HOLYROOD bosses are scrambling to quell a growing revolt over plans to expose protesters to the threat of criminal prosecution.

The Scottish Parliament last night insisted it had not banned demonstrations, after the Green and Alba parties demanded new enforcement measures be scrapped.

However the parliament confirmed the police would soon have a new power to remove those “who seek to interfere with the rights of others at Holyrood”.

It follows the parliament’s cross-party management group, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), deciding in June to change Holyrood’s legal status.

Despite an objection from Green MSP Maggie Chapman, the SPCB asked the Home Office to designate the parliament and grounds a “protected site” on national security grounds.

From October 1, it will be an offence to be on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority”, punishable to be a £5000 fine or a year in jail upon summary conviction.

Revealing the change last week, the SPCB said it did not “foresee invoking this power frequently, and only in cases where visitors are in breach of the terms and conditions for use of the parliamentary estate”.

However the backlash appears to be mounting regardless, with former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill now urging a rethink of the “shameful” decision.

In a letter to Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, who chaired the June 24 SPCB meeting that approved the change, he urged a rethink the “retrograde step”.

Now the Alba MP for East Lothian, Mr MacAskill wrote: “As a former Justice Secretary and indeed past member of the Corporate Body under Sir George Reid I strongly urge you and your colleagues to reconsider this decision. 

“Restricting the right to peaceful protest on the wider Parliamentary Estate is deeply worrying, as is the request for draconian powers, from the Home Secretary in Whitehall, who has no jurisdiction whatsoever over the criminal justice system in Scotland.  

“Police already have sufficient powers to allow them to police protests and are able to act appropriately to protect the safety of both members and public.

“Scotland has a strong democratic tradition of the peaceful demonstrations, including during the long struggle for the Scottish Parliament itself.  

“Since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the right of the people to protest  against the decisions made by the MSPs they elect has been of fundamental importance to upholding the principle of the sovereignty of the people. 

“Enrique Miralles, the architect of Holyrood, specifically envisaged the area in front of the building for public gathering, protest and debate, echoing the Greek amphitheatres where democracy was born. 

“It is shameful that these spaces are potentially put out of bounds to gatherings and protest. This is a retrograde step isolating the people from those they elect. 

“It is an affront to our democratic traditions and a threat to civil liberties.”

Mr MacAskill’s intervention followed first Ms Chapman and then the whole of the Scottish Green group at Holyrood calling for the change to be abandoned.

Although Westminster and the Welsh Senedd have similar “protected site” status, the Greens said the “whole point of devolution” was to do things differently.

A protest against the change is due to take place at Holyrood on Thursday, with further action planned for October 1, the day it is due to come into effect.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “We need to be categorically clear - this decision will have no bearing on the tens of thousands of people who protest in a robust but peaceful way at Holyrood each year. 

“Such protests are an essential part of the expression of democracy in Scotland.

"There is no prohibition of protest or banning of gatherings.

“Designated status will give the Parliament the means to address individuals who try to prevent Parliament from meeting, or who seek to interfere with the rights of others at Holyrood. Protests remain welcome at Holyrood and will be supported by the SPCB.”