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In recent weeks I have been travelling the length and breadth of the UK by train. Everywhere I have gone I have heard and read the same jolly imprecation from British Transport Police. It encourages people who see something suspicious to report it to the authorities. “See it. Say it. Sorted” is the sensible soundbite. I suppose this must be linked to the bomb recently left on a London Underground train, and to events in May at Manchester Arena when a young man of Libyan heritage carried out a suicide bombing at a pop concert. Posters appealing for witnesses to this latter atrocity still flutter on the railway stations of the north.

The public aren’t told what might constitute suspicious behaviour. But I occasionally ponder the circumstances in which I would report anything. I wonder if I would do so even in the most “slam-dunk” case. It would have to be somebody carrying something that was recognisably a bomb, which I could actually hear ticking or similar. Even then I wonder if I would report it. Especially not if they shouted “Allahu akbar.” Basically, anything before the moment of ignition involves risks (“We always knew you were a bigot”) that far outweigh the benefits of not being blown up.


In Glasgow I speak to a newly-formed Free Speech society. A couple of hundred students pour into a room booked off campus so as to avoid the nuisances caused by today’s self-appointed censors. From every imaginable background and variety of politics, the students are a delight: smart, well-informed, open-minded, argumentative yet polite. Views differ on a whole range of things, but for the best part of two hours (and several more afterwards in the pub) we argue out a whole range of ideas and facts about which their generation are deeply concerned but around which discussion seems restricted to the point of silence.


A day later I am in Wigtown, in south-west Scotland. This beautifully situated Dumfriesshire town has had a revival in recent years as Scotland’s Hay-on-Wye and includes a book festival. Judy Murray (mother of Andy) is due to speak after me, and I wonder whether the explanation for my packed house isn’t that the attendees have booked to see the wrong Murray.

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