I confess that when I first heard of the plan to have the Scottish Parliament designated a ‘protected site’ under section 129 of the British Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCP 2005 s129) I was not particularly troubled. My first thought was that this would have no practical implications for demonstrations (why do people insist on referring to ‘protests’?) at Holyrood. I regarded the fuss some were making as ill-informed hyperbole. I was correct on both counts. Nonetheless, I am not now as relaxed about the measure as I was initially.
I rarely content myself with first reactions. So I decided to find out what SOCP 2005 s129 actually stipulates.
A person commits an offence if he enters, or is on, any protected Scottish site without lawful authority.
Needless to say, alarm bells started to sound. This just seems wrong. How can it possibly be unlawful for any citizen of Scotland to be in the precincts of our Parliament? This seems totally at odds with the prevailing culture in Scotland where political engagement and activism are part of daily life. Unsurprisingly given that Holyrood rather than Westminster is now regarded as the locus of Scottish politics, it is the favoured site for demonstrations addressed to the Scottish Government. It’s where we go when we want to send a message to our elected representative. It’s where we go to “peeble them wi’ stanes” – metaphorically, of course. The people of Scotland being sovereign, the notion that we could be prohibited from getting within peeblin’ distance of our Parliament seems jarringly counter-intuitive, to say the least.
The character Sir Walter Scott had refer to the peeblin’ of politicians also said “naebody’s nails can reach the length o’ Lunnon”. This measure threatens to put Holyrood as far out of nails’ reach as Westminster. The fact that British legislation was invoked to achieve this naturally rankles. But it also explains. Westminster is placed out of nails’ reach of the people because the English tradition adheres to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. A concept that is totally incompatible with the principle of popular sovereignty which arguably more than anything else characterises Scotland’s distinctive political culture. Here we have law enacted by a parliament we did not elect being used to drastically alter our relationship with our Parliament. This cannot be right. This is just plain wrong.
Studying the legislation had started me thinking differently about what was being presented as nothing more than a bit of administrative tinkering. But it was an article in The National written by Scott Crichton Styles, a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Aberdeen, which solidified my opposition to the measure (‘Morally wrong’: Legal expert picks apart plans to restrict protests at Holyrood). The article confirmed my interpretation of the legislation.
The effect of designating Holyrood as a “protected site” is to presumptively criminalise everyone who sets foot on the site.
So I wasn’t overreacting. The people railing against the change in the status of the Scottish Parliament were right to do so, even if they were doing it for the wrong reasons. They were getting worked up about a ban on protests which is entirely imaginary and missing the point that the implications of designating Holyrood a protected site are far, far worse than even a real prohibition against demonstrations. As Scott Crichton Styles says,
Surely there should be a presumption that visiting Parliament for most reasons, including protesting, is a lawful activity? Why should citizens need to prove they have lawful authority to protest outside their Parliament? But this legislation creates a presumption that a person on the site may be guilty of an offence! This emphasis is morally and politically wrong.
That’s it in a nutshell. Designation of the Scottish Parliament as a ‘protected site’ under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 s. 129 fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship between the people of Scotland and our Parliament. It undermines the principle that the people of Scotland are sovereign and transplants the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty. It works towards bringing the most potent symbol and instrument of Scotland’s democracy into conformity with the political culture held as a tenet of British Nationalist ideology – the political culture of England-as-Britain. It is insidious Britification of Scotland’s democratic infrastructure and it must be resisted.
So potentially effective is this in furthering the aims of a British Nationalist ideology that is anathema to the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland that one is inevitable led to wonder if this was the intention. I think it more likely that it is something the SPCB has blundered into without realising the implications. Perhaps having the property for which they are responsible designated a protected site made them feel more important. Who knows? We know nothing of the thinking – if any – behind applying to the British Home Secretary for this designation because it was all done in secret. It would certainly be interesting to know who or what prompted the move. Someone must have instigated the process.
Scott Crichton Styles writes,
There are two deeply unsatisfactory aspects to the process by which the protected site request was made. Firstly, it seems to have been made in secret by the SPBC without any consultation of MSPs.
Secondly, and fundamentally, to rely on the British Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 is completely unnecessary. If the SPBC think that the existing legal protections of the Holyrood are inadequate they could have proposed a bill to the Scottish Parliament to remedy that gap.
The phrase “deeply unsatisfactory” is buckling under the weight of the load it’s being made to carry here. The situation is a great deal more than deeply unsatisfactory. It is intolerable! It is totally unacceptable! This must not be allowed to stand!
It is incumbent on every Member of the Scottish Parliament to maintain the integrity of the Parliament, defend the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and protect the relationship between the people and their Parliament. Designation of the Scottish Parliament as a ‘protected site’ under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 s. 129 comes as a threat to that relationship that few anticipated and almost as few recognise even now. The Order so designating the Scottish Parliament must be revoked immediately.
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8 thoughts on “Protect Our Parliament”
I feel it can’t be a coincidence that the order was requested within a week of two protests at the Parliament by mainly indy supporters – the “Use the Mandate” gathering on 31st August and the “Women Won’t Wheesht” protest on 2nd September.
I also consider it unlikely that the Green and SNP MSPs on the committee acted without the approval of their leaders. I understand that Maggie Chapman initially objected to the order, but then voted for it. Presumably in between she was taken out and shown the seat where Andy Wightman used to sit?
Taken together with the attempts to sabotage Saturday’s AUOB demo by the SNP-led Edinburgh council, it appears to me that we are looking at a full-scale attempt to use the organs of the British state to hamper the independence movement from organising large-scale public demonstrations that might embarrass the SNP leadership; that is, ANY public demand to use their many mandates.
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This was put thru to London back in June, and had nothing to do with recent protests.
It was only made known about in the past few weeks
However in making it public knowledge just after those protests, we had some quite crazy attacks on the First Minister, and SNP with them being accused of going for this simply because of those recent protests.
The reality, as I note, was rather different.
It was mainly the pro London MSPs on the group that oversees the building who went for this.
I read that the (formerly Green) Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, gave this move the ok, back in June.
Maybe she didn’t fully understand it’s implications? But she’s been an MSP the past 10 years.
We don’t know.
But I’m pretty sure the others will have had an idea of what they were after.
As for protests, a simple little demo, should not be a problem, but we do wonder now.
And we all understand the need for proper security, etc,
But as Peter says, and others, using this Legislation imported from the Kingdom of England (they use it in Wales, too), is unnecessary.
But I don’t think it has anything to with the Scottish Government, or SNP.
Tho, they may not mind having it in force?
But the MSPs should vote against it.
The majority of them at least, as we doubt any tory will oppose it.
If they don’t, then they cannot be trusted to stand up for Scotland when further such moves come in from London.
There is a big row brewing over voting I,D. rules for UK General Elections.
We will see how they react to that, but demanding this new protest Law be abolished at Edinburgh, will be a good start!
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
If the people of Scotland are sovereign then why have a parliament at all?. Just have a Hustings, all welcome, and vote by a show of hands on every issue. No elected representatives.
Ah, an availabilityocracy.
Why is it that when Scots Law is specifically protected in the Treaty of Union, as being superior within Scotland to English Law, that any Acts passed into Law at Westminster have any jurisdiction within Scotland, except by Scottish tacit consent?
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