If you watched the 1993 movie “Demolition Man”, you might recall a scene where Sylvester Stallone arrives in a future dystopian society and is handed an automatic fixed penalty for uttering a curse word in public. Welcome to the future. Or should that now be, “Welcome to Scotland”? A consultation by the SNP Government suggests that as a way of fighting misogyny, men who loudly and publicly discuss their sexual conquests could face jail terms of up to seven years. No one is suggesting that misogyny isn’t a social menace that harms and threatens women. But jail time? Really?
Another suggestion is that a crime could be committed if a man “deliberately rubs up against a woman in a public place”. Having just returned home from a trip to a very crowded London where I frequently used rush-hour Underground trains, I wonder how practical such a law would be. Remember that prosecution could only follow a police investigation. Witness statements and other physical evidence would need to be sought to demonstrate that a particular man was unnecessarily, and for his own sexual gratification, seeking to intimidate a woman. The trouble is, the defence could argue he was just trying to squeeze onto a packed train. How could anyone prove otherwise? But the SNP have form in seeking to control the way we behave – and even think. And it is a testament to the party’s lack of imagination, or perhaps its lack of confidence in its own ability to promote its own values, that it sees imprisonment as the only solution to a range of bad behaviour. Not education, not nudge psychology, not the condemnation of family or colleagues. Jail.
The plans, contained in a consultation document, are based on a report by Labour peer, Baroness Helena Kennedy. Oddly, given the administration’s obsessive pursuit of self-ID for trans people, the document suggests that a crime will have been committed in cases “where the perpetrator perceives their victim to be a woman, irrespective of the victim’s sex or gender.” In other words, “I didn’t think he was a woman – he looks like a bloke in a dress to me” might actually be a valid defence in court. And since no serving Scottish Government minister can adequately define what a woman actually is, it doesn’t take a mastermind to anticipate some legal and cultural difficulties in putting this particular set of rules into law.
This is the approach of a party that seems to believe that the police desperately need more to do with their copious amounts of free time and that the courts are experiencing plenty of quiet periods due to a lack of actual crimes taking place. Humza Yousaf, who hopes to take up the job of first minister once the current leadership election is out of the way, introduced, while justice minister, a hate crime law that would criminalise even speech in the privacy of Scots’ own homes. If you make a tasteless joke at the dinner table that someone somewhere might take offence at, you could face jail. An Englishman’s home may be his castle, but under Humza Yousaf, a Scotsperson’s home is just an extension of the Scottish Government’s writ.
That particular law, although it received Royal Assent, has still not been enacted by the police, since no officer knows exactly how it can possibly be enforced. They should read Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-four”, in which parents guilty of Wrongthink are reported to the authorities by their own offspring, given that is surely the only route to a prosecution under Humza’s Law. It sounds unhinged, and it is. But this is what happens when you place an array of substantial legislative powers before a group of people who are more eager to signal their virtue and earn the applause of the crowd than to govern competently. The current SNP leadership debate has effectively demonstrated that even senior ministers have doubts over the alleged successes of this devolved administration and whether it is capable of governing above the admittedly low threshold of “mediocre”.
There is a brand of politician whose ambition, whose whole reason for entering politics, seems to be to change the way other people think, to coerce them into believing in the same principles as they do. And they see the police, the courts and the prison system as the mechanisms through which this change can be brought about. They claim to be champions of diversity, but beyond skin colour and gender preference, genuine diversity is anathema to them, because they think diversity of thought is undesirable. They are edging us, in the petri dish of Scottish politics, towards an Orwellian future, without even the self-awareness or the knowledge of literature that would allow them to recognise the shift. Maybe they’d rather watch films. And maybe watching 90s action ones featuring Stallone is giving them some inspiration.