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MSP: Anti-monarchy arrests raise ‘questions’ over anti-abortion protest stance

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay is spearheading new laws on buffer (Katharine Hay/PA)
Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay is spearheading new laws on buffer (Katharine Hay/PA)

The handling of anti-monarchy protesters in recent weeks raises “interesting questions” when compared to cases of anti-abortion gatherings, a Scottish Greens MSP has said.

Gillian Mackay is spearheading proposals to bring in buffer zones around healthcare facilities which offer abortion services in order to prevent women from being harassed by protesters.

There have also been calls for police action against the demonstrations – but Police Scotland has previously stated it has a “duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the rights of people who wish to peacefully protest or counter-protest balanced against the rights of the wider community”.

However, the force has received criticism after a number of people protesting against the monarchy were arrested during events to commemorate the death of the Queen.

During the proclamation of King Charles III in Edinburgh, a 22-year-old woman was arrested in connection with a breach of the peace. A 22-year-old man was arrested in connection with the same offence after the Duke of York was heckled as he walked in a procession with the Queen’s coffin in the city.

A third man, 74, pleaded guilty to breach of the peace near the Palace of Holyroodhouse and received a £350 fine, and other incidents received publicity.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “The Chief Constable will provide an update on Operation Unicorn at the Scottish Police Authority Board meeting on September 29.”

Ms Mackay, speaking to the PA news agency, said such incidents “raise interesting questions about the balance there”.

“Certainly, some of the things that we’ve seen reported on social media and things would cause a lot of people concern,” she said, “and I would not be surprised if people were questioning why this can happen in one situation and not another, and I think that’s definitely something that the police need to address fully.”

The Central Scotland MSP also said she is “confident” that her proposed Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill will pass, citing backing from the Scottish Government and MSPs across the chamber.

She told PA: “I think the the number of MSPs potentially opposing it, for whatever reason, will be quite small.

“And so my expectation at the moment is absolutely this it will pass. The biggest hurdle for it, actually, is any legal challenge rather than getting it through the parliamentary process.

“One of the things we need to keep an eye on within parliament is how long it takes to come forward, and making sure that it is tight and robust and does exactly what we need it to do.”

A public consultation on the plans received more than 12,000 responses by the time it closed last month.

Ms Mackay says she hopes to “continue to make good progress” on the process over the next few weeks and publish the findings “as quickly as possible”, before releasing a final proposal to MSPs.

In the meantime, she added, it is important that the country doesn’t “lose momentum” on buffer zones and access to reproductive healthcare in general.