ALL around the world we are seeing people losing freedoms to a small group of politicians and you will know that my view is that we are in danger of doing this in the UK.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the threat to human rights in the UK and at the heart of this is the current UK government’s distaste for the Human Rights Act, based as it is on the European Convention on Human Rights.

There's nothing wrong with this Act, they just don't like it because it's based on something that came from Europe, forgetting the fact that the Convention was largely drafted by British lawyers and the UK was the first to sign it.

Those who make the case for the abolition of human rights laws tend to claim that we have ancient freedoms enshrined in common law (which doesn’t exist in Scotland by the way).

They say that there's no need then for anything else. That is a complete misreading of history.

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They usually start their argument with Magna Carta. While this document was useful in declaring the king was not above the law it was simply an agreement designed to appease a small group of landed gentry who, to modern eyes, look more like organised crime lords running a protection racket.

There was nothing in that document for ordinary people nor was it intended that there should be. Magna Carta was ditched by the then king as soon as he had the chance.

We come then to the Bill of Rights in 1689 but again this was a document aimed at a very small group of people who believed that they should govern the country and not the vast bulk of ordinary people.

These people claimed rights against the Crown but denied any rights to their tenants.

There was no freedom save for a small group of the very rich. If we look at Britain at the end of the 18th century it looks very much like an authoritarian dictatorship.

The government had a system of spies, it censored publications and freely imprisoned people for sedition for what we would simply see it as the exercise of freedom of speech.

When 80,000 people gathered in Manchester in 1815 to demand democratic rights they were cut down by cavalry officers in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre. Murdered for wanting the vote.

It was not an isolated incident. There then followed another period of oppression where working men in Tolpuddle tried to organise a trade union and were deported as criminals for their pains. This was no freedom-loving land.

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In the 19th century common people in Scotland were forced off the land to make way for sheep to graze.

In Ireland the vast bulk of the population was excluded from public life because they were from the wrong religion. That country was governed by what was in effect a dictatorship based on religion.

Even in Wales until the 1890s people were forced to contribute 10 per cent of what they produced to the Church of England which most people weren't even members of. If you didn't pay your property was confiscated.

Let's not pretend that freedom is something that is ingrained in the British system. It is not.

Freedoms had to be won over the years.

In 1832 the self-perpetuating elite that governed this country were forced to extend the franchise to a wider group of people but it took until nearly the middle of the 20th century for a proper democracy to exist in Britain.

None of these things were granted because of the benevolence of a small class of rulers, rather they had to be won through protest whether it was through the Chartist movement or the suffragettes in later years.

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It simply isn't the case that freedom is something that we have taken for granted for centuries.

Before 1998 Human Rights Act there was no right of free speech in Britain. Rather it was allowed rather than endorsed as a positive right.

There are of course restrictions on free speech; you cannot go around to your neighbour’s house and threaten to kill them without being prosecuted for doing that. You cannot incite racial hatred against many groups of people or threaten members of the public.

You cannot libel or slander anybody. These are restrictions that have been placed on freedom of speech over the years that most people would probably agree with.

We do have a right to free expression and cannot be prosecuted for having different views to those who rule us.

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However, if the UK parliament decided to restrict free speech it could do so, there is no law preventing it from so doing.

Because we don’t have a written constitution, we don’t have a right to freedom of thought and expression that is beyond the ability of the UK Parliament to remove.

If you abolish the Human Rights Act you remove protections against abuse of power.

That’s why we must always be on our guard against any changes to the rights that UK citizens have enjoyed for the duration of this century.

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