CRITICS of Scotland’s new hate crime laws must stop "peddling misinformation", the First Minister has said.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act has dominated headlines since it came into effect last week, with figures such as Harry Potter author JK Rowling being criticised by legal experts for spreading misinformation about the law. 

Humza Yousaf has strongly defended the legislation against claims it would hamper freedom of speech.

Speaking in Prestwick on Saturday, Yousaf made an appeal to opponents of the law to refrain from spreading false information.

He said: “There’s deliberate misinformation being peddled by some bad actors across Scotland – it’s hardly surprising the Opposition seek to do that.

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“What we’ve got is a piece of legislation that in the actual act itself, explicitly in black and white, protects freedom of expression, freedom of speech.

“At the same time, it makes sure that it protects people from hatred being stirred up against them, and that is really important when we have far too many incidents of hatred that can be because of their age, disability, sexuality or religion."

He added: “There’s no place for that in Scotland, and you have to send a really strong signal that the law will protect you.”

Asked what his message to critics such as JK Rowling (below) would be, Yousaf said: “I would tell them to stop spreading disinformation. It isn't going to help anybody.

The National: JK Rowling (Yui Mok/PA)

“This is a piece of legislation that was passed by every single political party in Scotland, minus the Conservatives.”

Yousaf also shared his views in an opinion article in The Courier newspaper, urging politicians and public figures to create a debate rooted in “reality”.

He said false claims that the law makes it a criminal offence to make “derogatory comments” based on the characteristics covered in the act was “simply untrue”.

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The First Minister wrote: “As a father of two girls, and blessed with a baby on the way, I feel an even greater obligation to work as First Minister to help make Scotland even better for the next generation.

“Critics of this law shouldn’t exaggerate its impact with false fears. Equally, its proponents shouldn’t pretend that it can of itself eradicate hatred and prejudice from our society.”

Yousaf, who lives in Dundee, also said his “heart sank” after learning buildings near his home in Broughty Ferry had been vandalised with racial slurs last week, but added he was “not surprised”.