I can’t understand why anyone would heckle a hearse. Then again, I’m a Scot who loved the queen. My country is holding a vote next October for independence from the U.K., but I thought
was great. She knew what was required of a 21st-century monarch. She respected the space for the public discourse of her people. She couldn’t, and wouldn’t, cry, “Off with their heads!” History has hardly been kind to hereditary rulers of such an approach.
Ironically, it was the democratically elected Scottish government that cracked the authoritarian whip last week. Moments before
was proclaimed king in Scotland’s capital on Sunday, a 22-year-old woman was arrested on the street for holding an antimonarchy sign that included an obscenity. The next day, as the royals walked somberly behind the late queen’s coffin, only a single voice in the crowd called the notorious
a “sick old man.” Barely a week ago, that would have likely been met by a thundering cheer.
Was it morally appropriate, at that moment, to heckle a grieving procession? Probably not. Was it legally appropriate for the police of the state to throw the heckler to the ground and arrest him? Absolutely not, if the fundamental right to freedom of expression is of any weight and relevance.
For a country famed for its ancient cry of freedom from English rule, the incident could not have better highlighted the ironic authoritarianism of our current government. It’s hardly plausible that our nationalist ruling party was so overcome with reckless enthusiasm for the British sovereign that it sanctioned the arrests on an ideological vendetta. Rather, our mechanics of policing have become so scrupulously censorial that this was the instinct of a police officer faced with a view deemed to be at risk of causing offense.
Our political culture has been trending against free speech for some time. In 2021 the Scottish government passed legislation that would censor discussions on sensitive topics such as marriage, gender and religion, even around family dinner tables. And only last week, the government announced support for criminalizing words that merely “influence,” specifically, when spoken by pro-life volunteers near abortion facilities. The proposal could ban even silent prayer on a public street. The threshold for forbidden speech is vanishingly low.
A nation unable to allow offense is a weak one. An idea unable to withstand criticism is an inadequate one. And a police force unable to protect fundamental freedoms is a failing one.
It isn’t the role of the state to police the opinions of citizens. This might astound those who railed against
King George III.
But our Scottish authorities can learn a thing or two about democracy from our late hereditary monarch, Elizabeth II.
Ms. McLatchie is a communications officer for ADF UK.
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the September 19, 2022, print edition.