that men cannot become women. Because she believes women’s sex-based rights must be protected. Because she believes in scientific truth.

In Humza Yousaf’s Scotland, expressing the truth about biological sex can now constitute a criminal offence. The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 makes it illegal to ‘stir up hatred’ against certain protected groups, including transgender people. This is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Of course, to any sane observer, Rowling’s views are not hateful but factual – and she has expressed them in a reasonable manner, too. But in the upside-down world of trans activists, any suggestion that transwomen are not real women is considered an unutterable heresy. And it is clear that these activists have the ear of the Scottish authorities.

Supporters of the law are currently mounting a desperate attempt to downplay its worst excesses. They say ‘misgendering’, for instance, isn’t explicitly criminalised by the Hate Crime Act and that gender-critical feminists need to calm down. But that term, ‘explicitly’, is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. It’s entirely conceivable that police, prosecutors and judges will go after those who refuse to toe the line on gender ideology. Not only have police and prosecutors in the UK already hauled people into court for ‘misgendering’, under existing laws, but Scottish police and politicians have gone out of their way to suggest things like ‘misgendering’ will be covered by the new law. Even if misgendering is not explicitly criminalised, this will not stop women from having their collars felt for doing little more than speaking the truth. Even if they are eventually spared a conviction, the process would be the punishment.

Tellingly, before the act came into force, it seemed as if the cops already had Rowling in their crosshairs. At an official hate-crime event held in February, organised by Police Scotland, officers were asked how they should deal with a supposedly fictional scenario of a woman called ‘Jo’ who has a large online following and says things like ‘there are only two genders’. Clearly, this was a thinly veiled reference to Rowling, whose first name is Joanne, or Jo for short. For good measure, Police Scotland also threw in the fantastical suggestion that this gender-critical ‘Jo’ also wants to throw transgender people into ‘gas chambers’. Attendees were then asked to decide what police action should be taken.

As we have long argued on spiked, attempts to criminalise ‘hate’ are always dangerous and censorious. All hate-speech laws are necessarily subjective. They give the authorities the power to decide what we can and cannot say, what views we can and cannot express and even what thoughts we are permitted to hold in our own heads. Nevertheless, the SNP’s Hate Crime Act is almost uniquely authoritarian for a liberal democracy. Up to now, hate-speech laws have contained a ‘dwelling defence’, meaning you could not be arrested for ‘stirring up hatred’ in your own home. These minimal protections have now disappeared in Scotland. This means Scots could potentially be arrested and imprisoned for stating facts about biological sex at the dinner table.

Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Act is extraordinarily illiberal and dangerous. It is an unhinged assault not only on free expression, but also on common sense and scientific fact. This is why Rowling’s revolt matters. She is standing up for reason, for sanity and for liberty in the face of a law that wants to compel us to lie. Let’s hope her bravery inspires many more people to keep speaking the truth. They cannot arrest us all.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK


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