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Scotland: crying out for freedom

Brian Monteith100.jpg Yesterday I was in Edinburgh for the first anniversary of the Scottish smoking ban which has been hailed a “huge success”. This, despite the fact that many bingo halls are in freefall, a number of working men’s clubs are in trouble, publicans are having to sack bar staff, and – according to a recent Populus poll for Forest - a huge majority support exemptions to the ban. Oh, and the smoking rates have dropped by 1.5% (from 26% to 24.5%), largely in line with the existing year on year trend. Some success!

Early in the day I joined Brian Monteith MSP (pictured above left), Neil Rafferty (Forest’s Scottish spokesman) and others for a photocall outside the Scottish Parliament. For one shot the photographer asked us to stand in the middle of an ornamental pond, water lapping over our shoes. He then asked us to light up, inhale, count to three, and exhale in unison. (It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.)

Last night Brian and I met up again for dinner. We first met many years ago when we were students in Scotland, editing student magazines at our respective universities. Years later we shared an office in Edinburgh and it was Brian who was responsible for my applying for and being appointed director of Forest.

After an eventful year, Brian is not seeking re-election to the Scottish Parliament in May. In fact, this is his last full week as an MSP. So, after eight years as a member, how does he view today’s Parliament? “Self-indulgent, self-delusional, self-satisfied,” he tells me between mouthfuls of Albarino.

“Since devolution Scotland is a lot less free. It's exactly what Friedrich Hayek warned against in The Road To Serfdom. That is, social democracy: removing individual liberties one by one, democratically, in the name of the people rather than stormtroopers goose-stepping into your living-room. First they came for the fox hunters, and the urban public cheered. Then they came for the smokers, and the killjoys laughed. Soon they will be coming for the leisurely drinkers and after that the comfortably overweight.”

He will miss the cut and thrust of debate in the chamber but has no regrets and to kick start his new career outside Holyrood he has written his first book, Paying The Piper, which I shall review after it is published on April 1st.  He will also be playing a significant role in The Free Society. A former spokesman for Forest in Scotland, Brian’s political antenna remain firmly libertarian, a far cry from the paternalistic (or Presbyterian) tendencies of many Conservatives north and south of the border. We haven’t heard the last of him.


Welcome to Taking Liberties

SC100.jpg Welcome to Taking Liberties, an oasis for those who believe in less not more government intrusion into our daily lives. Taking Liberties is sub-titled 'The Free Society blog'. For those who missed our launch party last year, The Free Society is an offshoot of Forest, the smokers' lobby group. Founded in 1979 by a former Battle of Britain fighter pilot, Forest defends those who choose to smoke tobacco and don't expect to be vilified for consuming a legal product that generates billions of pounds for the Treasury.

The Free Society will take that campaign one stage further. We will demonstrate that attempts to ostracise smokers are part of a much bigger picture in which politicians, campaigners and public officials are slowly eroding our civil liberties with laws and regulations that are out of all proportion to the problems they seek to tackle. Today tobacco, tomorrow food and drink. And motoring. Free speech, too, is under threat, with politicians and scientists telling us there is "no debate" about passive smoking or global warming when, clearly, there is.

There are two reasons for naming the blog Taking Liberties. First, I am genuinely concerned that freedoms we have taken for granted are slowly being taken from us without proper debate. Second, I want to make this blog as entertaining as possible and if that means taking liberties in a more colloquial sense, so be it. Feedback is positively encouraged so feel free to comment on anything that appears here. It's going to be an interesting journey so welcome aboard and enjoy the ride.

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