Locking Down Holyrood

Masterpieces of Modern Architecture : The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh  - Owlcation
The Scottish Parliament and grounds

“It will be an offence to enter the area without lawful authority. That simple fact will deter protest, don’t you think? A sheriff won’t listen to a defence that “I read on Twitter that it would only be enforced in extremis…” Roddy Dunlop QC

Holyrood Parliament is changing its legal status to make it easier for the police to remove demonstrators, whether angry or peaceable, individual or group. This is a full-frontal assault on collective freedom of expression, a people’s parliament ring-fenced from the hoi polloi. Before going into detail about the imaginary threat to a building already well protected against terrorist bomb attack, and by breach of the peace laws, it is worth comparing attitudes to democratic assembly elsewhere.

Three examplesPompidou Art Centre

When the innovative architect Richard Rogers (thought English but born in Florence, Italy) was commissioned by the Parisian authorities to create a high quality arts building in a run-down district of Paris, the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement of Paris, near Les Halles, he created a modern masterpiece for people to use. The Pompidou Centre for the modern arts, including contemporary music, was to be as much an architectural attraction as the activities within it. Rogers drew up plans for his now famous inside-out building.

The first condition was, it had to be a living space for people to work in and visit. The second stipulation was it had to have a large area for people to congregate outside, accessable to the non-ambulant, to meet, talk, debate politics, play music and entertain. Discussion and art was not to take place behind closed doors alone. The city gave Rogers a vast area of land to create the ideal, which he did to international and local acclaim.

To accommodate his brief, Rogers created a very large sunken public area along one side, the area surrounded on three sides with stone steps where people can sit, or use as an auditorium. In other words, a modern version of the Greek amphitheatre. Both assembly area, building and the town around them have been a rip-roaring success. A poor area was rejuvinated almost overnight. restaurants, cafes and shops sprang up, and old residential buildings renovated. The world came to see the unusual Pompidou structure. And if people protested some political matter they used the open public space, not crowd around the centre’s main entrance.

Second example – Alexanderplatz

A second example, surrounded by tall modern buildings, the historical Alexanderplatz in Berlin. The wide square is famous for being the traditional seat of city government. The Rotes Rathaus, or Red City Hall, is located there, as was the former East German parliament building, the Palast der Republik. On May 1st, 2015 a sculpture of four large bronze chairs, three holding people standing on them, the fourth empty, was unveiled by Patrick Bradatsch together with artist Davide Dormino. The first speaker to use the empty chair, the journalists and those who joined the event, made clear the fourth chair was for public protests, or a kind of weekly speaker’s corner, the entire square free to groups to use for similar purposes.

The sculpture ‘Chairs of Courage‘, has the power to make people grow and change their point of view. The chair has a double meaning. It can be comfortable, but it can also be a pedestal to rise higher, to get a better view, to learn more. You can be a person with a topical point of view and a megaphone, or a revolutionary radical. You can use the sculpture to shout about the price of beer or the unlawful incarceration of whistle-blower Julian Assange. (History is rarely kind to contemporary revolutionaries.) It takes courage to act, to stand up on that empty chair and face the public with your grievance.

Third example – Athens Assembly

Finally, there is the seat of democracy itself, in Athens, Greece. The ancient Greeks were the first to create a democracy. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words, people (demos) and rule (kratos). It is generally accepted the Athens Assembly used nothing more than a large rock on which anybody of any status in society, rich or poor, property owner or stall holder, male or female, with a complaint or protest could stand upon the flat-topped boulder, lay forth their point of view at set times in the week, for a limited number of minutes.

The elected members of the Assembly were obliged to attend and hear out the complainers, or those offering praise of some issue, one after the other. Those protesting about a new law they disliked for some unacceptable reason, or the price of sheep, did not have to apply in advance to speak as nowadays, nor were they banned from speaking if making negative comments. Dissidents complaining of corruption were given similar respect. They were heard, the essence of democracy.

Holyrood got the short straw

Now let me turn to our seat of government, the Holyrood Parliament. We have the rudiments of a representative democracy. It is not yet a constitutional democracy, and of course, it remains a sub-democracy burdened, some argue suffocated, by colonial rule.

The Spanish architect Enrico Miralles Moya – why a Scot was not chosen remains a mystery – was intent on making the building his magnum opus, his all-time signature statement. Nothing in the building was to contain art that was not his art. To accomplish that he created walls fixed at odd angles. Massive ceiling struts were exposed causing visual dissonance. He managed that though confined to a too small footprint by Donald Dewar, the inaugural Labour First Minister. He insisted Miralles’ concept was stuck at the bottom of ther Royal Mile on far too small an area to contain his design of three ‘upturned Scottish fishing boats’. Talk of a public meeting area outside the parliament was soon gobbled up by expanding buildings.

