A silent protest has been held outside the office of Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross to urge him to vote against a bill that could give police more powers.
Legislation is currently passing through Westminster that could impose greater restrictions on when and how people may demonstrate.
It has come into sharper focus following the response from the Metropolitan Police to a vigil to remember Sarah Everard in London on Saturday.
Today protestors spread down Forres High Street to hold a 10-minute silent protest outside the office of Moray MP Mr Ross to urge him to vote against the police bill.
Mr Ross has stressed that most of the bill only applied to England, but indicated he would support it due to the extra powers it would give police north of the border.
He said: “The provisions that apply in Scotland are around road traffic offences, cross border warrants and the management of sex offenders.
“All other aspects of justice policy in Scotland are already devolved to the Scottish Parliament and are not affected by this legislation.
“Given the areas that this bill influences on people here in Moray, I will be supporting it to enhance road traffics regulations, arrest warrants and the management of sex offenders.”
What is the protest about?
It could allow them to impose start and finish times, set noise limits and potentially apply them to a one-person demonstration.
Ministers have stressed the measures will not affect freedom of expression and “the majority” of protests with measures being instead targeted to “highly disruptive” events.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has also said it will provide stiffer penalties for people who assault emergency service workers.
Ten years in prison for defacing a statue. Only five years for rape.
No one can say that balance is fair. We need tougher penalties for violence against women. pic.twitter.com/HDvLW7GuEw
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) March 15, 2021
However, concerns have been raised that the legislation may also affect the way of life of gypsy travellers and countryside access rights.
Meanwhile, the bill has been attacked by critics for providing up to a 10-year prison for defacing statues while rape sentences will begin at five years.
Simon Clark, who took part in the Forres demonstration, said: “Passions are running high. Core tenets of our hard fought democracy are being removed.”
What are the other political parties saying?
Opposition parties in Westminster have united to say they will vote against the legislation.
The bill is currently passing through parliament processes with MPs voting today on whether to advance it to the next stage.
David Lammy, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, described the proposals as “a mess”.
The SNP will vote against the Tory Police Bill, which imposes disproportionate restrictions on our freedom of expression and right to protest. It is a rushed and poorly considered bill, which would damage the rights of people across the UK. It should be withdrawn immediately.
— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) March 14, 2021
He said: “The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women.
“This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.
“Now is the time to unite the country and put in place on long overdue protections.
“It is a mess, which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.”
As we introduced a new Bill today to give police greater powers and protection, I spoke with brave firearms officers who were assaulted in an acid attack.
Our PCSC Bill will double maximum penalties from 12 months to 2 years for assaulting police or other emergency workers. pic.twitter.com/WL0l5FFjyg
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) March 9, 2021
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has also confirmed his party will vote against the bill.
On Twitter, he said: “(The bill) imposes disproportionate restrictions on our freedom of expression and right to protest.
“It is a rushed and poorly considered bill, which would damage the rights of people across the UK. It should be withdrawn immediately.”
The Liberal Democrats have also indicated they will vote against the bill.
I will be speaking tomorrow in Parliament on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but today I wrote to the Home Secretary calling on her to withdraw attempts to restrict the right to protest. The right to peaceful protest is fundamental to a free society. pic.twitter.com/SNAsSK6zDP
— Alistair Carmichael MP (@amcarmichaelMP) March 15, 2021