TIME TO LIFT THE BAN ON FREE SPEECH IN DUNBARTONSHIRE

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

Free speech is the bedrock on which all our other freedoms rest, yet it is currently in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War.

The Free Speech Union is a non-partisan, mass-membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members.

If you think there’s a risk you’ll be penalised for exercising your legal right to free speech, whether it’s in the workplace or the public square, you need to complain publicly about that.

The organisation’s work featured in an excellent television programme Sunday Morning Live on Sunday morning.

I wish our councillors, officials and politicians from all parties had seen it. They can still see it if, of course, on the BBC i player.

There are people who are afraid to speak up for fear that they might lose their job or fall out of favour with their boss because they have joined a trade union.

Councillors – elected members – might then realise, as never before, just how important free speech is to our democracy, especially at this time when so many people would have us believe that Scotland is on the cusp of independence.

And there is serious talk about revolution in the air with protest marches almost every weekend.

The Free Speech Union says they are willing to help anyone whose work is being hampered by the actions of people using their perceived power to shut them up.

They say if you find yourself being targeted by a digital outrage mob on social media for having exercised your legal right to free speech, they may mobilise an army of supporters.

If a petition is launched calling for you to be fired, when you’ve done nothing other than exercise your legal right to free speech, they will be there for you.

If you’re no-platformed by a university—a council leader who refuses to share a platform with you at protest meeting (the Save Loch Lomond from Flamingoland campaign) comes to mind —they’ll encourage you to fight back.

If you’re a student being investigated by your university for breaching a speech code, they we may take up your case with the university

If you’re punished by your employer (the Lennox Herald refused to print a column I had written for them) because you’ve exercised your lawful right to free speech, they’ll do their best to provide you with assistance or refer you to specialists who can help.

West Dunbartonshire Council have withdrawn my media accreditation, which includes a seat on the press bench [if only there was one] at their meetings; the right to media releases and other communications, which is custom and practice between councils and media representatives. And the right to attend meetings and events and ask questions.

It beggars belief that the world and his granny, the press and public can slag off Boris Johnston and excoriate Donald Trump and others holding important public positions, but that The Democrat cannot say boo about Johnathan McColl, the jumped up leader of our local council.

That, dear readers, is a ridiculous position for the council to take and the hierarchy of the SNP to support.

The council refuse to recognise that I am a journalist, despite the fact that I have been doing that work in West Dunbartonshire for almost 60 years.

The charge sheet against me was for being insolent by asking for the sound to be turned up in the main council chamber and for telling a press officer to “bugger off” when she and a number of senior officials demanded that I should leave the meeting. The incident happened during a tea break.

This matter has never been processed properly. Their action has never gone to the council and been approved by the members, none of whom have complained they have been by-passed or that democratic principles have been breached.

Do the Labour and Conservative councillors really believe that a ban and boycott by the Council is appropriate “punishment” for The Dumbarton Democrat exercising its right to fair treatment.

Or are they content to be seen to be acting outwith their powers in the manner of fascists and dictators? I include the Labour and Conservative councillors in this. Their silence on this matter has been deafening. It’s time they spoke up.


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