Frog Boiling and Free Speech

Frog Boiling and Free Speech

According to the “Boiling a Frog” theory, if you place a frog into hot water it will immediately jump out. If however you place the same unfortunate and unsuspecting amphibian into cold water, and gradually and incrementally increase the heat. The slimy, goggley- eyed fool will boil to death before it realises what’s occurring. So ok, experiments have been conducted and it turns out that the theory, like many others we are fond of, is a complete load of old bollocks. Sorry to ruin one of your favourite analogies.


No matter. We all get the idea. If the government foists unfavourable and undesirable laws and conditions upon us gradually and incrementally, we tend not to take notice until it’s too late, and there’s a ranty ravey moustachioed maniac in a uniform bellowing at us all to get onto the cattle trucks and be schnell about it. I think we’d all agree that there’s some pretty good evidence to support that one throughout history. The French call it what translates as ratcheting. But who cares.


Hold the thought.


In 1974 my family upped stumps from Lanarkshire and moved to central Africa. Zambia, to be precise. Formerly known as Northern Rhodesia it had gained its independence from Great Britain in 1964. This precipitated to a degree, an exodus of skilled labour from the country, and ex patriots had to be brought in to fill the positions. Enter my father, who’d been a Plater and Boilermaker in Ravenscraig steelworks and had found himself a contract on Zambia’s copper mines. Copper prices at that point were still reasonably high.


By and large it was a wonderful life for a boy my age. Superb climate, wide open spaces, plenty of leisure facilities and a fecundity of wildlife were but some of the benefits I enjoyed. There were however many differences between where we came from and where we were. On the one hand you had dubious hygiene, tribal strife with bellicose natives, and unappetising culinary practises. Then on the other hand there was Zambia. But I digress slightly.


One of the things we had to get used to was being very careful about what you said. Criticizing Kaunda, the President, was a crime. Criticizing the UNIP party of which he was the leader in a one party state, was a crime. Making jokes about Kaunda or UNIP were crimes. Making jokes about the police, the army, the local District Governor (Boma) or anyone in officialdom, was a crime for which you could be imprisoned and, if you were lucky and white, immediately deported. As one of my father’s Scottish colleagues found to his chagrin, when as a wheeze he decided to mount the Zambian flag on an outhouse. The Zambians failed to appreciate the jocundity, and he and his family, were instantly despatched homeward to think again. Pet cat, notwithstanding.


Let us now revisit our hapless (or hop-less) amphibian analogy, and the aforementioned ratcheting.


If you think the way officialdom in that African republic behaved was somehow laughable, odd, petty, nasty, illiberal, heavy handed, or even downright fascistic. I’m afraid it’s time to wake up, smell the beans, and take a good look at what’s happening here in the UK and especially Scotland.


There is a creeping, and at times far more blatant increase in state interference and state censoring of speech and writings. Including Christian evangelism, criticism of protected groups, unfashionable scientific and social theories, and what would have been previously deemed to be jokes. In Glasgow it’s not even safe to chat up women in the street. Anyone who doubts this simply doesn’t know the facts, and I urge you to start doing some homework. In London alone between 2011 and 2016, 2,500 people have been arrested for sending “offensive” or “hateful” messages on social media like facebook and twitter.


What constitutes offensive is highly nebulous and in many instances is, like beauty, in the eyes (or ears) of the beholder. What constitutes hate is defined as…
‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or anybody else, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice’ towards any of the five ‘protected characteristics’ (race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and disability).
If the word “perceived” here doesn’t give you serious concerns, it should. Furthermore, police have a duty to investigate these “crimes”…
“regardless of whether or not those making the complaint are the victim and irrespective of whether or not there is any evidence to identify the hate crime incident.”


In Scotland we have seen the ridiculous spectacle of notorious shitposter Count Dankula arrested, charged and convicted of breaching the Communications act when he taught his Pug dog to do a Hitler gruss to the refrain of “gas the Jews” and put it up on YouTube. A joke in poor taste perhaps, and certainly offensive to many, but still…a joke.


In a similar vein, another YouTuber from Glasgow known as 6oodfella, was arrested and detained over a weekend because after being irritated at the antics of some of the participants in a gay pride march, commented on twitter “Where’s a muslim with a truck when you need one?” Thankfully on that occasion the Fiscal decided he had better things to do and dropped the charge. But the man lost his liberty for almost three days over, again, a joke. The singing of songs with sectarian overtones might also land you in the clink. Even if belted out somewhere outside of the Scottish legal jurisdiction.


