Techniques to bring the guilty to book are all well and good, but guilty of what? What if the crime is itself a political infringement on liberty?
Into this category, as was widely predicted, is language, with Police Scotland increasingly concerned about what people say rather than do. It predates last year’s Hate Crime Act, but the process gave the force every encouragement their instincts were correct.
It has now been revealed that “hate incidents” are being recorded, even though they are not crimes, so, according to assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie, “any pattern of targeted behaviour towards and against an individual, location or community, can be identified and addressed”.
Figures obtained by the Index on Censorship campaign show 928 non-criminal hate incidents were recorded in 2021 ─ more than double 2017’s total ─ which means officers are retaining files on what people say even though they have not committed an offence.
Thin end of the wedge is another often used phrase, but we have seen in recent months how passions can run high and differences of opinion cranked up, distorted, and manipulated. Police Scotland is thrusting itself into a democratic minefield but seems quite happy to do so. That should worry us all.