The organisation which runs the Scottish Parliament has been asked to rethink a move which could criminalise some forms of peaceful protest at Holyrood.
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) is applying for designated status for the Parliament and its grounds.
The SPCB announced last week it had applied to the Home Office for protected status, which would make it easier to remove and prosecute protesters on the Holyrood campus in extreme cases.
But the decision, which would take effect from next month, has caused controversy, with even one member of the cross-party body breaking ranks.
On Tuesday, Green MSP Gillian Mackay tabled an urgent question to the SPCB, asking for its reasoning.
In response, body member Clare Baker said she was happy to clear up some of the misconceptions about the decision.
“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,” Ms Baker said.
“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 this will not change.”
Ms Baker went on to say the decision was made unanimously by members of the SPCB following consideration of a paper and being briefed by Police Scotland.
However, SPCB member Maggie Chapman, a Green MSP, told the Herald on Sunday newspaper that she made clear her opposition to the measure but a vote was not held because she was the only one with a dissenting view.
Ms Baker continued: “By applying for designated status we are not seeking to curb or limit protest.
“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 right of others to engage at Holyrood or where their actions make it unsafe for others.”
Ms Mackay said: “Colleagues will recognise the significant concern around the change in status of the Scottish Parliament estate from October 1, which will criminalise some forms of peaceful protest we have seen elsewhere such as the reading out of the names of dead soldiers.”
The Green MSP was referencing the case of Maya Anne Evans, who in 2005 read the names of servicemen who had died in Iraq up to that point at the Cenotaph in London.
Ms Evans, then 25, was found guilty under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which had been recently passed, due to being with half a mile of Westminster at the time.
Ms Mackay added: “Protest is a fundamental part of our democracy and the Scottish Parliament should be open, accessible and welcoming of peaceful protest. Can I urge 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 marches and demonstrations all my life and I would not support measures to curtail them, they are a vital part of our democracy and I fully support people’s right to protest at this parliament.”