AN Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman walk into a bar.

I would love to finish that off with a hilarious punchline, but I’m scared I fall foul of the new hate crime bill which is currently passing through Holyrood like a tornado, gathering debris in its wake as it careers along the corridors of power.

The Bill’s champion is Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf who is seemingly hell bent on becoming one of the first to be prosecuted under it after he labelled a critic a ‘numpty’ who belongs to the Far Right.

As one of the most outspoken critics of the Bill is the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, Mr Yousaf is in danger of getting his collar felt for his colourful language.

The Law Society of Scotland has also condemned the Bill, so he is unlikely to get much sympathy from the courts either.

In short, the Bill erodes one of the key fundamentals of our hard-earned rights, namely freedom of speech, which is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. We can broadly say or write what we want as long as it doesn’t incite a riot.

Every decent citizen recognises exactly what a hate crime is and we are all totally comfortable with the current legal procedures to punish perpetrators. It is an abhorrent crime after all.

Most of us would also agree that it is right that the definition of a hate crime is extended to cover age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender issues as well as race.

But the new Bill also includes the phrase ‘likely to stir up hatred’. No-one should ever be arrested for doing something that is ‘likely’ to lead to something else more serious.

It is purely subjective and goes against the principle of proving ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that someone is guilty.

You might as well arrest everyone who has a hammer on a murder charger because it is ‘likely’ to cause a fatal injury if it’s used on someone else or arrest every motorist because they are ‘likely’ to cause a crash at some point.

It takes crime prevention to a whole new level but is no way to run a criminal justice system.

No Government in a free, parliamentary democracy has the right to dictate to its citizens what they can and cannot say. Nor can it ask the hard-pressed police force to crack down on points of view that same Government doesn't like.

Humza Yousaf says freedom of speech is not 'unfettered' and the
Government cannot tolerate certain things. That is fair enough but it's not up to him to decide. 

It just smacks of State censorship and has no place in a vibrant, intelligent society like ours.

The SPF said it could not support a Bill “which appears to paralyse freedom of speech” and would create an offence for “mere insult”.

Wise words indeed and ones which Mr Yousaf should reflect on rather than lashing out at detractors like a spoilt child.