Ex-Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill challenges new powers against Holyrood protesters

Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is challenging Scottish Parliament bosses over the need for drastic new powers to restrict protests at Holyrood.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 12:30 pm

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The East Lothian MP says plans to designate the parliament a “protected site”, with the prospect of a jail sentence or a £5,000 fine for anyone found to be on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority”, are authoritarian.

And he has written to presiding officer Alison Johnstone, asking for more information about how the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which oversees the running of the parliament, came to decide to pursue the extra powers under controversial Westminster legislation, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

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Extinction Rebellion Scotland stage a protest at the Scottish Parliament against fossil fuels.

He wrote: “As a former Justice Secretary I understand the restrictions on security-related information which can be put into the public domain. However there are a number of reasonable and legitimate questions which require clarification, specifically in relation to the input that was received from Police Scotland.”

He asked whether Police Scotland had specifically sought the extra powers and whether the force believed common law and existing statutory powers were inadequate in dealing with past incidents.

In the letter, Mr MacAskill also said Ms Johstone had referred to incidents when the chamber had been occupied and where entrances to the parliament had been blocked, and asked her: “Is it not the case that existing powers were sufficient in responding to and dealing with those incidents?”

And citing her assurance the legislation would only be used as “a last resort”, he asked what would constitute a last resort and who would decide when the additional powers would be invoked.

Kenny MacAskill says the new powers are unnecessary Photo: Steven Scott Taylor.

Mr MacAskill – an MSP for 17 years and Justice Secretary for seven – stood down from Holyrood in 2016. He was elected MP for East Lothian in 2019 and joined Alex Salmond’s Alba party earlier this year. He is now its depute leader.

He said attempts were being made to get a debate at Westminster on the move to give the Scottish Parliament “protected site” status, putting it the same category not just as the UK parliament but also the Faslane naval base, Coulport nuclear arms depot and Porton Down research laboratory.

He said armed police armed police already routinely patrol at the parliament, security had been increased and the new powers were unnecessary.

"It our parliament, it is meant to be the parliament of the people and accessible to the people. There have been no instances of it bring brought to a halt, public attendance inside and outside is vital in a democracy and this is simply authoritarian and overbearing."

He said any incidents when business was interrupted by protesters in the public gallery were brief and quickly dealt with.

And he argued existing laws were adequate to deal with any disruption.

"People who behave like that in the chamber can be charged with breach of the peace and if a hostile crowd tried to charge the building that would be mobbing and rioting. There’s no need for any additional powers.”

In earlier correspondence, Ms Johnstone said the parliament welcomed thousands of protestors all year round as an essential part of the expression of democracy and that would continue.

"The reason for applying for designated status is to give the parliament the means to address disruptive activities by individuals where they try to prevent the parliament from meeting to carry out its essential role, where they seek to interfere with the rights of others to engage at Holyrood, or where their actions make it unsafe for others.”

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