Sunday, 2 March 2014

Freedom of Speech : the views of the late John Tunnock

A few weeks ago I picked up a paperback in Blackwells, at the junction of  South Bridge and Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, in the same building where the late lamented James Thin Booksellers once traded. The book was a risky purchase. I was fearful it would be too esoteric because it was not on the "Buy two and get a third one free" table. My fears proved ill-founded. It turned out to be a "profound, funny and thundering good read" and offered what for me were a number of pearls of wisdom. The book contained the collected papers of one John Tunnock, a schoolmaster who bit the dust some years ago in Glasgow.

I thought Mr Tunnock's idea about freedom of speech was worth  - if I might be allowed a little indelicacy -  chewing the cud over.

In the following short excerpt from his memoirs Tunnock recollects his thoughts as he is about to join a demonstration in Glasgow to protest about the Anglo-American war with Iraq.

"I approve of people publicising their ideas in peaceful protest marches, whether they are workers who don't want their industries shut, or pacifists who want nuclear missiles banned, or even Orangemen who think the world's worst menace is the Catholic Church. Freedom of speech needs everyone to openly show what they believe, even if those views are stupid and wrong. Without public discussions and demonstrations the only alternative to being governed by millionaire politicians is terrorist bombings."*

I think Mr Tunnock was saying that differentiating the right of freedom of speech from the privilege of public action is significant. Freedom of action should require a genuine consensus of all the members of our community. Disagree with me if you will,  but please don't get out the water cannon.

*An excerpt from page 94 of the novel, Old Men in Love John Tunnock's Posthumous Papers by
Alisdair Gray.  Published in paperback by Bloomsbury in 2009.
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