Colin Brazier: Discrimination is bad - unless it's done by the Left

Talking, in good faith, to people we disagree with, might help stop the drift towards a society in which too many people shun others

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If you refuse to serve someone because they’re gay, or black, or disabled, you will be in serious trouble with the law.

You may find yourself in court facing allegations of discrimination under the Equalities Act. Just like the bakery in Northern Ireland a few years ago that wouldn’t make a cake promoting gay marriage. But is it increasingly acceptable for waiters and bar staff to refuse to serve customers if they are guilty of having the wrong politics?

If they support Brexit, for instance, or the rights of women to use the word ‘women’. It will come as a surprise to nobody that two revelatory examples of this denial of service culture come from Scotland this week, which under the SNP, seems to be forging an atmosphere of intolerance as thick as the haar on a Grampian glen. We have the case of staff at a hotel restaurant in Ullapool in the Highlands.

They reportedly wanted to boycott, to refuse to supply food and drink to a table, that was occupied by a young family. The reason they wanted to withdraw service to a paying customer in a legally licensed venue?

Because the family included Dominic Cummings, architect of Brexit. Hospitality staff can lawfully refuse to serve a customer, if they think the customer can’t pay, or might be money laundering, but not usually because of how they feel about membership of the EU.

If that wasn’t enough, there was the pub in Edinburgh, the city which gave us the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume and Adam Smith, where a group of female customers were asked to leave because bar staff objected to them. Were they cursing and swearing?

Brawling with tourists? No. Police were called because bar staff felt they were apparently threatened by the presence of a group of campaigners who oppose the extension of women’s rights to transgender people. In particular, one trans-bar-server took exception to the presence of Marion Millar, who like Cummings, has become the identifiable face of a campaign.

In Millar’s case, it’s the campaign against measures that would make it easier for people to change gender. Millar runs an organisation that believes those changes would put women in danger. For instance, if people who are biologically male were allowed to use changing rooms set aside for women only.

Dominic Cummings and staff at a hotel in Scotland appeared to have disagreements over Brexit and Scottish independence.
Dominic Cummings and staff at a hotel in Scotland appeared to have disagreements over Brexit and Scottish independence.

Millar, like Cummings, hadn’t broken any laws. Both simply represented causes, legitimate, democratic, lawful causes, that the waiters and bar staff didn’t like.

If those same hospitality staff had withdrawn their service because Cummings was gay, or Millar Asian, they would be in serious trouble. Where on earth does this take us? Will some venues insist on customers providing proof of having voted Remain as well as a covid vaccine.

I’m only being half-serious, but this does still feel a little bit like a slippery slope. And it’s all of a piece with a culture in Scotland which seems to stifle, if not dissent, then the robust exchange of views through conversation.

Holyrood is home to a government which earlier this year introduced a bill which criminalises ‘hate speech’ in your own home, at your own dining table. Nothing as remotely draconian has been attempted anywhere else in the UK. How can Britons fight against this chilling effect on free speech? They keep on talking, at length. They keep on debating, respectfully.

That’s what Dominic Cummings did. When he heard that staff didn’t want to serve his family, he went back the next night on his own, and talked with employees for three hours. He answered questions about Brexit, lockdown, the break-up of Britain, and quite possibly his trip to Barnard Castle.

The next night he returned to the restaurant and was served without a murmur. Afterwards, Cummings took to Twitter to recommend the hotel to his 171,000 followers. It’s a story which demonstrates that there is another way for people to debate difficult subjects.

Talking, in good faith, to people we disagree with, might help stop the drift towards a society in which too many people shun others, not because they think they’re wrong, but because they think they’re bad.