Sunday 31 March 2024

Throwing away the ladder and other essays


I have concerns about Humza Yousaf’s hate crime legislation, but I don’t expect anything much to happen on April Fools Day or indeed in the months that follow.

I have been writing regularly for about twelve years and for the most part it has been trouble free. There has been the usual online name calling and one or two offline complaints.

I have been able to express whatever views I want about almost any topic. Freedom of expression has limits and I accept that. There are things that a sensible writer ought not to express. We all should sometimes check ourselves. Do I really need to respond to an insult with another insult? Could I perhaps be kinder in what I say? Perhaps I should moderate this or that opinion.

But within those necessary limits I remain determined to write with reason and passion and to argue for my views using logic and knowledge. What’s more I do not expect anyone to try to stop me. The reason for this is that Scotland will not suddenly change overnight from March 31st to April 1st. We are a free society now and we will continue to be a free society tomorrow and the months and years afterwards.

Scotland is a free society because that is what our history made us. We were not a free society in 1707 when we formed the Kingdom of Great Britain, nor I think did we become fully free until the twentieth century, but we are now. We expect to be able to read what we want, write what we want and say what we want. We expect the police to treat us fairly and for the courts to be honest and just. There is nothing Humza Yousaf’s SNP can do to change this expectation.

Of course, a free society can become an unfree society. But it will take a lot of arbitrary arrests, a lot of court cases and a lot of prison sentences for writing or saying the wrong thing or for possessing a book that the government does not like. If that happens, we will all begin to feel unfree. But it won’t, because if it did and we retained our right to freely choose our government then Scots would vote out those who took away our freedom.

So, I am not going to exaggerate the threat to freedom of speech. I think the danger is mainly theoretical.

I won’t be deliberately provocative, but I wish to use this moment to tell people about a collection of essays that I have published that is available on Amazon. It is called Throwing Away the Ladder and other Essays.

One of the problems with my type of writing is that it becomes very hard to find what I wrote many years ago. I had a small readership in the beginning. But I think many of my best articles are hidden away somewhere on Google and perhaps can be found if you already know the title, but otherwise you might as well be in a dusty library of old books without a catalogue.

I have collected thirty of these articles out of the approximately one thousand that I have written. I have deliberately picked articles that are not about Scottish politics and usually not about Scotland either.

Here you will find me expressing my thoughts with full freedom and without constraining myself by Humza Yousaf’s laws.

Of course I don’t hate anyone, but I cannot help it if someone objects to what I write and finds it hateful.

Anyway, if I find myself on a penal colony on St Kilda, there will still be these articles available even if Humza Yousaf finds a way to shut me down. I don’t expect this. I will continue as before. I will continue to believe in a free Scotland until I find myself searching for gannet eggs on the cliff of Conachair while waiting for the agents of the state to give me a dose of Novichok. Only at that point will I conclude that Scotland is not free. 

There will be no need then to throw away the ladder as I will be falling off the cliff.

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