Saturday’s rally in Edinburgh, which drew several hundred attendees, was coordinated by Paddy Hogg, a councillor in North Lanarkshire, where regional health officials have warned that a recent spike in coronavirus cases could lead to tighter lockdown conditions.
The event has been widely criticised, with Scotland's national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, describing the protesters as "deeply irresponsible.”
The group behind the event claimed lockdown was causing "more harm than the virus" and that Scots should say "no to mandatory vaccines and masks” and “no to secondary lockdowns."
Mr Hogg, a former member of the SNP, wrote on Facebook that he contacted the Scottish Parliament to obtain permission for the gathering. He was also one of the speakers.
The councillor, who is a member of the local authority’s community safety partnership forum and its education and families committee, told the crowd that 99.9 per cent of people in the world “were never going to be affected by the virus called Covid-19.”
He added that there was “no need for social distancing” during the pandemic and stated: “Lockdown will kill and destroy more people’s lives than the virus ever could have done.”
Mr Hogg also gave voice to familiar Covid-19 conspiracy theories involving Bill Gates and the Rockefeller Foundation, and argued that the United Nations and the World Health Organisation “have become a Trojan horse for a vaccine agenda that is not needed anywhere.”
He added that no politician had “stood out” and instead had “fiddled while Scotland burned” during the crisis. He called on the crowd to hold MSPs to account at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
The event was held just a day after NHS Lanarkshire warned the area could become subject to tighter Covid-19 restrictions, amid a spike in cases.
Data published on Friday showed that the health board had identified an increase of 11 cases in the preceding five days, bringing the area’s total confirmed cases to 3,044.
Gabe Docherty, the health board’s director of public health, said at the time that the figures ought to serve as a warning.
“The situation in Glasgow city, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire is geographically close - but also very close in terms of being replicated right here in Lanarkshire,” he explained.
"This should be a wake-up call for all of us to stick to the guidelines, stop this virus spreading any further or any faster and keep Lanarkshire out of lockdown."
Mr Hogg, who has represented the Cumbernauld East ward since 2012, has been approached for comment.
Others who spoke at the weekend’s protest included Dr Dolores Cahill, chair of the Irish Freedom Party, and Dr Malcolm Kendrick, who bills himself as a doctor, author, speaker, and sceptic.
On a Facebook page called Saving Scotland, which was created on 25 August and used to extensively promote the gathering, Mr Hogg said that as well as contacting Holyrood, he approached Police Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council. He described it as a “great event with top quality keynote speakers.”
In a series of Facebook posts related to Covid-19, Mr Hogg, a biographer of Robert Burns, said that the Edinburgh demonstration was the “first major event” of the “grassroots movement,” but stressed that “many campaign battles are coming.” It is understood the next protest is planned for Holyrood this Thursday to coincide with First Minister’s Questions.
Elsewhere on social media, the 60-year-old wrote that “the elites looked after themselves with plenty of hydroxychloraquine but made sure it was banned for the public,” and urged parents to send liability notices to head teachers to prevent children from wearing masks or using hand sanitiser.
He also claimed that residents in care homes are being “treated almost like prisoners of war,” and shared theories about face masks which have been flagged by Facebook as “false information.”
He wrote that MMR causes autism, stated that it was a “myth” that smallpox was eradicated by a vaccine, and posted numerous conspiracy theories about Mr Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft.
Mr Hogg also posted a video to YouTube promoting the rally, in which he claimed “no one at all is being infected” and that there are “no outbreaks of Covid-19 happening just now.”
In the video, uploaded on 14 August, he added: “The testing that’s going on just now is simply showing some old coronavirus type cold that people might have had traces of.”
Mr Hogg resigned from the council’s SNP group two years ago, claiming that “bullying and abuse” was commonplace.
Speaking yesterday about Saturday’s Saving Scotland event, Prof Leitch condemned those who took part.
“I honestly do not understand it,” he said. "I think it is irresponsible - do they think we're making it up? 194 countries are making up a viral pandemic.
"I would love to have not lived through the last six months, both in my job and what we have had to do to our country and many others. I think it is deeply irresponsible."
Asked if it would be reviewing Mr Hogg’s membership of its committees, North Lanarkshire Council said that “each elected member is entitled to their own opinions, which do not always represent the council’s as a whole.”
It added: “The council actively supports NHS Lanarkshire public health guidance to help reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus and actively encourages the public to take the advice on board to keep people as safe as possible.”
NHS Lanarkshire has been approached for comment.