The National that campaigners against fracking are among the peaceful, democratic campaigners who have been labelled by Police Scotland as “domestic extremists”. We have known for years that environmental campaigners, along with peace activists and others, have in the past been spied on or infiltrated by police forces in the United Kingdom, including in Scotland. This statement of current practice, however, is shocking.
Anti-fracking campaigners who exercise their democratic right to protest are heroes, yet Police Scotland is labelling them as “domestic extremists”. When did the First Minister or her Cabinet Secretary for Justice become aware of this, and what action has the Government taken to address it?
First, I absolutely support the right of peaceful democratic protest. I have taken part in many peaceful democratic protests, including at Faslane against nuclear weapons. I will defend the right of people to demonstrate, whether they are protesting against fracking or nuclear weapons or anything else. As long as they do that peacefully and democratically, I defend their right to do so. It is for the police to answer for the operational decisions that they take, but that is my view. I am happy to state that view unequivocally today.
We should not accept that this is merely an operational matter. If individuals, campaign groups and communities cannot peacefully campaign on issues that matter in our society without being labelled as “domestic extremists”—the same category used to describe the threat that is posed by racist and fascist forces in our society—it strikes at the heart of the relationship between policing and the public. That is clearly a political question.
The First Minister mentioned Faslane. This weekend, I will join members of my party, as well as members of the Scottish National Party and, I am sure, Labour and many others, at Faslane again to protest about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, just as people have worked across party lines to oppose blood sports, environmental destruction, asylum evictions and more. The right to do so freely is fundamental to a democratic society.
Can the First Minister give an assurance that campaigners at Faslane on Saturday will not be designated as “domestic extremists” merely for attending a peaceful rally?
Let me give my view. If I were to start to speak in the chamber on behalf of Police Scotland, there would be all sorts of justifiable and legitimate criticisms of me for doing so. I am happy to ask the chief constable on behalf of Police Scotland to address the point that Patrick Harvie has raised.
To return to my view on the issue, I do not consider people who protest against nuclear weapons, fracking or anything else in a peaceful and democratic way to be extremists in any sense, and I would not expect anybody to consider them to be extremists.
Patrick Harvie is absolutely right to say that peaceful protest is a fundamental part of democracy. People should have the right to protest, as long as they do so peacefully. That applies to the people who will be at Faslane on Saturday. I wish them well. I look forward to the day when there are no nuclear weapons on Scottish soil at Faslane, and the sooner that day arrives, the better. The right to protest also applies to people protesting against fracking or campaigning on any other issue. That is my very firm view, and one that I hope has the support of members across the chamber.