Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has today written to members of the Corporate Body of the Scottish Parliament over plans to restrict the right to protest outside the parliament and expand police powers to remove demonstrators.
From 1 October 2021 The Scottish Parliament will be added to the sites covered by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 in Scotland (SOCPA). The only other sites to which this currently apploes in Scotland are those related to nuclear materials. The maximum penalty for breaching the legislation is a £5,000 fine or a year in jail.
Alongside Police Scotland, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body are to set up a protocol “which will set out how and when powers to arrest or remove persons from the site will be invoked and the essential role that the SPCB will play in such decisions.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton's letter is as follows:
Dear Alison and David,
I am writing to you in respect of the decision by the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body on June 24 to request that the Home Office add the Scottish Parliament to the sites covered by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 in Scotland (SOCPA).
Since this decision was made public there has been considerable concern that this could have a significant impact on the right to protest at the heart of Scottish democracy. This is not helped by the failure to provide a clear rationale for this designation, or meaningful issuances about the limits of its use.
While it is important that the police have the tools to keep the parliament and its staff safe, the new ability of law enforcement agencies to fine or imprison people who wish to protest raises significant questions about how this tool will be implemented and the role of the authorities charged with enforcing it.
I have always been uncomfortable with a similar designation under the 2005 Act which prevents peaceful protest on the grounds of the Palace of Westminster and I am concerned that broad and arbitrary limits on the right to protest here could have a chilling impact on our democracy.
I believe that it is in the public interest for the parliament to explain the trigger and the rationale behind these decisions. The public should also be offered guidance on how to ensure they can maintain their ability to peacefully protest.
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats