This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Overwhelmingly, the feeling is one of sympathy – and no wonder. Who among them would want to be the face of the Hate Crime Act? 

To give its proper name, The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, according to a statement issued by the Scottish Government on the eve of the legislation coming in to force, "will provide greater protection for victims and communities".

Whether it will or not remains to be seen.

But what it has achieved so far is the generating of an almighty stooshie, both at home and abroad, that has sparked ire, ridicule and seen around 4000 complaints of hate crime made to Police Scotland within the first 48 hours of its activation... including complaints against the First Minister.

Sent out to defend the Act has been one Siobhian Brown, a junior minister who, until now, stood out from her peers more so for her Australian accent than her political manoeuvres.

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Having been an MSP only since 2021, serving the Ayr constituency, Ms Brown was made Minister for Victims and Community Safety last year, with the Hate Crime Act ready and waiting in her intray.

Prior to joining the parliament, the 51-year-old was a councillor for the Ayr West ward of South Ayrshire Council, winning the seat in the 2017 Scottish local elections.

Motivated by the result of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the mother-of-four has said she joined the SNP the day after the no vote, a passion politician with a conviction in independence.

Born in London to Scottish parents, Ms Brown's family emigrated to Sydney, Australia, when she was three but she has lived in several countries and returned to Ayr, where her parents are from, in 1999.

Described by one Labour insider as "certainly not a star performer in the chamber", Ms Brown was brought from the backbenches to a junior ministerial position to give the impression, some colleagues say, Humza Yousaf could appear as though he wasn't merely rewarding those who backed him in the SNP leadership race against Kate Forbes and Ash Regan.

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They believe she is now being "thrown under the bus" by her boss who is leaving her to deal with highly controversial, public-facing policies on which she just cannot seem to keep the finer details straight.

Her appearances on television and radio in the days since the Act came into force on April 1 have provoked unfortunate headlines and infuriated responses.

The policy thinktank MurrayBlackburnMackenzie has called on the minister to "stop misrepresenting the law" by referring to the legal test in the legislation as "threatening and abusive behaviour", rather than the accurate "threatening or abusive behaviour".

The Herald: Poster as part of the awareness campaign for the Hate Crime Act rollout Poster as part of the awareness campaign for the Hate Crime Act rollout (Image: Scottish Government)
Some might ask what the problem is but the and/or distinction is a critical one – and speaks to a minister either insecure in the detail of her brief, unconcerned with the detail of her brief or inclined to slip up under pressure.

An Alba insider said: "It doesn’t really matter how good a minister is at their brief in St Andrew’s House if they are being slaughtered in the court of public opinion.

"It’s normally only your enemies that you would put into such a brief as a punishment or to stop them progressing, so Humza should take ownership of how badly exposed he has left Siobhian." 

SNP colleagues were far kinder, making it clear that Ms Brown is very well liked and respected across the group. Several expressed feelings of sympathy that, as a relatively inexperienced minister and newer MSP, she should have inherited the Act as it is.

One said: "She is taking her lines from civil servants and not applying the sort of healthy cynicism she should and others would."

Others said they see potential in Ms Brown's future and believe this treatment – being chucked in at the deep end to sink or swim – is a move specifically designed to help her learn rigour and critical skills for her next big turn in the spotlight.

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Another SNP insider expressed despair that the minister seemed to lack any intellectual interrogation of the Act while a Conservative colleague had this take: "Our party voted against it, so there is a good deal of Schadenfreude in seeing the SNP flounder so badly.

"But this is starting to make the Scottish Parliament look daft – and on the world stage. It's not just Humza who needs to come out and back Siobhian – this Act had cross-party support and those other parties have left her looking lonely too."