Free Speech Union Edinburgh Speakeasy: Can Words Really Hurt?

I was delighted to attend The Free Speech Union Speakeasy held at The Counting House in Edinburgh on 25th October. It was my first event of this kind & I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The weather was pretty dire but I was determined not to let that put me off. I had arranged to meet with other members of the Scottish Feminist Network (SFN) in the adjacent pub beforehand. It is always lovely to meet up with other like-minded women face to face, although the most fun part is marrying up their Twitter & real-life names!

The event itself was full. Looking around, the SFN had brought a large contingent but it was uplifting to see a range of different people, including quite a few students, and men. 

The panel consisted of Holly Lawford-Smith, author of “Sex Matters: Essays in Gender-Critical Philosophy”; Michael Foran, Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange & lecturer in Law at the University of Glasgow; & Kapil Summan, editor of Scottish Legal News. Each brought a different perspective to the topic of the night but with passion & humour that somehow I had not expected. It was, to be fair, a gender-critical audience so it very much felt like a safe space to explore some of the issues that I think will consume us over the coming months/years. 

The main topic of the evening was the (possibly) imminent implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. The omission of “sex” was an interesting point of discussion, with the conclusion that there is simply so much sex-based violence/crime that it is simply too difficult to cover. Michael Foran’s explanation of the potential for prosecution under this law was probably the most important takeaway for me. From what I could understand, the first prosecutions have the potential to drive a coach and horses through the legislation.

Where I think we should be most concerned is how potential misinformation around this law will cause people like me to exercise self-censorship rather than risk a potential 7-year prison stretch. 

Kapil Summan’s description of this ideology that seems to have taken hold in our country as effectively a new religion was also very insightful. I have to confess I’ve fallen a little bit in love with him (don’t tell Mr Grumpy Scottish Witch!).

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