HOLYROOD bosses have refused to back down over plans to give the parliament and its grounds the same security designation as Buckingham Palace and Faslane. 

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) insisted the change would only see police remove protesters in “a small number of the most exceptional circumstances”.

SPCB member Claire Baker told fellow MSPs that demonstrations would still be allowed, and denied the parliament was seeking to curb or limit protests.

However Green MSP Gillian Mackay, who raised the issue in an urgent question, continued to demand a rethink and said the new measure “could not be justified”.

It followed a growing row over the SPCB deciding in June to ask the Home Office to make Holyrood and its grounds a “designated site” on national security grounds.

It means that from October 1, it will be an offence to be on the parliamentary estate “without lawful authority”, potentially punishable by a year in jail or a £5000 fine on conviction.

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, who chairs the SPCB, only announced the move last week, after an order had already been laid under serious crime legislation.

She said the move brought Holyrood into line with Westminster and the Welsh Senedd.

However she failed to mention that most of the sites with designated status are military.

They include the Faslane submarine base on the Clyde, the neary Coulport nuclear arms depot, the Porton Down research labs, and British Armed Forces HQ at Northwood.

Also classed as designated sites are around a dozen RAF bases, four bases run by the Government electronic spying agency GCHQ, and the Ministry of Defence.

Other sites include Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St James’s Palace, Sandringham, Downing Street and the Prime Minister’s country retreat at Chequers.

The SPCB last week refused to publish the background paper on why Holyrood was being put on the same footing, however the Home Office memorandum accompanying the Commons order gives more information.

It states: “Once designated, it will be a criminal offence for persons to enter or be on this site without lawful authority of the SPCB.  

“The Scottish Parliament is at the heart of democracy in Scotland

“It is in the interests of national security that the integrity and stability of the Scottish Parliament is protected so it can continue to meet uninterrupted, and as required, to exercise its essential legislative and scrutiny functions. 

“This designation will help ensure the continued safe and secure operation of these democratic functions by mitigating the growing security threat to the Scottish Parliament site and to the personal security of Members of the Scottish Parliament, its staff and contractors. 

“This growing security threat has been characterised by an increasing level of disruptive protests across the site, including accessing unauthorised areas whereby essential parliamentary business has been interrupted and the security of the building potentially compromised; a rise in threatening correspondence to Members; and the risk from international terrorism targeting critical civic functions. 

“The proposed legislation will provide the Police with an additional power of arrest if a person enters or remains on the site without lawful authority. 

“This designation will deter intrusion and mitigate the increased security threat.” 

Only Green MSP Maggie Chapman objected to the pan at the Juen SPCB, but did not press it to a vote as she was clearly outnumbered by the four other MSPs on it.

At Holyrood today, Ms Mackay asked the SPCB to drop its plan and asked it to publish the background paper behind it.

Replying for the cross-party group, Ms Baker said: “On behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body I welcome the opportunity to correct some of the significant misunderstandings and inaccuracies regarding our decision to seek designated status for the parliamentary estate that have been reported and commented upon.

“The SPCB takes its responsibility to provide a safe and welcoming parliamentary estate very seriously. As you all know, the parliament welcomes and facilitates thousands of protests all year round as an essential part of the expression of democracy in Scotland, and I categorically assure parliament and the public this will not change.

“Corporate body members considered a paper and received a comprehensive briefing from Police Scotland and had opportunity for full discussion. The decision to seek designated status was unanimous and no member requested that this decision be put to a vote.

“In applying for designated status, we are not seeking to curb or limit protests.

“The reasons for applying for designated status is to give the parliament the means to address protests by individuals where they try to prevent parliament from meeting to carry out its essential role, who seek to interfere with the rights of other to engage at Holyrood, or where their actions make it unsafe for others.

“Unfortunately parliament has experienced this kind of disruption impacting on its democratic role. In taking the decision for applying for designated  status, the SPCB has listened closely to police advice, we have considered the experience of several other parliaments, such as Westminster and Wales, where the same measure is available.

“After very careful consideration we were assured that this measure offered additional support which will only be used in a small number of the most exceptional circumstances, which cannot be resolved by the usual means via our on-site security and Police Scotland.

“In practice, we are assured the Corporate Body will be consulted and engaged on any circumstances where the designation will be used, and as the chamber knows, the corporate body does not publish papers which include security advice.”

Ms Mackay said said: “Colleagues will recognise the significant concern around the change in status of the Scottish Parliament estate from 1st October, which will criminalise forms of peaceful protest. Unfortunately, statements from the SPCB have failed to recognise this.

“I know many MSPs have joined protests outside this parliament, as I have, for a whole range of issues. Protest is a fundamental part of our democracy and the Scottish Parliament should be open, accessible, and welcoming of peaceful protest.

“Can I ask the SPCB to reconsider this decision which I don’t believe can be justified.”

Ms Baker replied: “I will make it very clear that this measure will not criminalise protesters who come to put their case outside parliament.

“I myself have been on many marches and demonstrations all my life, and I would not support measures that would curtail them. They are a vital part of our democracy and I fully support people’s right to protest at this parliament.

“This is about protecting the functions of the parliament, our ability to conduct business, the health and safety of all who come here, including our parliament security staff, and being cognisant of the impact on the public purse of the current limited options which are available to us.” 

Ms Mackay went on: “I also have concerns about how this process has been conducted. The minutes of the SPCB’s meeting on the 24th June note that the SPCB discussed the matter, and highlight that concerns were raised by [Green] Maggie Chapman MSP.

“The minutes make no mention of consulting MSPs, nor the public, and in fact MSPs were not even informed of the change until legislation had already been laid in the Commons. 

“The controversy around this matter could have been avoided if the SPCB had adopted a more transparent approach, in line with the Scottish Parliament’s key principles of accountability and open participation.”

Ms Baker replied: “Members of the CB have a responsibility to make decisions on behalf of parliament in certain circumstances. This is often where it includes the security of the parliament and secure advice that we receive from Police Scotland. 

“We had a very thorough debate at the corporate body. There was no member who proposed that we had a vote. We listened very carefully to the arguments that were made. “We expressed some of the concerns that have been raised by members and we were satisfied with the answers that we received that this was the correct course of action to take.”