EMBARGO: Thursday 25 November 2021, 00:01 hrs
MACASKILL QUIZZES PRESIDING OFFICER OVER DRACONIAN PROTEST POWERS
THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT MUST “COME CLEAN” OVER JUSTIFICATION FOR NEW LAW
ALBA Party Depute Leader Kenny MacAskill MP has sent a further letter to the Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone MSP challenging the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) to publish the justification for the introduction of new powers contained in The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Scottish Sites under Section 129) Order 2021 (SI 2021, No. 1021) to limit demonstrations and protest at the Scottish Parliament building and grounds which came into force on 1 October.
Mr MacAskill, a former Justice Secretary in the Scottish Government and now MP for East Lothian, has been seeking answers since these powers were first requested by the SPCB. This is the fourth letter which he has written to the Presiding Officer on the subject.
The Presiding Officer wrote to Mr MacAskill MP on 17 November to state that the Parliament’s actions were based on actions which “could exceed the scope of peaceful protest and hinder reasonable access to the Parliament and its grounds”. The letter also states: “We have seen an increase in these sort of situations”.
In his letter Mr MacAskill MP states: “Those would obviously be serious situations giving rise to police actions and perhaps even prosecution. Can I therefore once again request that you detail just when and what those situations were. I assume that they would be matters of public record with police actions and court convictions duly recorded. At minimum given the media presence in Holyrood I assume that they will be duly reported and again reference would be welcome. This is a draconian step and it requires to be justified. Reference to ‘these sorts of situations’ is vague and lacking substance. I cannot see any public interest reason for withholding the precise incidents upon which you are basing this action and accordingly look forward to further clarification.”
In a statement Mr MacAskill said:
“These new powers ride a coach and horses through Scotland’s democratic traditions and pose a clear threat to civil liberties. The Presiding Officer and her colleagues on the SPCB have a duty to be frank with the public and to be true to the Parliament’s own key principles which require them to be accountable and open. That is why I am calling on the Presiding Officer to come clean on the supposed justification for these far reaching and draconian powers.
“The Presiding Officer and the SPCB assert that these powers are necessary so as deal with the increase in incidents which ‘exceed the scope of peaceful protest and hinder reasonable access’. However it is not enough to assert this it is necessary to evidence this by providing the examples of where existing police powers have proved inadequate. Such incidents would obviously be serious situations giving rise to police actions and prosecutions. It is therefore incumbent on the Presiding Officer to detail the incidents which she says are the basis for acquiring these additional powers.
“The information which I have requested is information which the public quite rightly expect about the reasons for limiting their right to protest at our national Parliament, after all these are powers which could see them removed under threat of criminal prosecution.
“COP26 showed that it was possible for the police to ensure public order and safety without recourse to additional draconian powers. Like many others including Amnesty International and the recent SNP Conference I remain unconvinced that these powers serve any meaningful purpose other than to create barriers between the public and those they elect”.
Notes to Editors:
- Letter to Alison Johnstone MSP is attached.
- The new powers were requested of the Home Office by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB).
- These additional powers are set out in the Statutory Instrument, The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Scottish Sites under Section 129) Order 2021 (SI 2021, No. 1021). The wording of the Order can be viewed here: The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Scottish Sites under Section 129) Order 2021 (legislation.gov.uk)
- The introduction of this new law was condemned at the time by Amnesty International and by a resolution of the SNP Conference. Moves by ALBA MPs Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey to have the issue debated in the House of Commons, while ultimately unsuccessful, were supported by the SNP MPs Douglas Chapman and Joanna Cherry.
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