Miralles was warned of impending disaster, Dewar too. Miralles ignored the experienced advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission, an august body (now disbanded), that reviewed architect’s plans for sensitive conservation areas – where were MSP’s car parks? what happens when MSP numbers increase? That is why we have a Parliament that cannot contain the work of indigenous artists not resting on an easel, nor barely accommodate groups outside. And now our parliamentarians want dissidents off the street.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), is made up of 5 people: 2 Greens, 1 SNP and 1 from the other parties. MSPs Maggie Chapman, Jackson Carlaw, Claire Baker, Christine Grahame, Alison Johnstone asked Priti Patel to designate Holyrood a “protected site” to allow police to remove demonstrators in “the interests of national security”. (See actual legislation red below.) I repeat, this request came from our elected representatives accountable to us when we are not in a war situation.

The SPCB’s excuse that the legislation will not affect ‘peaceable’ protest is bunkum. All it takes is one individual sent to cause a ruckus among a group and the police can arrest the lot. If they do not like the look of a demonstration they will need no other excuse to move them on.

An immature administration

This is the act of a weak, frightened, immature government acting against the people. While ‘free’ speech is something of a myth – all speech carries responsibility – the assembly of lawful protest is a cornerstone of a democracy. Closing down dissent has been an accelerating trend pushed by Nicola Sturgeon’s administration for the reason of dominating political progress.

From Internet pile-ons against individuals disliked by the party, including SNP’s own MPs and MSPs, to SNP organised newspaper campaigns vilifying private citizens who use social sites, the SNP has become the party of intolerance, of exclusion. This is the hallmark of a political leader struggling to contain a rise in noisy unpopularity. The malady is of her own making. In this regard, and with a majority augmented by the Green Party, it puts the SNP in the same dishonorable category as Boris Johnson’s far-right corrupt gang, governance by the elite.

Get aff the SNP’s grund!

From next month it will be a criminal offence to remain on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority” punishable by a £5000 fine or a year in jail after a conviction. This could apply to breaking up short-term protests, as well as preventing people setting up camps in the grounds, such as the pro-independence camp evicted in 2016. Women’s groups demanding protection of their rights are as vulnerable to arrest as much as one old man waving a stick.

The change, which will apply to all the landscaped grounds and ‘ponds’ area where most protests take place, (see map below), brings Holyrood into line with Westminster and the Welsh Senedd. As a separate nation with its own law and police force, the question arises, will Scotland’s electorate stomach this official move to censor political speech? So far, England has seen marches in its main cities, riots in Bristol.

Defining para-martial law

A friend asked me to define my profound objection to the draconian curfew. The move to block the right to protest outside our own parliament is a seriously mistaken principle. It assumes anything anybody has to say that is counter to acceptable orthodoxy is hate speech or ugly. Such laws are used to keep one section of society dominant, in this case Scottish National Party officials.

If implemented, that is the way the law will continue to be used, gathering adherents as events progress. There are plenty of act-tough members of the public who welcome severe authoritarian measures, hoping a whip hand keeps people, wives and dogs in line.

People who think censorship a healthy thing want a quiet life. This is a tactical mistake for it frustrates the dissident. The remedy is to find where the concerns come from, their roots, and offer a solution. A democracy accepts you have to listen to your opponent’s argument and learn how to fix it. By silencing honest protest and imprecise ‘hate speech’, you amplify its appeal. Instead of fining the human rights activist Craig Murray, he was given a ludicrously long sentence in prison, thus making an elderly man, a non-criminal, into a public martyr of international interest.

Banning demonstration because they upset people is infantile. The intended effect of protest is to disrupt but also to raise awareness of injustice. Restricting protests based on an undefined noise limit or visual clutter, is a clear violation of the freedoms of expression and assembly.

Up pops MI5

Only one day after this news broke the Scots-born director of MI5, Ken Douglas MacCallum – there’s always a Scot aiding and abetting the goals of the British state, never enough to run Scotland say our tormentors – was given head billing in the media of iminent terrorist attacks, as if Scotland is a hotbed of terrorist cells waiting to pounce on Stoneybridge Council’s weekly dog litter meetings. (In reality, Scotland has Tory colonial cells all over the place running our institutions or having set up offices, units of control.)

MI5 warnings of exestential threat may be a coincidence, but one can bet one’s last dollar our parliamentarians will incorporate the terrorist excuse for implementing the piss-off, go home or get jailed, laws, around a building where every window is barred with steel ‘staves’. To enforce the loss of rights, our police will be well-and-truly politicised. That is fascist territory.

Nicola is no innocent bystander

Nicola Sturgeon knows about this preposterous withdrawal of our human rights.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body said: “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. Given these factors, the SPCB has, for some time now, been considering options to ensure Parliament’s resilience, including applying for approval under section 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) to be designated as a protected site in the interests of national security. At the SPCB’s meeting on 24 June 2021 we took the decision to proceed with the application for designation to the UK Home Office as the department with responsibility for national security.” 

