I DON’T know if you’ve heard, but there’s a coronation this weekend. I say that somewhat sarcastically because the news has been pretty much wall-to-wall.

Shops are full of bunting, Union flags adorn boxes of strawberries and we’re all invited to join in a chorus of allegiance.

There’s an equally vocal backlash to the festivities.

This newspaper recorded citizens in Glasgow on Monday dismissing it as a “load of rubbish” and referring to the King as “an unelected billionaire”. Another said she “didn’t really believe in the monarchy”.

You’ll be relieved to know that this isn’t another column dedicated to the coronation.

Instead, it is a celebration of our freedom to speak our minds. Not that long ago, you’d have had your head on the chopping block for such treachery and treason. Now, even the British Broadcasting Corporation can publish an article asking whether Scotland wants “its kilted King”.

Thank goodness we live in a liberal democracy where differing views can be heard. Such differences of opinion will only get louder in the coming days, rising to a crescendo on Saturday.

The debate on the monarchy illustrates the vital importance of our hard-won rights and freedom to express our views. Freedom of speech is invaluable. In fact, it is the bedrock of every liberal democracy and the cornerstone of every other freedom we enjoy in this country.

It is a fundamental human right, a general standard to which every nation should aspire and all governments must defend and protect. It is a right which is of particular importance to the disenfranchised and powerless.

Of course, freedom of speech, like all individual freedoms, is limited by law in this country, and carries with it the burden of accountability.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Everyone has 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”.

Freedom of speech isn’t just a nice aspiration, it is a legal right. That means it should not be subject to whether I like your views or indeed whether your views are in accordance with the opinion of the majority.

It is irrelevant whether the political leaders of the day approve your speech as politically acceptable to them – be they the kings and bishops of old or the parties and media moguls that hold sway today.

READ MORE: SNP MPs among Scottish politicians attending King’s coronation

Even with the legal right to freedom of expression, we need to protect the culture that fosters the free and frank exchange of ideas. George Orwell said that “unpopular ideas can be silenced … without the need for any official ban”.

It feels like we are increasingly seeing that, not least this week at Edinburgh University, as protesters blocked the entrance to a venue that was screening a film.

I thought the First Minister was absolutely right when he responded to a question about the protest at First Minister’s Questions last week. He said: “We should ensure that our universities — and society more generally — are places where we can have even robust exchanges of ideas.”

Elsewhere in the great city of the Enlightenment, Joanna Cherry said she has effectively been “cancelled” by a public venue on account of her views.

I’m no lawyer, so I will quote the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Roddy Dunlop KC, instead, who tweeted that it is “plainly unlawful”.

Other legal commentators have drawn comparisons with Franklin Graham who was “cancelled” by the SECC several years ago. The case went to court and Mr Graham won – at a cost to the public purse – almost £100,000.

Beyond the legal implications, which are for others to consider, I think this “cancellation” decision raises serious issues for all of us in public life.

Firstly, it risks undermining Edinburgh’s international reputation as the home of the Enlightenment.

The free and frank exchange of ideas is required for society’s flourishing. Exploring, interrogating, and dismissing ideas all depend on those ideas being heard in the first place, without fear.

Human progress is propelled by concepts and beliefs that emerge from intellectual, evidenced, and experienced debate.

Although far from perfect, scientists, geologists and economists were able to flourish in Scotland’s Enlightenment because of the freedom to propose ideas, underpinned by evidence, without censorship or cancellation, leading French philosopher Voltaire to argue that “we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”.

These days, the Edinburgh Fringe draws thousands of visitors from across the world.

They come to enjoy the great talents on display and listen to the exchange of ideas – some controversial, some humorous and some thought-provoking. That exchange can only happen in a forum that allows for freedom of speech and expression, without fear.

As former High Court judge Lord Justice Sedley famously said: “Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative … Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

READ MORE: Watch as Celtic fans sing 'you can shove your coronation up your a***'

Secondly, it is a failure of our mission to disagree well in society. There are few in society or leadership positions or indeed in my own family with whom I agree completely. I don’t think the answer is to censor them or erase them from society.

In a healthy democracy, we make progress through debate between those of different opinions and views. We listen, debate and seek to persuade.

In the recent leadership contest, I strongly emphasised the need for respectful dialogue with those not yet persuaded of the merits of independence.

Such dialogue starts with a listening ear on both sides of the debate. Of course, it must be respectful, sensitive and wise. That’s just one issue of many that require a similar approach.

But I find that when you believe in the strength of your case, you do not fear debate. It’s those without a case to answer who run from arguments. I strongly believe that in a fair, free and respectful debate, the truth always wins.

Lastly, this decision leaves everybody else a bit more vulnerable. As a politician and a successful lawyer, Joanna Cherry has a powerful voice. Already, the decision to “cancel” her has been documented in the press and famous voices have drawn attention to it.

But what about those in society without the same political platform? They can be silenced through fear, or sacked by their boss, without recourse or anybody knowing.

People in other lines of work – not least comedians and journalists – are also at risk if we start “de-platforming” people who are out of step with the unwritten rules on what is beyond the pale.

We must think seriously about what can be done to shore up free expression for the sake of generations to come.

Part of this will be articulating the many positives of free speech for society. It may also require a more robust defence of civil liberties in education and the public square.

Despite all this, I believe that the public are wise to the dangers of cancel culture. They know where it leads, and they reject it.

In the most recent leadership contest, I received huge volumes of correspondence. Most letters started with the lines: “I disagree with your views, but I absolutely defend your right to express them.”

I would expect people to disagree with my arguments in this column. I defend their right to do so, and look forward to considering their alternative views.

That’s how we learn in a society that safeguards freedom of speech.

I hope we can agree that it is a precious thing to be allowed to disagree, and it is to the credit of The National for offering a platform to do so.