Nowhere in Britain is free speech more threatened than in Scotland and the woman who is the only person from my old Oxford college with whom I communicate at all regularly has gone quiet. It is not a legal threat which has silenced her but a poisonous atmosphere of fear.
My friend is no knuckle dragging bigot. She lives with her wife in the borders engaging in harmless pursuits such as gardening and walking and she used to be active on Twitter. But then she disappeared and I asked why. She says that she “decided to check out of Twitter for a bit.”
Her reasoning: “Social media is getting a bit intense right now, I think people are struggling and the venom is flowing a little more than usual. Some of the local neds in my village had a wee pile-on when I became the moderator of the local Facebook page (an older guy in the village asked me if I would do it) and I just thought I’d keep a low profile for a while as it’s easier and to be honest a wee bit safer. Strange times that we live in. There’s quite a strange atmosphere in Scotland right now. The SNP are calling the shots and, well, seemed like an appropriate time to settle back into anonymity for a while.“
There you have it. My friend is no great fan of the SNP on broader political lines and also has a bit of an issue with the radical trans agenda which the SNP is all in favour of. She is what might be termed a TERF. How odd that a lesbian who I stood shoulder to shoulder with as we protested against Section 28 now finds herself unable to express views on the LGBT agenda since she is deemed a bigot and will be terrorised for holding those views.
This week we saw the Scottish feminist Marion Millar charged under the Malicious Communications Act for tweets posted in 2019 and 2020, and she could face two years in jail if convicted. She stands accused of hate crime for what appear fairly harmless tweets. One included a picture of a ribbon in the purple, white and green of the suffragette movement. The Scottish Law is an ass. The Scottish state is oppressive. But the real poison is in a climate where the wrong word spoken in good faith can see you subjected to a social media pile-on which makes your life a misery. So vicious are such pile-ons that folks like my friend now just shut up, say nothing, write nothing and crave a life of anonymity and solitude. There is a real terror afoot North of the Border.