The rules at Holyrood are “not fit for purpose” and must be overhauled to allow wife- beating MSP Bill Walker to be ejected from office, protest groups said yesterday.
The Dunfermline MSP has refused to resign his seat despite public pressure and a motion signed by 91 MSPs demanding his immediate departure from the Scottish Parliament.
About 200 campaigners were joined by MSPs for a rally outside Holyrood yesterday to heap pressure on Walker to step down, as parliament returned from its summer recess.
Walker, 71, was found guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last month of 23 charges of assault against his three ex-wives and a step-daughter from 1967 to 1995.
He was not at Holyrood yesterday – it is understood Walker has told Holyrood’s authorities he will not attend parliament until after 20 September, when he is due to be sentenced.
Members and supporters of Scottish Women’s Aid, the National Union of Students Scotland Women’s Campaign and Zero Tolerance gathered for a rally at Holyrood yesterday.
Jenny Kemp, co-ordinator for Zero Tolerance, told the rally: “We’re here … to send that very strong message to Mr Walker: you are not fit to be an MSP. Your presence in the parliament demeans it. Mr Walker, you have no integrity. You must resign.
“The second reason we’re here is to show that parliament’s procedures are not fit for purpose and must change. We need the parliament to be thinking of whatever ways it can, whatever means it has at its disposal, to ask Mr Walker to resign.”
Under the rules, any elected member jailed for more than one year is disqualified from sitting as an MSP. But in summary cases, the maximum sentence that can be handed down is one year, allowing Walker to remain an MSP even if he is jailed.
A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “Section 15 of the Scotland Act 1998 sets down the rules on disqualification of MSPs. As part of those rules, it applies the Representation of the People Act 1981 to MSPs. Any changes to the rules on disqualification are a matter for the UK parliament.”
Stacey Devine, NUS Scotland women’s officer, said: “We’re here to send a clear-cut message to Bill Walker that he’s not fit for office and he should not have the privilege of actually representing the people of Fife.”
Ruth Thomson, of Fife Women’s Aid, told the rally that abused women in Walker’s constituency did not want him to remain as their MSP.
MSPs from across the political spectrum joined the protest, among them Labour’s Richard Simpson and Jackie Baillie; the SNP’s Christina McKelvie and Aileen Campbell; Conservative Alex Johnstone; and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who lodged the motion calling for Walker’s resignation.
In parliament later, Mr Rennie said: “Too many women, and men, suffer behind closed doors and often in silence.
“We should use this unanimity as a stimulus for a new, concerted campaign against domestic violence. With this new session, we should make clear our renewed determination to root out the problem.”
Former SNP MSP Walker, of Alloa in Clackmannanshire, who was ejected from the party when the allegations surfaced, denied the charges against him.