EARLIER this month, we marked the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day. Whilst the war in Europe ended in May 1945, World War II was not fully over until 15th August when Japan surrender to the Allies. As with VE Day earlier this year, coronavirus restrictions meant that commemorations to mark VJ Day were somewhat muted.

The past few months may have been incredibly difficult, but anniversaries like these make us put everything into perspective. Most of us cannot begin to imagine the sheer horrors of war and what it must have been like for servicemen—many incredibly young—to have been deployed on the other side of the world to fight to defend our freedom. The least we can do is to remember their bravery and their sacrifice.

The coronavirus pandemic we now face may not a war, but it too is a common threat to us all. And as in times of war, people in this country have pulled together in a shared endeavour. Every single person has played their part whether that was as a key worker putting themselves in harm’s way to help others, as a community volunteer or simply by following the public health advice.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the extraordinary resilience that local residents have shown in supporting the most vulnerable in our society. New and existing community groups have provided a valuable lifeline to those residents who had to shield or self-isolate by helping them with their shopping and prescriptions.

Of course the focus of many of us has rightly been on the coronavirus, however in recent weeks the SNP’s proposed Hate Crime Bill has started to move back up the news agenda.

Whilst the stated intent of this bill may seem benign, the detail suggests something far more sinister. If passed, it would mean that someone could be prosecuted for the perceived harm something they said caused even if they did not intend to cause harm. This is an incredibly worrying development that threatens free speech—one of the very values our servicemen fought to protect in WWII.

This bill would clearly undermine free debate and would undoubtedly lead to self-censorship with some people deciding that it is easier not to say something than risk a prison sentence. It could criminalise social media posts and family dinner table conversations simply because people happen to disagree.

This bill has brought together some strange bedfellows in opposition to it: from the Catholic Church to the National Secular Society; from the Law Society of Scotland to the Scottish Police Federation; and from Rowan Atkinson to Val McDermid. All believe that this bill would have the unintended consequence of restricting free speech. So too it seems do a majority of Scots. According to recent polling, 7 in 10 Scots believe intent should be required for a hate crime.

In a democratic society, we must all be free to disagree. The SNP needs to scrap this bill to ensure that our fundamental values of freedom of speech and expression are protected.