A time to go

It has become blasé to laugh at demands for the resignation of the First Minister for any old thing that happens to annoy belligerent attention seekers. However, in this instance, if Nicola Sturgeon refuses to condemn the legislation and outlaw it, she should be forced to leave office. The law will breach basic human rights. She is taking Scotland backwards, acting as if Boris Johnson’s stooge in Holyrood.

The last word belongs to a member of the public: “It saddens me that some members of my family are defending this action. Well I’m not, it’s wrong, and it’s the wrong message to send out about our Parliament which should not fear the people” Fiona Grahame

NOTE: Plan of the Scottish Parliament. The area contained within the dotted lines will be off-limits to protestors and political debate, which is to say, our parliament itself. The legislation exploited is: “approval under section 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) to be designated as a protected site in the interests of national security.”


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19 Responses to Locking Down Holyrood

  1. David Holden says:

    I wonder if the first minister has considered a wall topped by razor wire to keep the mob out of Holyrood as it worked so well for East Germany. If so the Irn Bru curtain has a nice ring to it.

  2. Lyn Hay says:

    Locked down? In my old school view the building is so damn ugly it should be locked up in a scrap yard and left for a thousand years until Nicola’s independence day arrives.

    Back on topic, it has always been said (at least in modern times) that policing and the law on this island is consensual. Once the law breaks that consensus then the law itself is broken – as this is just another event, along with GRA etc, that breaks that consensus then they are increasingly making and supporting the argument that fascism is here now. Not just nearly here, but planted firmly and unlit along our common road. If we cannot walk that road without the jackboot coming down, then we will need to look for a different road to reach the destination of a country liberated from all the myriad sources of this dark fascism.

    I am not saying we should raise the sword as the Bruce did, but if we are not to betray both our forebears and ourselves we need to make moves that are both smart and victorious.

  3. Derek Cameron says:

    Par for the course in the land of malicious prosecution and the jailing of citizen journalists.

  4. Ronnie Mcneill says:

    “Such laws are used to keep one section of society dominant, in this case Scottish National Party officials”
    This, in a nut shell.

  5. imacg says:

    A sad state of affairs for a forward looking Independent Scotland. How has it got to this, nobody voted for this drastic lurch to the right and on into fascism. They seem to forget that it is we the people who are Sovereign, and this will be their downfall. Resistance is futile, criticism is not valid, says the leader, well we shall see..

  6. Jane Tallents says:

    Alison Johnson, chair of the Corporate Body – responsible for this nonsense, says that the change brings Holyrood into line with Westminster. I don’t know who was giving them advice but that’s not true. In fact when SOCPA was introduced in 2005 it made protest within a km of Westminster illegal unless you applied for police permission at least a week in advance. However, it was repealed in 2011 after it was shown to be unworkable. Mark Thomas organised mass ‘lone demos’ peaking with 2,486 demo’s within the SOCPA Zone in one day! That was more paperwork than the police wanted to deal with!

    Now provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 create a ‘controlled area’ area around the Westminster parliament where the unauthorised use of loudspeakers, the erecting of tents and the use of ‘sleeping equipment’ is prohibited and the Byelaws of the Greater London Authority (GLA) require protestors to seek written permission from the GLA to hold a demonstration on Parliament Square Garden….. but it’s NOT SOCPA!

  7. Grouse Beater says:

    SOCPA laid the template, the GLA refined it, Holyrood wishes to emulate it. Like the GLA , the SNP will create their own specific legislation.

  8. Midgehunter says:

    I entirely agree that the law is the immature, childish response to the challenge that the people do not like the direction being taken regarding women’s Rights/Trans takeover. The “Weeshters” have the Right to demonstrate and make clearly their views directly to the SNP and SG, even if that means parking yourself right in front of the building and “voicing” their opinion.

    At the last election, the SNP was given a long length of rope and it looks to me, with shenanigans like this, as if they are rapidly and surely pulling the knot tighter and tighter round their necks.

    The question is, when will the neck crack? (Answer – not soon enough)

    NB. I do quite like the building, it has a modern, international design which would make a very fine Art Gallery for the Scottish Modern Art Collections. Tourists would love the place..! Think of some of the great art museums of the world, maybe the Guggenheim in Bilbao…

    Here in Frankfurt we have the “Museumsufer”, about a dozen museums all dotted along the side of the river. Including the German Film Museum and the “Städel”.

