There is something nasty in the SNP’s woodshed; very nasty indeed. It isn’t clear if it’s a creepy person or a sinister political impulse, but it’s nasty. Very nasty. Not content with proposals to curb freedom of religion and the freedoms of speech and expression in the public space – including theatres, festivals and comedy clubs – the architect of Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, Humza Yousaf MSP, has now decreed that conversations over the dinner table must be regulated, and any utterances which might be deemed to incite hatred must be prosecuted.
An Englishman’s home is his castle; a place where they may say what they want. A Scottish person’s home is about to become their dungeon; a place where speech is policed on pain of imprisonment.
It is one thing (though undoubtedly a profoundly illiberal and censorious thing) to insist that theatre directors should face the courts if they decide to stage Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Tamburlaine the Great’ and, faithful to the text, burn a copy of the Qur’an onstage, which might be deemed to stoke up prejudice and hate. But it is quite another thing to insist that saying “The Qur’an ought to be burned” over a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties should be a subject to legal proceedings.
How can a bill which professes to be based on the Public Order Act 1986 extend to what is said in private? That Act specifically incorporated a “dwelling defence”, such that words which might be deemed threatening, abusive or insulting in public may be uttered in the privacy of one’s home. But Hamza Yousaf is adamant that this ‘loophole’ of hate must be closed: “Are we comfortable giving a defence to somebody whose behaviour is threatening or abusive which is intentionally stirring up hatred against, for example, Muslims?” He asked the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament. But perhaps, sensing a disclosed self-interest, he expanded: “Are we saying that that is justified because that is in the home?… If your intention was to stir up hatred against Jews… then I think that deserves criminal sanction.”
Just as Mr Yousaf believes that theatre directors and journalists should not be exempt from stoking tensions under the cloak of dramatic licence or freedom of expression, neither does he believe that Scots should be exempt from stoking family tensions under the cloak of breaking bread. “We wouldn’t want to give the likes of Tommy Robinson a defence by saying that he’s ‘a blogger who writes for The Patriot Times so my reasonable defence is that I am a journalist’,” he explains.
Perhaps we easily forget how hard-won our liberties were, especially the rights of the individual’s privacy from government intrusions into the home. William Pitt (the Elder) made a sterling defence of domestic privacy in his opposition to a cider tax in 1763, which permitted warrantless searches. “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter – all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!”
If dinner table conversation had been regulated throughout history, there would probably have been no John Knox and no Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Imagine the hate and bigotry expressed toward Papists around his dinner table, or the “tensions” stirred toward Mary of Guise and Queen Mary. And one wonders about the dinner tables of the Scottish Enlightenment. Would Humza Yousaf have entertained the “tensions” stirred up in the intense discussions of David Hume and Adam Smith?
Don’t Scots care about any of this? Is the generic SNP teleological order so blinding the independence-inclined population into believing that the natural order of Scottish sovereignty justifies the interdependent ends of diminishing freedoms? Would it be “stoking tensions” to discuss over dinner that the freedom of man and the freedom of God are contingent, and that Scots should be free to discuss in their own homes what manner of man Humza Yousaf is, and what manner of party the SNP are, and that freedom within this world must include the freedom to “stoke tensions” against those who insist that our purpose is merely to reiterate the changeless summons of those who seek to impose a new moral order of uniformity and conformity? Is it ‘hate’ to say over dinner that you want to take an axe to the root of this malignant doctrine?
How can any family in Scotland ever again sit down to dinner and discuss ethical or moral or political or religious or philosophical matters of contention, if the canopy of their conversation may never again stir up strong feelings of vocation, which some may perceive as ‘hate’? Is the SNP really about to outlaw the freedom to assert over dinner that Mohammed is a false prophet, and that salvation is to be found in Christ alone?