Plans to change Holyrood’s legal status so protesters can be more easily removed and prosecuted should be scrapped, SNP members have demanded.
The SNP conference voted for a resolution urging MSPs to drop plans to designate the Scottish Parliament building a protected site over fears it could “limit peaceful protest”.
Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone announced that Scottish Parliament’s corporate body (SPCB) is seeking to make it a criminal offence for people to remain in the building or on the grounds without approval.
Punishments for anyone found guilty could face fines of £5,000 or up to a year in prison under the plans, which could come into force next month if approved by the UK Parliament.
In a letter to MSPs, Ms Johnstone wrote: “As we have seen many times recently, maintaining a functioning parliament to deliver and oversee the response to the current pandemic has clearly been in the national interest.
“We are also operating in the context of an increasing level of disruptive activity, including protests on our roof requiring specialist policing and emergency services response, and unauthorised occupation of the Debating Chamber.
“Actions such as these have the potential to disrupt the Parliament’s ability to meet.”
She explained that making Holyrood a protected sight “in the interests of national security” under section 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was considered necessary by the SPCB because the police currently “have limited ability to intervene if there is no substantive criminal offence taking place, and disruptive protests can become especially prolonged”.
Both Westminster and the Welsh Senedd are covered by the law.
Ms Johnstone added: “In practical terms this offers grounds for removing those on site in contravention of the SPCB’s policy for management of the estate.
“This will not affect the SPCB’s policy of welcoming and facilitating peaceful protest that respects the rights of others.
“We recognise that such protests are an essential part of the expression of democracy in Scotland.”
But at the SNP conference, party members voted 352 to 152 in favour of calls for the plans to be dropped.
The motion stated: “Conference is concerned that the actions taken by the SPCB seek to limit peaceful protest and urges parliamentarians to call on the SPCB that this order should be withdrawn in order that Scotland’s parliament can continue to be seen to be a fully accessible part of Scottish representative democracy and accommodate visitors, tourists from around the world, as well as protesters who which to make their point direct to the political leaders.”