Some people say there isn’t a problem with free speech, and that cancel culture is a myth, and that if issues do arise it’s just people being held to account for their nasty views and you know what, here I am expressing my opinion and lots of people do the same thing every day, so yes, we should be careful about over-stating the case and we should keep everything in its proper perspective.

But having said that, freely, I’d like to talk about some of the conversations I’ve been having in the last couple of days with academics and campaigners who disagree over what’s been happening with free speech and one aspect in particular: free speech at universities. The campaigners say it’s in trouble; the universities say all is well.

What the two sides have been disagreeing about is new figures obtained by Alumni For Free Speech (AFFS) on how much universities are spending on staff working in equality, diversity and inclusion, or EDI. Across the UK over a year, £19.5m was spent by 47 institutions and in Scotland it was pushing £3m in seven of the leading universities.

I should probably just tell you the specific figures we’re dealing with here and you can judge for yourself. Edinburgh: £505,384. Heriot Watt: £529,583. Aberdeen: £203,285. Dundee: £324,882. St Andrews: £235,189. Strathclyde £278,879. Glasgow: £1.2m. EDI is an area that’s been rapidly expanding and, as you can see, it’s starting to cost a lot as well.

When I first heard about these figures, I spoke to people from most of the universities on the list as well as Advance HE, which provides EDI training, and what they told me was that EDI is a statutory responsibility but that they are also committed to freedom of speech and the two are not mutually exclusive. Universities Scotland also told me that surveys showed the vast majority of students (over 80%) felt able to speak freely on campus.

But AFFS point out, rightly in my view, that you can say you’re committed to free speech but you also have to look at the evidence and do something about it. I’ve seen it for myself. I was there at Edinburgh University when a group of women tried to screen the documentary Adult Human Female and were prevented from doing so by activists. I know the word “cancellation” is controversial, but that’s what happened: it was cancelled.

Academics have also told me about the issue of self-censorship. EDI promotes, and arguably imposes, contested theories on gender and race and yet contrary views are rarely expressed by staff and students. Yes, Universities Scotland can point to a survey suggesting more than 80% of students feel able to speak freely but the obvious reply is that nearly 20% don’t and the reason would seem pretty clear: self-censorship. They look around and conclude they can’t express their opinions.

So what do we do? The answer would be for universities to appoint staff who have a specific responsibility for protecting free speech. It’s significant that millions are been spent on EDI in the UK and virtually nothing on free speech (in Scotland, it is nothing). £3m on EDI. Nothing on free speech.

What the universities say when you point this out is that EDI and free speech are part of the same package. But the academics and students who are concerned about the consequences of expressing their opinions – their perfectly reasonable, legal opinions – are going to need more than that.

What they need is someone on campus, someone senior, someone with authority, who will explicitly say that views contrary to the assumptions of EDI are lawful and cannot be an excuse for harassment or discrimination. The authorities have to actually say this, explicitly and loudly, rather than issue generic reassurances about free speech.

Perhaps then things will change. I accept that, generally, day to day, most of us are free to express our opinions. But EDI has expanded on campuses rapidly (and expensively) and the protection of free speech hasn’t kept up. My hope is that the universities will finally admit to the problem. I also hope they will deal with it. And I hope they will deal with it soon.