Comic Rowan Atkinson & Others Speak Out Against Scottish 'Hate Speech' Bill

P. Gardner Goldsmith | August 13, 2020
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Continuing his effort to support freedom of expression and debate, comic actor and writer Rowan Atkinson has joined numerous other UK-based creatives to warn the world of the dark nature of SP Bill 67, a proposal in the Scottish Parliament that – under the auspices of “revising and consolidating” old “Hate Crimes and Public Order” statutes – threatens speech, the speakers, and anyone who not only shares said “evil hatred”, but who simply views it.

The incredible stakes of this cannot be overstated, and, thankfully, “Blackadder” and “Mr. Bean” powerhouse Atkinson has teamed-up with actress Elaine C. Smith, writers Val McDermid and Christopher Brookmyre, and many more, working with the Humanist Society of Scotland to write a letter in defiance of the bill.

As Gina Davidson writes for The Scotsman:

Their letter supports the bill’s provisions to ‘consolidate existing aggravated hate crimes’ and ‘repeal the blasphemy law’, but they add: ‘The bill creates stirring up offences without any intent being examined; merely that the words, action, or artwork might do so. This offence could even be applied to being in possession of materials produced by someone else, where sharing the material could stir up hatred.’

Indeed, a thorough analysis of the proposed legislation can chill the marrow. Here’s just one pertinent portion of the idea that some Scottish politicians want to force onto everyone else:

Part 2 creates offences of stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to a listed characteristic. It also creates offences of possessing inflammatory material with a view to communicating the material in circumstances where there is an intention to stir up hatred or it is likely that hatred would be stirred up.

So, while the bill would see the Common Law crime of Blasphemy eliminated as a punishable offense, it would create new, Identity Politics-based, categories of essentially the same thing – the new censoriousness, the new blasphemy: anything the state deems “hateful” or that the state claims is “likely” to stir-up hate.

So, if the hatred is directed at, say, Adolf Hitler or Stalin, would that be acceptable? How about these Scottish politicians refrain from engaging in precisely the kinds of mental gymnastics and authoritarianism that HITLER AND STALIN employed to winnow-down speech in their dark collectivist regimes? Nope. These contemporary collectivists can’t even see that they are walking in the same jackbooted footsteps. Indeed, there’s more:

Part 3 sets out further provision to assist with the interpretation of the characteristics that are listed (in) sections 1(2), 3(3) and 5(3). It also provides a power for the Scottish Ministers to make regulations adding the characteristic of sex to any of these lists of characteristics.

Fraser Southerland, the Chief Executive for the Humanist Society of Scotland noted:

The failure of the bill to require intent to be proven in court on some offences risks a significant chilling effect on free expression.

And he and the aforementioned high-profile British figures are not alone in their fears. The Catholic Church of Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation have also expressed concerns about Scottish Parliament Bill 67.

Of course, not all of the current opponents stand against the overall idea of allowing the state to define what is “hateful” speech. The Scottish government already has on the books “hate speech” legislation that focuses on people saying things the government deems “racially” bad. Heck, as recently as April, a Scotsman was fined for calling an Irishman a “Leprechaun” (I don’t know what that means for me when I eat Lucky Charms).

But this news about the new coalition is a burst of fresh air in an otherwise marsh-gassy swamp. Meechan stood in opposition to this dumb proposal back at the end of July, and now, many others are at least recognizing the tip of the iceberg that this bill represents.

The speech-stifling nature of SP Bill 67 is worse than a statutory gag. This is a gun, held at the end of a political arm, pointed at anyone who dares say anything that the state deems “hateful” or the state claims could “stir up hate”, and it’s also aimed at anyone who might share such material or even view it.

Which exposes the insane nature of such attacks on speech. How can the state prosecute anyone for expressing such “hate” since the term itself is viewed subjectively, and if the viewing, sharing, or possession of it could also be a crime? Such an attempt at state control would mean that prosecutors themselves couldn’t look at the material or mention it in court. And what if someone were to hear the speech in court and repeat it, or chuckle upon hearing the said, “offensive” material?

This is incredibly dangerous, and part of a larger, Identity Politics/Cultural Marxism problem that has seen collectivists for decades try to demonize the thought of others who might stand in peaceful opposition to their agenda. It’s the kind of thing that John Stuart Mill warned was rising when he published his 19th Century treatise “On Liberty”, which Immanuel Kant said was a threat. Indeed, it was Kant who explained that free-speech rights are universalizable, meaning that if one believes he has the right to speak, he must afford that to all, or the system breaks down into violence.


Thankfully, the admirable Rowan Atkinson has been defending free speech since at least 2013, trying to warn others about the dangers of “the new blasphemy”, and to promote the importance of free exchange and debate.

His comedic work is known by millions. Let’s hope his philosophical and intellectual work also gets such an audience.