MSP Maggie Chapman breaks ranks with Holyrood bosses over protest curb

ONE of the MSPs on Holyrood’s management body has called for the parliament to abandon its controversial plan to criminalise protests outside the building.

Maggie Chapman said it was “totally inappropriate” that Holyrood was making it easier for the police to remove demonstrators under threat of prosecution.

Ms Chapman revealed she was the only one of the five MSPs on the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) to oppose the decision.

“It is wrong and unnecessary and should be reversed as soon as possible,” she said.

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone last week announced that the parliament and its grounds were to become a “protected site” in the interests of national security.

It means that from October 1, it will be an offence to be on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority”, punishable by a £5,000 fine or a year in jail upon summary conviction.

Mr Johnstone said the parliamnent would still welcome “peaceful protest that respects the rights of others”, but the new law meant that “in practical terms this offers grounds for removing those on site in contravention” of Holyrood’s estate management policy. 

The SPCB made the decision on June 24 and parliament applied to the Home Office to approve it, with legislation laid in the Commons laid under serious crime law.

It was signed by Home Office minister Damian Hinds.

The move puts Holyrood on the same footing as Westminster and the Welsh Senedd.

However SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and others called it “Draconian” and a curb on freedom of expression.

On Friday, Holyrood, which has already spent millions on security measures, refused to publish the background paper behind the extra step, citing security grounds.

The SPCB minutes merely recorded that Ms Chapman “raised some concerns”.

In fact, Ms Chapman said she flatly objected to the plan, and refused to back the other four MSPs on the SPCB – Ms Johnsone, Tory Jackson Carlaw, the SNP’s Christine Grahame and Labour’s Claire Baker – who agreed to it.

Ms Chapman, the Greens’ human rights spokesperson, told the Herald: “We didn’t vote as it was clear I was the only member who opposed it.

“I did ask for this challenge to be noted.

“I think it’s totally inappropriate to curtail the right to protest in this way and hope that this measure can be reversed as soon as possible.”

The issue was also raised at the Alba party’s weekend conference in Greenock.

On Saturday, delegates backed “coordinated action to defend the right of the people of Scotland to protest without fear of prosecution outside their Scots Parliament”.

And on Sunday, Mr Salmond raised it in his main closing address.

He said: “Now our own Parliament – our own parliament – that we campaigned for, fought for, protested for, seeks to restrict the right of protest by petitioning that champion of human liberty – Priti Patel [the Home Secretary].

“What appalling misjudgement.

“Scotland should not need Priti Patel or even the Strasbourg convention to defend citizens’ rights.

“The Convention is a backstop. Our primary defence should lie in our own fundamental law, our own written constitution for a free Scotland.” 

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “Designated status will not affect the SPCB’s policy of welcoming and facilitating peaceful protest that respects the rights of others.

“Such protests are an essential part of the expression of democracy in Scotland.

“As a matter of standard practice we do not publish corporate body papers that  contain security advice.”

 

 

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992