FROM next month the Scottish Parliament and its surrounding grounds will become a designated site for the purpose of the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

The request for this status came from MSPs on the Parliament’s Corporate Body and was granted by a Home Office Minister in London last week.

The new status effectively means that being outside the Scottish Parliament without lawful authority becomes an offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of £5000.

Lawful authority means permission – but who decides to grant or revoke permission for a building the public are actively encouraged to enter and visit as their national democratic institution? Presumably Parliament itself – which means the SNP/Green coalition government in practice.


The target here is clearly protestors, but why the need for such draconian powers after 22 years? Until now such national security powers have been reserved for nuclear sites in Scotland and the Westminster parliamentary estate.

I’ve attended and spoke at a few protests outside the Scottish Parliament over the years.

I can’t remember any that were not peaceful.

I recall protests against warrant sales or the failure to mitigate the bedroom tax sometimes getting heated outside Parliament because these were emotional issues for the people they affected.

Speeches through loudspeakers, roars of the crowd, cheers, boos, and singing are all part of our long tradition of peaceful protest and demonstration. They are the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.

The bedrock principles the Scottish Parliament is founded upon are being accountable, open, power-sharing and equal opportunities. Political parties deciding who’s allowed to protest and for what cause goes against all of these founding principles.

The right to protest is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others”. That right is only qualified where it is necessary for national security or public safety.

I come back to my original question. Why do MSPs think people should be banned from protesting outside the Parliament in 2021? Isn’t it supposed to be the people’s Parliament?

READ MORE: Family speak after teen killed on Glasgow's Crow Road

We already have various public order offences in Scotland to deal with public safety concerns. There’s no need for a sledgehammer strict liability offence to crack a problem that doesn’t exist.

A couple of weeks ago one of the biggest demonstrations in recent times took place outside the Parliament when hundreds of women gathered to express their concerns over the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The Bill would give people a legal right to self-declare their gender rather than provide medical evidence of gender dysphoria.

Women’s organisations believe that allowing biological men to self-identify as women will erode women’s rights – particularly in relation to the protection for single sex exceptions for public spaces under the 2010 Equality Act.

There was a smaller angry counter demonstration outside the Parliament by gender rights activists. The protests were well handled by the police and none of this could possibly justify urgent grounds for radical change.

There is no doubt that the Scottish Government’s Gender Bill is controversial. A Panelbase poll over the weekend suggested that only 13% of Scots thought that gender recognition was a pressing matter for the Scottish Parliament to act upon now.

The Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing, and we have huge challenges in terms of economic and social recovery.

The Scottish Government has indicated that it will press on with its gender reforms as a matter of urgency regardless. That its democratic right if they have a majority of MSPs behind them on this.

What’s not acceptable, however, is seeking to crush dissent by banning the right of the people to protest peacefully outside their own Parliament. You win people over by the strength of your argument and evidence, not by silencing their voice.

The folly of Brexit has seen UK exports drop by 19.3%, with a trade deficit of £12.8 billion on recent figures. Ireland, France and Germany have all gained from Brexit.

The Prime Minister’s solution to fiscal deficits is to raise National Insurance contributions by 10% and pretend it’s for the NHS or social care.

Glasgow Times: Boris Johnson Boris Johnson

Making those with low or modest means pay for our economic problems is regressive and shows how out of touch the UK Government has become.

Meanwhile, we have nothing to be smug about in Scotland when our own MSPs ban us from peacefully protesting outside our own Parliament.