People, these are not isolated incidents. I wish I could say that they were, but even so it’s a scandal that it should happen at all in what claims to be a tolerant, democratic and free country. While they were in progress most people denied that it was even happening at all. Some people still do. It is a common retort to these complaints that the law is protecting the oppressed and the downtrodden. But, as I have been saying for some time now, in the end these illiberal edicts will be used to shield the powerful from criticism.


You don’t see it?


In London a pro Brexit protester was reported to the Metropolitan police and has been arrested over an incident in which he called Conservative MP Anna Soubry a, wait for it, “Nazi.” Yes the Conservatives are playing this game now as well. When you think about it, why shouldn’t it be this way? Don’t politicians and those in positions of power over us have feelings as well?


Don’t Nicola Sturgeon or Ruth Davidson have a right to feel offended every bit as much as any other member of a minority group? (Yes, think about it politicians are a minority.) Why should they be the subject of scathing criticism, or off colour jokes? How would YOU like it if your kid was approached by another at school and informed “did you hear that bald bloke from the Libertarian party call your mum a total arse on telly last night?” If we slag them…do they not bleed?


Well actually no. They don’t. No one has the right not to be offended, least of all politicians who are answerable to an electorate for their conduct. Anna Soubry has commented that if people are allowed to say or shout horrible things about, or to politicians, then apparently fewer women will venture into the world of politics. Delicate flowers that they are. She even shamefully tried to invoke the ghost of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen who was murdered by a mentally disturbed man in 2016, to conflate that incident with her own rather piddling experience and justify her belief in silencing critics. This is spurious. The notion that what is deemed to be “inflammatory”, “dangerous” or “subversive” has to be suppressed for the good of society is what kept Nazi book pyres burning and the Gulags full.


We must awake to the continued and relentless assaults on free speech in the UK and, again, particularly in Scotland. We must do our utmost to turn down, and turn off the state heat being applied to our underside before we all boil in our tanks.


George Orwell maintained that authority exists to be laughed at. “A joke worth laughing at usually has an idea behind it, and usually a subversive idea.” In our time they don’t call it subversion. They don’t dare. Instead, they call it “Hate Speech”.





Tam Laird is Leader of The Scottish Libertarian Party and Co-host of The Scottish Liberty Podcast.



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4 Comments on "Frog Boiling and Free Speech"

  • Peter Hickman says

    I have often asked when did it become a ‘Human Right’ never to be offended.

  • Ray Tate says

    I was at a recent meeting at Newton Mearns synagogue concerning the upsurge in anti-Semitism held under the auspices of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council where one of the speakers was the Deputy Procurator Fiscal for Strathclyde & Dumfries & Galloway who was questioned on the infamous pug video. He explained that he was not involved in this particular case but nevertheless this was a very difficult decision for the Fiscal’s office over whether to prosecute Mr Meechan or not having to decide if it was a joke in bad taste or a hate ‘speech’ offence & that on balance it fell into the latter category. I myself am Jewish & although I wasn’t offended by the video – the man is an out & out racist IMHO but at least he’s honest enough to admit it not like many others, notably Mr Corbyn – but I have no problem with the fiscal’s decision either. I would like to ask you when free speech changes into hate speech in your opinion as I think it’s a very fine line. P.S. I have never encountered any personal anti-Semitism in my life & the only instance I have ever seen was by young kids who would have picked on any minority group who were different to them.

    • Peter says

      Hello Ray,

      the problem with hate speech legislation is that seems like a very hazy concept in the first place. It’s hard to prove “hate”. There doesn’t have to be any visible hate in an act to be considered criminal. It doesn’t even have to be threatening.

      Actually, this article spells out pretty well the problems with hate speech. As unpleasant some people’s opinions are, we need freedom of speech to voice opinions about difficult topics – and those will inevitably upset somebody. And of course we need to be extremely watchful about state interference in what people are allowed to say.

      So I’d definitely err on the side of freedom of speech. And lampooning people with ridiculous views.

      Kind regards,

    • Tam Laird says

      What evidence do you have the man is a racist? I am unaware of him admitting any such thing.

      I’m open to evidence.


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