NOW that the Scottish Government has received a record number of responses to its consultation on its Hate Crime Bill, and now that the judges of the country have added their concern to that already expressed by virtually all the bodies that make up civic Scotland, is it too much to hope that the Government will actually listen and rethink the provisions, principally the pernicious one making it a criminal offence to be "likely" to stir up hatred, which all these bodies regard as objectionable? How is "likelihood" to be judged? Have they thought out the probable, even if unintended, consequences of such an imprecise criterion?

Of course Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf mean well, of course hatred is vicious, but in attempting to eliminate it, what other freedoms do they risk suppressing? The other point on which there is consensus is that the drafters of the proposed legislation are motivated by the highest of intentions, but here too there is a problem. In history we have repeatedly seen how moral panic leads to bad law. Apart from measures enacted by genuinely psychopathic dictators, damage is more commonly caused by a conviction among rulers that they are acting in the best interests of their people, but that they alone have the insight to see where that interest lies.

Many observers agree that we are living in an age of growing intolerance, of rising dogmatism on the rightness of our views and of an increasingly strident rejection of those who think differently. Is Scotland to become the first country where that new intolerance becomes the law of the land?

The fear, even among those well-disposed to its wider aims, is that the Scottish Government is retiring into a bunker, that it is becoming a closed clique heedless of opinion expressed by those, no matter how numerous, outside their own circles. Their reaction to the consultation, which they themselves invited, on the Hate Crime Bill will be a touchstone to how open and accountable they wish to be.

Joe Farrell, Glasgow G12.

STRUAN Stevenson's article on the proposed Hate Crime compiles neatly the serious causes for concern it raises. He quotes Article 10 of the Human Rights Act which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf's sinister bill drives a spear right through the heart of that right. The core problem is that the bill is much too open-ended. For whom is it intended? Anyone with a gripe can, in effect, legally challenge someone who expresses an opinion other than bland on any subject dear to the accuser's heart, making the other liable for arrest, trial and prison. There are always people with hot headed gripes on any controversial subject.

Any serious situation that really needs airing can be tied up for years by a legal claim that it is offensive, and likely to stir up hatred, even if it there is no likelihood of it succeeding. The bill is potentially a straight-jacket for open debate.

Mr Stevenson quotes novelist Val McDermid as maintaining that the bill is well meant, and that she has no fears that the current SNP Government would ever misuse its provisions, although she has concerns about some future (non-SNP, presumably) government doing so.

With this, she is suggesting that what would be, let's face it, a powerful political weapon, would be safe in the hands of the SNP, who would not in any circumstances deploy it, but that other politicians might not be as worthy of our trust. It's a lot safer to assume, in political warfare, that what they can do to you they will do to you if they have to. Remember, this bill would not be advisory. It would be law.

The proposed bill is clearly not liked by many prominent people, and their public objections cannot help the SNP's cause. Why then has the First Minister not stepped in and instructed Mr Yousaf to quietly drop it? Can there be any reason other than she wants to keep it in reserve, just in case her position and that of her party comes under threat?

Mr Stevenson finishes by stating "Of course, freedom of expression does not throw open the door to abusive behaviour." This is both true and important. Legislation for dealing with such cases should be tightly focused on where it is needed. Mr Yousaf's bill, with its general threat to free speech, goes way beyond that.

Jim Robertson, East Kilbride.