PATRICK Harvie has defended the Hate Crime Act, saying the legislation is being “wildly misrepresented” and dragged into a “culture war space”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Show, the Scottish Greens co-leader said “people on the right in particular use phrases like free speech as though it only means the freedom to be abusive and vile and unpleasant and prejudiced”.

It comes as the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act comes into force on Monday and comments from a senior Police Scotland officer saying it could lead to trust in the police being “damaged”.

Rob Hay, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) said there could be an increase in reports of hate crimes, driven by people wishing to score points against those on opposite sides of an argument online.

Critics, including some celebrities like JK Rowling, say it will have a chilling effect on free speech but First Minister Humza Yousaf has strongly defended the legislation.

Yousaf has said “disinformation” has been spread about the Hate Crime Act and there is a “triple lock” to protect free speech.

READ MORE: What is - and isn't - in Scotland's new Hate Crime Act?

Chief Superintendent Hay discussed the law on the BBC’s Sunday Show.

He said ASPS was supportive of the objectives of the Act in tackling hatred against protected groups, but they had concerns around police resourcing.

The senior officer also said the “febrile” context of online debate could affect the way the law is seen.

Hay said: “Our concern is that could impact through a huge uplift, potentially, in reports – some of those potentially made in good faith but perhaps not meeting the threshold of the legislation.

“Or potentially in cases where people are trying to actually actively use the legislation to score points against people who sit on the other side, of a particularly controversial debate.

“Sitting within the middle of all that will be a police officer, who will have to make a judgment on whether the threshold is met for the legislation, and whether any of the protections afforded in law can be applied.”

He said members of the public may feel “aggrieved” if their details are kept by police who have received a report of a hate crime, even if they do not pursue a prosecution.

He continued: “So there are two ways potentially that we could damage trust and confidence in the police – around whether the police response meets with expectations, and whether have the police exceeded themselves in involving themselves in non-criminal matters.”

Police officers would be placed in a “really difficult position” in such circumstances, he said.

The ASPS president has previously written to a Holyrood committee, voicing fears that those on the “activist fringe” of political viewpoints could seek to “weaponise” the law.

He said the idea that police would target comedians and theatre actors “couldn’t be further from the truth”. 

Harvie, meanwhile, said "no individual people" are exempted from the legislation but Police Scotland had "said very clearly that the media reports that that comedians or others would be targeted are complete nonsense." 

He added: "The law is essentially most of it bringing up to the common standard, hate crime legislation that was much of it already in place, but in disparate places in different bits of legislation, it's consolidating that altogether, so it will be simpler. 

"And it's also ensuring that the stirring up hatred offences which have been part of the criminal law for decades now, in relation to stirring up racial hatred, for example, that that applies to every other group."

The National: Jo Farrell has been appointed Police Scotland chief constable

Police Scotland’s Chief Constable Jo Farrell (above) has said the new law will be applied proportionately, upholding people’s freedom of expression.

Earlier in March she told the force’s oversight body that officers are being trained to apply the law in a “measured way, using their discretion and their common sense”.

Yousaf was asked about ASPS’ letter at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

He said: “Of course we take seriously what was said by the Scottish Police Federation, ASPS or any other representative organisation representing police officers.

“But I think it is incumbent on me to say that the new offences in relation to stirring up are hugely important.

“Those stirring up offences for racial hatred have existed since 1986, we are simply extending those protections to other groups.”

The First Minister said he is confident in police officers’ ability to deal with vexatious complaints.