“Free Speech: a global history from Socrates to social media” by Jacob Mchangama has been on the shelf for a while, but it’s finally time to get down to it.

With the Tik-Tok bill in the USA (which allows the government to ban websites too), and the newly live Hate Crime and Public Order Act in Scotland, conversations about free speech and protection from hatred are at an all time high. But, many of the protections we have today come, in part, from having the freedom to protest, discuss and criticise the lack of freedom / civil rights in the past.

I’m not hanging my hat anywhere until I’ve learned a lot more… but I certainly don’t like the idea of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ being recorded against people’s names.

That could easily be used to unfairly discriminate against them in the future – but they haven’t committed a crime! The scope for life-changing error here is huge when David Kennedy, the secretary of Scotland’s main police union, says the training that officers have received on the Bill is not fit for purpose.

There is always a lot of talk in EDI circles about the discrimination faced by those with criminal records (who might have done all sorts of illegal stuff, let your mind wander…) who are trying to re-enter the world of work after serving their time. What do we think is going to happen to people who have a ‘non-crime hate incident’ recorded against their name?

We must think about what we are willing to deny people of (the need to work, be housed etc etc etc) especially when they haven’t even committed a crime.

  • Are we saying that people should not be allowed to work, should therefore end up homeless, for their kids to be made homeless?
  • Is that the solution to their behaviour?
  • Is that the stick we want to wave just to get other people who we disagree with to retreat into the shadows?

These are tough questions.

I don’t have all the answers, but be wary of anyone who is coming down hard on either side and claims to know it all.

What I do know is that I don’t want to lose my right to free speech. That sort of stuff never happens overnight. Those freedoms get stripped away slowly, disguised as all sorts of protections, until suddenly we find we can’t say or do anything without being suspicious of each other and on high alert.

That is not inclusion or belonging, it’s the hallmark of something far more sinister.