Police Scotland has been accused of explicitly stereotyping young working class men with their Hate Monster campaign.

One SNP MSP said the force was “demonizing” a disadvantaged group “already heavily impacted by negative interactions with the criminal justice system.”

The row erupted after a year old marketing push on the force’s website gained traction last week due to the new hate crime due to take effect on April 1.

READ MORE: What is Police Scotland's Hate Monster campaign about?

It features an orange creature, described as a “poundshop version of a Sesame Street character” by Tory MSP, Russell Findlay.

The marketing blurb reads: “The Hate Monster represents that feeling some people get when they are frustrated and angry and take it out on others because they feel like they need to show they are better than them. In other words, they commit a hate crime.

“We know that young men aged 18-30 are most likely to commit hate crime, particularly those from socially excluded communities who are heavily influenced by their peers.

“They may have deep-rooted feelings of being socially and economically disadvantaged, combined with ideas about white-male entitlement.

“Committing hate crime is strongly linked to a range of risk factors including economic deprivation, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse and under-employment.

“Those who grow up in abusive environments can become addicted to conflict.”

Ivan McKee, the MSP for Glasgow Provan, raised the force’s claim during First Minister’s Question.

He said: "Police Scotland's hate crime website explicitly stereotypes, young working class men from constituencies like mine and [Humza Yousaf’s Glasgow Pollok constituency] as most likely to commit a hate crime.

“Does he agree with me that publicly demonizing this disadvantaged group already heavily impacted by negative interactions with the criminal justice system and disproportionately damaged by addiction and other challenges will neither assist them nor aid efforts by many community groups and others?”

The First Minister said that was a “legitimate point.”

“When it comes to any marketing, any awareness campaigns that are done, it's exceptionally important that there's no stigmatisation of any communities whatsoever.

“Let's just stick to the evidence and the facts.

He said this should be done “in a way that doesn't stigmatise one or other community and certainly doesn't pit communities against each other.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “The campaign, which is not connected to the new legislation, was developed by Police Scotland using recognised industry practice and ran for six weeks in spring 2023.”

READ MORE: Scarily stupid Police Scotland campaign deserves a real monstering

During First Minister’s Questions, Mr Yousaf also hit out at what he said was “disinformation” surrounding the legislation.

 The SNP leader said: “There has been a lot of disinformation that has been spread on social media and some inaccurate media reporting, and indeed by our political opponents, so I’m hoping in this exchange we can shed more light than heat on what is actually in the Act as opposed to what is being said about it.”

Stirring up hatred offences, the First Minister said, were “nothing new in Scotland”, adding: “If I have the protection against somebody stirring up hatred because of my race – and that has been the case since 1986 – why on earth should these protections not exist for someone because of their sexuality, or disability, or their religion?”

The First Minister added there was a “very high threshold” to be met for prosecution.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “We opposed the legislation at the time and still oppose it now because of the impact it has on free speech for people across this country.”

He also raised concerns voiced by the Scottish Police Federation, and said officers were struggling to deal with “existing crime, let alone this new law”.

He added: “Humza Yousaf has reduced officer numbers to the lowest level since Police Scotland was formed, now officers are being told to not investigate actual crimes, but instead they’ll have to look for the hate monster, police free speech,” he said.

“Criminals will be let off while innocent people are prosecuted.

“Isn’t Humza Yousaf setting the police up for failure and undermining public trust in policing?”

Responding, the First Minister said: “With that contribution, it is Douglas Ross that is undermining the fight against hatred, absolutely undermining it completely and entirely through so much disinformation.”

Mr Yousaf went on to claim there was a “triple lock” in the act to preserve freedom of expression, including an explicit clause, a defence for the accused’s behaviour being “reasonable” and the Act is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

He added that the freedom to criticise, insult and offend “exists and should be treasured”, while he added that he had “full confidence” in police to look beyond “vexatious” claims.