Scottish Greens demand end to ‘Draconian’ protest curb at Holyrood

THE Scottish Greens have become the first Holyrood party to call for a “Draconian” plan to curb protests outside the parliament to be scrapped.

The junior Scottish Government partner said the right to protest was a “fundamental component of democracy” and limiting it was “not only unnecessary but counterproductive”.

The Greens also attacked the Scottish Parliament’s defence of the move – that it would bring Holyrood into line with Westminster – saying “the whole point of devolution” was do things differently.

There has been growing criticism of the plan since Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, a former Green, announced it last week.

She revealed that, from October 1, the parliament and its grounds will be designated as a “protected site” in the interests of national security.

It means that it will become an offence to be on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority”, punishable by a £5000 fine or year in jail upon summary conviction.

Ms Johnstone said the parliament would still welcome “peaceful protests that respect the rights of others”, but confirmed the change would empower police officers to remove people deemed in breach of the parliament’s estate management policy.

The cross-party management body that oversees Holyrood, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), which Ms Johnstone chairs, made the decision on June 24.

Only Green MSP Maggie Chapman objected, while Ms Johnstone, Tory Jackson Carlaw, Labour’s Claire Baker and the SNP’s Christine Grahame, all approved.

READ MORE: MSP Maggie Chapman breaks ranks with Holyrood bosses over protest curb

After the Home Office approved the parliament’s application for designated site status, a law was laid at Westminster last week under serious crime legislation to bring it about.

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

Ms Chapman yesterday told the Herald she wanted the change scrapped.

Now her Green colleagues have agreed with her.

MSP Gillian Mackay, the Scottish Greens’ business manager, said: “The public are understandably concerned about any proposal to restrict protest, which is a fundamental component of democracy.

“The SPCB has said that its current proposal would bring Scotland into line with Westminster, but the whole point of devolution was so we could do things differently. “Prohibiting people from protesting outside the Scottish Parliament is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.

“We should be encouraging members of the public to engage with politicians, to bring their concerns to their parliament and let their elected representatives hear them. 

“We are not going to build a fairer Scotland by locking ourselves in an ivory tower and banning the public from gathering outside.

“The SPCB must urgently reconsider its decision and scrap these draconian plans.”

A protest is expected at Holyrood this Thursday against the change, with another demo planned for October 1, when protesters will dare the police to arrest them.

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.” 

The Scottish Parliament has been asked for comment.

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