Free speech is under attack in the UK by illiberal forces that pose a threat to democracy – Scotsman comment

Arrests of innocent republican protesters under Draconian new law and cancelling of SNP MP Joanna Cherry are worrying signs for the future

If dissent is vital to the health of a democracy, and its presence a sign of that democracy's vitality, we should be very concerned by recent events. The arrest of six republicans for no good reason in central London on the day of King Charles’ coronation prevented them from publicly expressing their views, so the Metropolitan Police’s subsequent apology will be of little comfort.

Speaking in the Commons, former Conservative Cabinet minister David Davis noted that the wrongful arrests of these citizens represented the “first serious use” of the UK Government’s new Public Order Act, which he argued was “too crude”. And SNP MP Joanna Cherry called for an inquiry, pointing out that the individuals concerned had gone to “great lengths to clear their protests in advance” with the police.

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Cherry is herself the subject of efforts to silence opposing views, with a discussion event planned at Edinburgh’s Stand club cancelled after staff objected to her presence as a ‘gender-critical feminist’. Again, whether or not people agree with her, she is entitled to have her say.

The increasing drive to ‘no platform’ those who question any aspects of the transgender rights movement is a further incursion into the public realm by unthinking followers of censorious campus politics that has no place in a free society. Their efforts may succeed in some cases, but not all, which could ultimately lead to a bizarre form of political segregation in public venues, where people who agree with each other meet to recreate social media ‘bubbles’ of like-minded people.

Former Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s ridiculous remark that Cherry’s cancellation does not matter because she is a public figure entirely ignores the problem of growing intolerance. If we fail to talk to each other, positions will become more entrenched and mutual hostilities will increase.

It should also be said that with rights come responsibilities. Those who abuse freedoms – as seen in the sometimes dangerously disruptive protests by Extinction Rebellion and others – tend to achieve little, apart from effectively acting as ‘useful idiots’ for illiberal politicians who want to bring in Draconian laws that restrict our freedoms.

Democracy is about solving disputes by the simple act of talking to each other. If we stop doing that, the alternatives, such as violence, become more likely.



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