NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney
So-called ‘ageism’ will be made a hate crime next year. First Minister Humza Yousaf was the architect of the hugely controversial Hate Crime and Public Order legislation when he was justice minister.
The Bill was labelled draconian by critics, who feared it would have a devastating impact on free speech. It most certainly will if my experience is anything to go by.
It appears the SNP leader is choosing to double down on his call rather than back down with the scope of the Act set to widen in 2024.
Which can only be a good thing where West Dunbartonshire Council is concerned.
Their communications department appears to resent the fact that I am an old fashioned journalist who sticks to the reason for the Press being at their meetings in the first place.
That I am not prepared simply to swallow in its entirety all of the propaganda their spin doctors are paid to produce. Nor am I prepared to accept the investing £6 million of public money in something that might never happen. It’s too much to gamble in a time of austerity.
The duty of the press is to hold public bodies such as the Council to account. To question them on what they are doing in the name of the people who pay their council tax. The electorate.
I am not prepared to say for example that the £44 million development project at the former Exxon site in Bowling is going ahead and will create 1,000 jobs when there is no guarantee that will ever happen.
There are many hurdles still to be crossed and my experience tells me that this is pie in the sky and a waste of public money. There is also the SNP government’s track record for making promises about projects which they then fail to deliver.
If the Council don’t agree then they should write us a letter for publication disagreeing with our position and tell us why we are wrong.
When someone asked them the other day why the ban on The Democrat being treated in the same way as other media organisations, I am told the answer was because I ask too many questions.
And they hadn’t enough staff to cope with that situation.
In addition they don’t think my credentials as a journalist are sufficient to allow them to speak to me without joining IPSO, which is a successor to the old Press Council which was scrapped when after the Leveson Inquiry it was found to be unfit for purpose.
What our membership of IPSO would do is ensure that if we wrote something that was inaccurate or defamatory then we would guarantee to publish an apology.
However, we refuse to pay a lot of money we don’t have to IPSO since our track record is one of unblemished reporting over a period of more than 50 years.
We have never been sued and we have never been asked to publish an apology by anyone, least of all the Council.
Yes, we publish unflattering stories about them because that’s our role in life. We also publish flattering stories about them supplied directly to us by their expensive team of spin doctors.
Banning The Democrat from speaking direct to them, being excluded from meetings and even refused a glass of water is well over the over top as is not having a press bench where we could actually see and hear what’s going on at a meeting.
Once, when I was being thrown out of a meeting for asking the then Provost if he could ask the officials to turn up the sound, I was surrounded by officials, I told one one of whom tried to take me by the arm to “bugger off”.
Now, in the 21st century that’s not a hanging offence. One SNP councillor has used the F-word in frustration and a few days ago the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party said asylum seekers should F-off back to where they came from.
Even the Prime Minister refused to criticise him for that.
The snowflakes at the Council – and I include the elected members from both the Labour administration and their SNP predecessors in that – are of the hang em, birch em and boil em in oil brigade though.
The Scottish Government claims the law only refers to “behaviour that is threatening or abusive” and mine was most certainly not threatening., and I apologised immediately to the person I told to bugger off.
The government document on this states: “In Scotland, hate crime law will be changing in 2024 to include age.”
Describing a hate crime, the ‘easy read’ paper adds: “A hate crime is when someone does something to hurt you because of who you are or who they think you are. The criminal thinks you are different from them and hates you because of that difference.”
The hate crime act was passed in 2021. It also covers offences based on race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender issues.
Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, hit out at the change: “The notion that describing someone as a ‘grumpy old man’ or a ‘callow youth’ should be a hate crime is ludicrous. How does the Scottish Government propose to police this?
“It still hasn’t activated the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act because Police Scotland doesn’t have the resources to investigate the deluge of complaints it will receive, with thousands of neighbours and ex-lovers [and councils?] accusing each other of hate crimes. Not a single ‘hate crime’ set out in the Act has been prosecuted.”
Nor should they be. Our own situation with the Council has continued for far too long. It’s time the Council brought it to an end.
Top of page artist’s impression is of the Exxon site at Bowling which the Council believes will bring in 1000 jobs.