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Saturday, 7 April, 2001, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Protest makes for arresting debate
Demonstrators used plastic ties to attach themselves to the public gallery
Demonstrators tied themselves to the public gallery
By BBC Scotland political correspondent Elizabeth Quigley

It wasn't the first protest at the Scottish Parliament and it definitely won't be the last.

But 11 anti-Trident campaigners tying their hands to the railings in the public gallery was certainly the most disruptive demonstration so far.

Proceedings were halted for 13 minutes while security staff and then police attempted to persuade them to leave before resorting to physically removing them under arrest.

Accessibility was actually meant to be one of the great advantages of devolution.

Instead of a remote government based hundreds of miles away in London, Scotland would have a parliament much closer to the people.

Easy access

Ordinary Scots can bump into politicians as they walk up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, they can lobby MSPs and they can even turn up to have their say at one of the many committee meetings.

But easy access also has its downside.

Members of the public turn up in their hundreds every Wednesday and Thursday to watch the debates and First Minister's Questions attracts some 400 spectators every week.

The parliament's staff insist that they take as many precautions as possible and visitors have to go through stringent checks.

Bags and people have to go through airport-style scanners to check for weapons or dangerous objects - and large rucksacks or bags are not allowed inside the chamber.

The Parliamentary staff insist that they take as many precautions as possible and visitors have to go through stringent checks.

Elizabeth Quigley
But Thursday's protest involved little white plastic ties, a folded-up banner and a chorus of voices - none of which the security guards could realistically have stopped from being brought into the chamber.

An investigation has now been launched into whether any lessons can be learned from the incident.

Questions are also being asked about the behaviour of some MSPs who applauded the protesters from the floor of the chamber and of the SNP MSP Margo MacDonald who even joined them briefly in the public gallery.

The protesters certainly managed to hit the headlines - and overshadowed the afternoon's scheduled contest between the Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace and the deputy SNP leader Roseanna Cunningham over the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Margo MacDonald
Margo MacDonald briefly joined the protest
But was the demonstration really a success?

Apart from attracting attention to their cause, their key aim appeared to be to urge MSPs to debate the issue of nuclear weapons.

But that now appears to have backfired.

Some SNP MSPs had been looking at the possibility of tabling a debate on the issue at some point - but that's now unlikely to go ahead in the near future precisely because it would look like democratically-elected politicians were bowing to disruptive protests.

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See also:

06 Apr 01 | Scotland
MSPs' role in protest probed
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Judges rule Trident not illegal
13 Feb 01 | Scotland
New Trident submarine in service
12 Dec 00 | Scotland
Trident fine deadline for MSP
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