Why Scottish politicians should be able to say unspeakable truths - Brian Monteith

One or two chinks of light have broken through to brighten up these dark days when saying the wrong thing can have you cancelled, sacked or cast out to some far-off planet in a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

The decision taken by Abertay University last week that its final-year student Lisa Keogh had no case to answer after being accused of hate speech for declaring in a tutorial that women had vaginas has brought some much needed light to our thunderous doom-laden skies.

Keogh should never have been made to go through such a stressful and potentially career-threatening procedure in the run-up to her law degree finals.

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Fortunately the voluble backing of Keogh’s academic freedom of expression by campaign group Free Speech Union ensured the university was itself before the court of public opinion and therefore liable to endure the embarrassing condemnation that Keogh’s critics had hoped for her. Sanity thankfully prevailed.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PAFirst Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA

Further illumination that acts as an antiseptic to falsehoods and injustice came with the decision of the High Court in London to overturn an earlier employment tribunal decision that had found against Maya Forstater, an employee of think-tank Centre for Global Development, who had not had her contract renewed after thinking out loud via some tweets that criticised government plans (later dropped) to allow easier gender self-declaration.

Justice Choudhury found that while the Equalities Act gave protection to transgender rights, it also gave protection to those who wished to express critical views surrounding gender issues and that Forstater’s rights had been denied.

These are small, but significant skirmishes in the unrelenting cultural war, but they give hope to those of us who believe our world is being turned upside down and inside out – without so much as being asked and feared we had no right of response.

Britain’s low point so far has been the passing of Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Bill in Holyrood – the legislation that leaves one open to prosecution for what you might say in your own home over the kitchen table or while watching a football match on the telly.

Yet to be tested in courts, it has the potential to shut down debate and vilify individuals by setting up one state approved narrative that excludes even challenge.

It’s the sort of law that in the past would have ensured people could never have challenged the once common views that the world was flat, or that the Sun orbited the Earth rather than the other way round. These days the issues are less likely to be geographical or astronomical, but more likely racial, sexual or religious or politics.

Sadly, the Scottish Parliament’s detachment from everyday reality is not peculiar to that institution or the SNP.

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Instances abound of the pervasiveness of new gender-speak and its own goose-stepping gender police who will not court any possibility of challenging their view of describing people by gender rather than sex – and that the latter cannot be defined in absolute terms by biology.

For starters the Scottish Labour Party and Liberal Democrats supported and voted for the SNP Bill and the current UK leader of Labour, Sir Keir Starmer has made it clear he is with the gender-fluid revolution.

Starmer is Labour’s fourth leader since the party last won a general election and his promotion of such metrosexual views is unlikely to help him win back seats in the Red Wall that Labour requires to have any chance of revival.

Not to be outdone, the Liberal Democrat Party is now being sued by a domestic abuse survivor after being banned from being a parliamentary candidate for ten years after saying that trans-women are not women.

Another chink of light was the Scottish Conservative Party showing this time round its new group of MSPs might actually provide some genuine opposition to the SNP.

Contributions from the floor of the chamber by Stephen Kerr and Russell Findlay were impressively robust and skillful. More of the same from other members would be welcomed – and yet a niggling doubt remains, for the most outspoken political criticism of Abertay University came not from a Conservative championing freedom of speech, but from SNP Westminster MP Joanna Cherry QC.

With Holyrood losing both Joan McAlpine (SNP) and Michelle Ballantyne (Conservative and then Reform UK), the number of MSPs willing to speak out in defence of women and against the marginalisation of women’s rights (especially by men self-declaring as women) has been reduced.

Who will replace them? Is there anyone new on the SNP or Tory benches willing to fill that void?

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I find it strange Conservatives appear rather sheepish in championing free speech on gender issues – even if it was simply to encourage debate.

An opportunity to give a voice to the mainstream view is going a-begging, yet it is an opportunity that could provide a significant switch in attitudes away from preconceived political loyalties or stereotypes, the sort of opportunity a deft politician should relish.

Is it an issue its MSPs feel uncomfortable about or possibly they are divided amongst themselves?

Whatever it is, I think we should be told. Politicians are elected to represent voters by articulating sometimes outspoken views. We should not have to rely on JK Rowling to do the job for them.

The Conservatives could start by campaigning for the right to freedom of expression in Scottish universities that will now be defined in law in England.

It is indeed a bizarre world where think-tanks do not allow thinking, Liberal Democrats cannot be liberal and Conservatives have difficulty being Conservative.

- Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.

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