If I wish, I can say religion is a belief system for idiots. If you wish, you can call a trans woman a man.

The freedom to be unnecessarily offensive hasn’t been outlawed in Scotland. It was never going to be outlawed.

Anyone with eyes, ears and a brain could see that. You just had to read the legislation.

You’ve always been allowed to be a jerk and you always will, if you wish. It’s a choice to be a jerk, evidently, not an obligation, though that seems to have passed some by lately.

Within one day of Scotland’s new hate crime laws passing, what most folk who aren’t radicalised by Twitter already knew was proved: you are not going to be carted off to clink for being some bar-room boor.

Unfortunately for our very overworked police the Everest of disinformation that’s been spewed up in both mainstream and social media means thousands of vexatious complainers - from both sides of the political aisle and both sides of this particular noisome debate - have lodged accusations of hate crime.

Some false complaints are about misgendering; others are about Humza Yousaf’s old speeches and accuse him of anti-white hate.

It’s an absurd circus that’s reduced Scotland to a joke, a moronic Ruritania. This law isn’t perfect. It’s flawed. Most laws are. But it’s workable. Yet Twitter is full of people asking if they can still hate paedophiles.

Ash Regan - the former SNP cabinet minister who defected to Alba - wants the law recalled, even though she was one of its principle backers.

Neil Mackay: I have had my own battles with hate, and it’s not something I’m proud of

Neil Mackay: Scotland is a land of small ideas, dominated by smaller people

Neil Mackay’s Big Read on why we love to hate

Had the debate been conducted with intelligence then those thousands of vexatious idiots wouldn’t be wasting police time as they’d know their grift is pointless.

It seems rather than protect free speech, many just want to hate. Certainly, some protestors against the new law made that clear outside Holyrood with shouts of ‘jail the b****’ about Nicola Sturgeon.

However, given this is Scotland in 2024, more fun and games were to come. Up popped Ally McCoist, in tabloid-speak a "Rangers hero".

Assuming the mantle of the role-model he’s so clearly born to be, McCoist vowed: “I can guarantee you, next Saturday at Ibrox, I, along with 48,000 will be committing a breach of that hate bill in the particular Rangers vs Celtic game we are all going to.”

The big fella later said he’d had a “change of plans” and wouldn’t be attending the Old Firm game. Scotland thanks you.

Amid all this fantasy about hate, we’ve been missing some reality, however. Acres of space have been devoted to claims Scotland is now North Korea, though much less room was taken up with reports about racist graffiti targeting Humza Yousaf near his home in Broughty Ferry.

Myth is clearly more interesting than fact for some. Though respect to the Courier newspaper for splashing the story under the headline "FM targeted in racist graffiti".

Mr Yousaf said: “I do my best to shield my children from the racism and Islamophobia I face on a regular basis. That becomes increasingly difficult when racist graffiti targeting me appears near our family home.”

All those screaming about how they were bound for Gulag if they dared open their mouths, suddenly fell very quiet. I guess they missed the minimal reporting.

The Edinburgh SNP MSP Ben Macpherson was also targeted. Vandals threw paint over his office, in a clear act of intimidation. Again, when it comes to coverage, it’s crickets chirupping and tumbleweed rolling when compared to hate crime hysteria.

Rest assured, this hate goes two ways. Conservative politicians have been targeted over the years as well. The shared Glasgow office of MSPs Annie Wells and Adam Tomkins was vandalised with ‘F*** the Tories’ in graffiti. Similar happened at the offices of Conservative MSPs Edward Mountain and Jamie Halcro Johnston.

LGBT politicians are subjected to vile slurs. Women politicians - the most victimised of all - are hounded with relentless rape threats and disgusting misogyny.

We’ve become a country where we only care about victims if they’re "our victims" - if their worldview fits our own political agenda. This is doubly dehumanising. It dehumanises those we should feel for, and it dehumanises ourselves as we’re prepared to smother our kindest instincts because we hate the politics of someone suffering. It’s a contemptible situation.

The Herald: Ally McCoist had his say about the Hate Crime Act this weekAlly McCoist had his say about the Hate Crime Act this week (Image: PA)

So let’s get something straight: Scotland has a hate problem. Much has been said about our history as the cradle of the Enlightenment. What’s happening today isn’t enlightened. It’s dark and cruel. People - many of whom should know better - are revelling in the loathing they inexplicably feel for others. And again, I stress, this goes for both sides in this rotten debate.

Hate laws needed updated for the 21st century. The legislation that passed is imperfect. Its administration, though, is of greater concern due to the lack of training for police and the tsunami of vexatious complaints triggered - almost exclusively - by disinformation in both the mainstream and social media.

What’s happened over recent years in this country has debased what Scotland stands for. How sorrowful. The actor Dougray Scott is currently in New York to lead the Tartan Day celebrations.

He told the journalist Paul English: “We have a great country and a history of being welcoming, and politically and culturally diverse. We fight for the underdog and have an innate fairness in our approach … Scots are egalitarian in our heart and soul."

I wish Scott was right. Sadly, he seems to talk of times past. We’re becoming a bitter, divided country, one that’s increasingly unrecognisable when it comes to the image we have of ourselves in our shared imagination.

Many of us - certainly those with the loudest mouths - seem to have abandoned the notion of tolerance and respect. Many seem to thrive on attack and bullying, on division and abuse.

The state we’ve got ourselves into when it comes to hate is putting this great country at real risk of losing our dignity on the world’s stage.

Do we want Scotland to be known not for the Enlightenment and the sophistication of our debate, but for the darkness of our rage and the inability to talk to each other anymore? For that’s where we’re heading.