This article appeared in The Herald
In my experience, if a taxi driver wishes to unburden himself of his woes – or, indeed, of some flatulence – you don’t have much choice but to listen. Occasionally there is an ex-wife to berate; more frequently, it is the cooncil. Sometimes, on happier journeys, there may be a ribald joke or a story about a footballer getting legless that you will later relate to friends.
As a matter of personal taste, I’m not much into taking a note of the driver’s badge number and relaying his opinions on Twitter, though. Partly, this is because I hold steadfast to the view that Twitter is moronic; partly, it is because I don’t work for the Stasi.
However, this is precisely what one business customer in Aberdeen very recently did. The Tweet, which told, apparently, of the driver’s less than eulogistic views on Aberdeen City Council, can no longer be traced online. One can only speculate that it was removed, perhaps with the council’s benedictions, the Tweeter having been duly thanked for his or her exemplary display of good citizenship, or something like that.
The driver? Well, he was hauled up, of course, apparently “questioned” and sent on his way with his tail between his legs. This, see, is what councils are about these days. Not content with trying to outdo one another in the number of people they employ with long, tendentious job titles containing the words “diversity”, “equalities” and “community”, they see it as their duty to spend our money getting us to think well of them.
South Lanarkshire Council last month excelled itself by threatening to bring proceedings for defamation against the membership of a community council in the area because its website linked to an article on another site entitled “South Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Coal Hand in Hand at Community LIE-aison Meeting”.
In England, stories abound of councils using anti-terrorism laws to justify spying on people to see if they let their dogs dump on the pavement or don’t separate their rubbish properly, but this monitoring of the web in search of dissent is every bit as execrable. As a demonstration of contempt for democracy, it is beyond parody.
There is an authoritarian streak in Scottish public life as rigid as the dominie’s strap. Taxi drivers should not, you may ultimately decide, be left to stand up alone for free speech. But, for now, I say to them only this: “Let rip.”