The debate, if we stretch ourselves and call it that, on gender recognition is never far away, is it? Humza Yousaf, the First Minister, made a decent fist of kicking it into the long grass last month when he announced that the Scottish Government would challenge the UK Government’s use of the Scotland Act’s Section 35, in response to the Scottish Parliament’s passing of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

This week, though, The Stand Comedy Club and Joanna Cherry cut Mr Yousaf’s grass. Gender recognition is firmly cemented on front pages once again, and with it, free speech.

This column will not be about gender recognition, readers may be glad to hear. It will not even be about free speech. Freedom of speech is defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “Everyone (having) the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

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The UK, with Scotland, is ranked in the top 10 of countries with the greatest freedom of expression and speech, by the World Population Review, but nonetheless we should regularly test ourselves to ensure that we are living up to that ranking. In so doing, we should remember what is the opposite of free speech, and what are its consequences. Russia, North Korea and Cuba. Kidnap, torture and death.

Mercifully, that is not where we in Scotland are. We have free speech. However, that does not mean we all feel able to speak freely. We may not have kidnap, torture and death, but we do have insult, intimidation and abuse, and it is that which increasingly discourages many people from entering some debates.

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I’ll be honest with readers; gender recognition is a debate on which I have a view too nuanced for Twitter, and for a short broadcast interview, and therefore it is the single issue which I will often duck. I simply do not feel the need to subject myself to the vitriol which I can see accompanies any view short of unequivocal support of the bill.

I have free speech. But on that issue, I do not feel able to speak freely without fear of consequence; of "cancellation", to use the fashionable language of the hour. I, and many others, saw this coming long before the matter of gender recognition. There are any number of policy issues in Scotland where the exercise of free speech comes with a consequence.

That consequence, for someone in the political world, generally comes in the form of verbal abuse in the street, or much more often, written abuse on social media. Nobody is dying. Nonetheless, any individual who mulls over whether to put his or her head above the parapet must make a decision on whether or not it is worth the hassle, worth the abuse, worth the mental blow which will often be experienced.

So, this is less about free speech than it is about tolerance versus intolerance; about liberalism versus illiberalism. It is about how we conduct debate. Ms Cherry’s views on gender self-identification cannot objectively be seen as being extreme. Indeed, polling indicates that she speaks for the majority. She is mainstream. There is, of course, another side to this mainstream and that is the side which passed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. They are, similarly, not extremists. And, yet, we have proven ourselves unable to conduct this debate without insult, intimidation and abuse.

We have proven ourselves intolerant of views which fall outwith what is considered to be politically fashionable. We have begun to see that, as a nation, our liberalism extends only the boundaries of our own views.

When we look at this dispassionately, we can see that this narrowing of what we deem to be an acceptable set of views is having consequences significantly wider than the gender recognition debate.

I am of the view that the Scottish Government should cut income tax significantly, to levels below those levied in England, to encourage the best and the brightest wealth creators to stay in Scotland, and come to Scotland. I’m comfortable with large public spending cuts accompanying that.

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Now, when I write all this on Twitter, I often feel that I’m only three replies away from being called a Nazi.

When I argue against certain strikes, and suggest that some public sector workers are paid too much (for instance train drivers, who earn over £50,000 only nine months after qualifying), and others are paid too little (for instance doctors, who will not be paid £50,000 until they have achieved straight-A grades at school, navigated six years of university, worked for two years as a junior doctor and a further six as a registrar), I am called anti-worker.

When I argue that the policy of closing the attainment gap in schools has failed to lift the kids at the bottom, and is being achieved only by suppressing the kids at the top, and that the focus should be on lifting kids at the bottom and being entirely unworried about the size of the gap, I am accused of being an elitist, usually with a few expletives attached.

When I surmise that the health service has crumbled, and that the only long-term mechanism for retaining a basic, universal, taxpayer-funded health service is to break it up, I am "debated" in the same way I would expected to be "debated had I live-streamed the garrotting of my family dog.

We are better than this. Liberalism was born here, and it would be a heartbreaking irony if we fell out of love with it. Mr Yousaf, to his great credit, has made some very clear signals that he wants to see the dial shifted back in the right direction, with the views of his opponents aired without impediment.

Good on him, for that. But let us go further. Let us vehemently and steadfastly disagree with what we read, hear and see, whilst aggressively defending the fundamental right of those who espouse it.

We have free speech. Now we need to re-create an environment in which we can speak freely.

• Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters