Strathclyde Police
Question Time — Scottish Executive
2:15 pm

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Patrick Harvie (Green)

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is satisfied with Strathclyde Police's approach to policing non-violent protest. (S3O-6783)

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Kenny MacAskill (Scottish National Party)

Yes, we are. Policing requires a balance between protecting the right to non-violent protest and the right of members of the wider community to go about their daily lives without disruption. I am satisfied that the Scottish police service, in conjunction with local authorities and other partner agencies, works hard to maintain that balance.

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Patrick Harvie (Green)

In recent weeks, a number of police forces south of the border—including the Metropolitan Police—and now Strathclyde Police have been caught deploying some pretty dodgy tactics. That has been going on for years, but they are now being caught on camera or audio because of the proliferation of technology in the hands of citizens.

Is the cabinet secretary really saying that he is satisfied with the idea that non-violent, peaceful protesters should be the subject of attempts to bribe, intimidate and threaten? Are there not some tactics that, although they may be legitimate in the pursuance of combating serious crime, are quite inappropriate when it comes to political, non-violent protest?

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Kenny MacAskill (Scottish National Party)

As I said in response to the initial question, it is a matter of balancing the rights of individual citizens with the broader rights of our communities. Irrespective of the nature of protests, they can have huge implications. We have seen the effects that they can have at airports, for example. We must ensure that the response by the police is proportionate and that their actions are subject to scrutiny and review. That is the case under RIPSA and RIPA—the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Such matters are subject to overall scrutiny not just by myself, in respect of some areas, but by commissioners in other areas.

Mr Harvie refers to events south of the border, and those matters must be addressed there, but whatever difficulties we might have—occasionally, officers, like politicians, make judgments that go wrong or that are perhaps inappropriate—we are well served by our police. They act proportionately, and I believe that the actions that they take continue to maintain that balance between rights and broader responsibilities.

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Bill Aitken (Conservative)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, historically, the reaction of the Scottish police has been entirely proportionate in such cases? Does he also agree that, because occasionally—I stress occasionally—those who seek to demonstrate are prepared to take extreme measures, the police have every justification in trying to get intelligence regarding demonstrations and some of the tactics that might be adopted at them?

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Kenny MacAskill (Scottish National Party)

Absolutely. I am more than happy to confirm that, and I am on record as frequently praising our police service, who do an excellent job protecting our communities. Sometimes, protests that initially appear peaceful result in significant consequences for communities.

We are at the stage of the calendar when the so-called marching season is about to begin. Those events are viewed by many as part of the right of individuals to proclaim things that they claim to be part of their history. Equally, they can have significant effects and be disturbing, if not threatening, to individuals. Those are matters of balance that must be considered not only by the police and local authorities. As a Government, we believe that such events are dealt with proportionately and appropriately, and we will continue to work with and support the police and local authorities.