THE Scottish Government’s controversial new hate crime law came into effect today (Monday).

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act was passed by MSPs in 2021, consolidating existing hate crime legislation and creating a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics, although sex has been omitted in favour of a standalone Bill designed to tackle misogyny.

A stirring up offence on the basis of race has been on the statute book in Scotland since 1986.

But the legislation has raised concerns, with prominent critics including author JK Rowling, podcaster Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, the owner of X – formerly Twitter.

READ MORE: Patrick Harvie defends 'wildly misrepresented' Hate Crime Act

The Act has also raised the concern of some policing bodies, with the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) claiming training for officers is not enough and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) raising concerns about the legislation being weaponised for political purposes.

ASPS warned vexatious complaints could be made against people based on their views by political opponents.

In a letter to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, they said the law could be “weaponised” by an “activist fringe” across the political spectrum.

READ MORE: Sam Fowles: 'Hate Crime Act likely to enhance, not limit freedom'

But on Friday, First Minister Humza Yousaf told press: “I would say to anybody who thinks they are a victim of hatred, we take that seriously, if you felt you are a victim of hatred, then of course reporting that to police is the right thing to do.

“If you’re thinking about making a a vexatious complaint, if you’re thinking about making a complaint and there’s no merit in that, then do know that the police will take that serious in terms of tackling vexatious complaints and so I would urge you not to do it.”

The First Minister has repeatedly said there is “disinformation” being spread about the Bill and what it entails, claiming there is a “triple lock” of protection for speech.

The National: The chief constable has said the law will be applied in a proportionate way (Jane Barlow/PA)

This includes an explicit clause, a defence for the accused’s behaviour being “reasonable” and that the Act is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Yousaf also told journalists on Friday that the legislation would not go the way of other high-profile legislative U-turns under the SNP, such as the named persons scheme and the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The legislation, which he shepherded through Holyrood as former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s justice secretary, “got the right balance” between protections against hate crime and freedom of speech, he said.

“Ultimately, once the Act comes into force, I think it will do exactly what we expect it to do, which is protect the most marginalised in our community,” he added.