  9. katielass04 says:

    Soooo – would this have happened had Sturgeon not totally refused to work with Alex Salmond, NO ‘SNP1&ALBA2′ allowing 64 unionists in to do damage – just such as this?? The Corporate Body is basically unionist (Greens’ first priority ISN’T independence). Sturgeon would have known of this plan when she made her pact with the Greens – she knew they’d vote for the right of free speech to be denied the people of Scotland & yet she went ahead with it.

    Sturgeon is not blameless in this law being requested by WM and being passed in HR. And still she sits, quite happy to allow it to happen without ordering her troops out of WM &/or pressing ahead with Indy.. In fact, I’m reading that the noises coming out of SNP Conference is that Indy 2023 is going to be kicked into touch – again. Wow! Who saw THAT coming!

    Thank you for summation, GB. Your thoughts on it reflect my own. This was planned, asked for awhile ago & Scots were not told it was ‘in the works’. More legislation slipping under the wire that Scotland is having NO say on. Typical of our present government.

  10. duncanio says:

    This does not come as a surprise. Control and coercion have become the defining hallmark of this supposed Scottish government.

    Imagine: OUR government – and with 3 delegates on the SPCB being members it is OUR government – pleading with one of the most morally repugnant members of a frothing British Nationalist government, allegedly the sworn enemy, to impose the law of another land on ours and to shut down the right to protest!

    One of the main reasons for having our own government is that the would be accountable to the people and that we could give them a rhetorical kick up the backside when they deserved it. Now they are the untouchables or at least they wish to be.

    Orwell’s dark allegorical retrospective on the betrayal of the Russian revolution is pertinent to Sturgeon’s Scotland. It’s hard to credit but there it is – the elitist pigs are now fully attired in suits, shirts and ties right enough.

  11. maceasy says:

    What a perfect illustration of the now paranoid bunker mentality of Sturgeon and her crew. There has been no known activity in these precincts which would justify such a draconian move, or the threat of one. There is an enormous symbolic importance of the building and its grounds as the seat of our (supposed) democracy, and it is the natural venue for people to attempt to make their voice heard. They couldn’t have made a more damning statement about their opinion of political demonstrations which will make the news, and thus make them uncomfortable. Their reaction to legitimate criticism and scrutiny has been consistent in its hostility to those who do it, from setting the police on to them to the manufacturing of false evidence and the exploitation of dubious law.
    This move just says everything about their assumption of a divine right to rule, without opposition or criticism. Had there been incidents to justify such a ban, which should have been temporary anyway, there might have been some justification. As it is, there is none, and how typical – they refuse to give any such justification, but hide behind Westminster yet again and nebulous claims of ‘security’. Shame on them.

  12. urapps says:

    Not surprised as inside the building has been off-limits to political debate for some time.

  13. twathater says:

    As a taxpayer of 70 who has paid taxes ALL his working life I am outraged and incandescent that these contemptible arseholes had the audacity to even consider this appropriate , WTF do they think they are ,THEY are our employees and THEY are needing a very rude awakening , TBQH although I consider the building ugly , I consider the buildings occupiers of ALL the parties even UGLIER , again TBQH IMO the building needs demolished and a real SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT erected with every current occupant banned for life from entering the new parliament , the existing administration building is like a BOIL that has an indelible imprint and reminder of the colonialist mindset that resides within its very existence and the purpose it was built to instill

  14. I think the characterisation of ScotGov as innocent naive and a wee but scared of the big boys in the government playground is perfect. This lot is composed of mediocre functionaries who have neither the imagination nor intelligence to do anything but kowtow to whomsoever they feel will benefit them. I find it difficult to believe that the proto-fascism being woven into both public discourse of social policy is deliberate; I continue to see it as an inability to recognise that actions have different consequences from what was intended, but surely they must understand that banning demonstrations is regressive and not particularly democratic …. they cannot be that stupid, can they?

  15. diabloandco says:

    Good to see you at the conference receiving your lifetime membership presentation.
    Well deserved.

  16. Grouse Beater says:

    Was in two minds, it blows my cover and Covid! Knew only hours before. Long drive Edinburgh to Greenock. Had SNP offered similar I’d have accepted it as their idea of reconciliation!

  17. William Reynolds says:

    As someone who has done many demo’s as a steward for AUOB, Now Scotland and not so long ago Women wont wheest I can only look apon this as an attack on my rights and others to protest against unjust/unfair laws that continue to erode and destroy the reputation of Scotland.

  18. George Anderson says:

    Empires have always retained control by using those natives anxious to receive the accolade such as Citizenship of Rome.
    They look like us, they speak in our tongue….BUT

    When She took down the Saltires in Bute House for the first visit by Boris my last doubt was removed. We have a Vichy French Government model ( classed on wiki as a – Unitary authoritarian dictatorship)

    This legislation is a dreadful insult to the Sovereign People of Scotland.. I have no doubt who the controlling mind this is!

    To ask Patel to provide the power an insult.

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