Independence supporters have accused a Scottish government quango of acting unlawfully by denying the use of a park in Edinburgh for what they are calling “the biggest independence rally yet”.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has refused to allow the use of Holyrood Park in Edinburgh to the group All Under One Banner because they do not allow “political events of any nature” to take place on their land.
Martin Keating, convenor of Forward As One, an independent groups involved in the All Under One Banner rally, has hit back at the decision stating that it breaches the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression, thought and conscience and freedom of assembly.
He argued the HES was bound to expect some disruption and have a duty to engage their rights.
It was previously reported that police had signed off on the route with the organisers now facing a race against time to find another public space.
35,000 pro-independence supporters are expected to attend the event on October 6.
Speaking to The Herald he said that the HES is a public authority and so pursuant to the Human Rights Act 1998, it is “unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right”.
Writing to the agency in a letter he said: “Unfortunately the ‘political neutrality’ of a public authority is not one of the reasons for derogation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of those seeking to utilise Holyrood Park.
“There is no provision in law which prevents the use of Holyrood Park, certainly not one which specifies specific provisions for your partisan neutrality.
“AUOB has consistently and openly stated that its events are the engagement of their fundamental human rights under law.
“Denying such rights would be an unacceptable derogation as the refusals of use would be outside of any of the justifiable reason for derogation of those rights.
“Denial of fundamental rights and freedoms under law, particularly considering this particular site is right next to the Scottish Parliament, is not the sort of message that the HES wants to send to the general public. “As a public authority, the HES should be seeking to send the message that it seeks to protect and enhance the rights of the general public.”
It has been suggested by pro-independence organisers that the HES could issue a statement saying that while they do not associate with any political events on their land, it has a duty to freedom of expression.
Commenting on such a proposal, Martin wrote “This, I think you would agree is a reasonable and proportional compromise which protects both the impartiality of the HES and allowing the HES to promote the fact that all are welcome at the site, while allowing the event to go ahead.”
After the HES decision was revealed, organisers had appealed on safety grounds as the route from Edinburgh castle to Holyrood had already been agreed by Police Scotland and Edinburgh Council.
All Under One Banner have urged their Facebook followers to protest against the decision of HES.
HES told AUOB in an email: “As a non-departmental public body Historic Environment Scotland must remain politically neutral at all times and would therefore not permit an event of the nature that has been described to take place on one of our Properties in Care (PiC), in this case Holyrood Park.
“Unfortunately we must turn down political events of any stripe and your event would fall into this category.