Much has been made over recent months of the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘working definition’ (IHRA) of antisemitism by various organisations, as pressure was brought to bear on the Labour Party. Labour had adopted the IHRA ‘working definition‘, but had clarified some of the examples in its new Code of Conduct.
The IHRA was presented, misleadingly, as the ‘universally accepted’ definition, even though only a handful of countries have approved it and fewer still have adopted it in full – understandably, since it describes itself as not legally binding. In spite of this, a political perception was created and the party ultimately adopted the full document, although plans are still in place to clarify its application.
However, developments are challenging the prevailing narrative – because of moves to correct a “dog’s breakfast” of current Scottish hate-crime legislation.
Because of issues with sectarianism among other things, Scottish hate-crime and hate-speech laws have become extremely complex in an attempt to cover even such matters as what chants can be sung at football matches. This resulted in a drive to simplify legislation.
This project was allocated in 2017 – the same year the Scottish government adopted the IHRA working definition – to Lord Bracadale, a distinguished retired judge who, as Alastair Campbell QC was senior prosecutor in the Lockerbie/PanAm bombing trial.
Bracadale’s recommendations, published earlier this year and running to some 180 pages, are based on the concept of protected characteristics and propose extending the definition of those characteristics to include gender and age.
But they also include proposals to repeal all of Scotland’s current racial harassment laws in order to combine all hate-crime legislation into a single Act, with a standard definition applying to all forms of racism.
As the IHRA working definition is specific to antisemitism, as well as having well-known legal weaknesses, it would be excluded.
Bracadale also concluded that “hostility towards a political entity” should not be considered a hate-crime because “The right to engage in legitimate political protest is fundamental in a democratic society“, meaning that opposition to the political ideology of ‘zionism’ – often treated as synonymous with antisemitism by supporters of Israel – would likewise be excluded.
Scottish councils would therefore be unable to follow the route being considered by councils in England such as Barnet, which is examining the option of barring organisations – including many unions – that support ‘BDS’, the programme of ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ against goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
Scottish Parliament insiders have told the SKWAWKBOX that Bracadale’s recommendations are almost certain to pass into legislation because of the urgent need to “sort out the dog’s breakfast we’ve got at the moment“.
This would result in the removal of the IHRA working definition from Scotland’s legal framework – and pose a serious challenge to the idea that the IHRA document is ‘universally accepted’ even among the nations of the UK.