Bid to evict pro-independence camp outside Holyrood hits legal delay

Nationalists likely to remain outside parliament for several more weeks as court date is set.

Staying put: Independence campaigners have set up camp outside Scottish Parliament. <strong>STV</strong>
Staying put: Independence campaigners have set up camp outside Scottish Parliament. STV

The Scottish Parliament’s bid evict nationalists illegally camping on its grounds has been delayed.

It is likely the pro-independence group will remain outside Holyrood for several more weeks as the court date was set for an attempt to remove them.

The group has refused to leave unless Scotland is granted a second independence referendum.

On Tuesday, at a hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, a judge gave the Sovereign Indigenous People of Scotland group more time to prepare its response and set a date of March 9 for further discussions.

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Several tents, caravans and a trailer make up the camp, with up to 20 protesters there at a time.

They say they intend to remain until the country becomes independent. Voters rejected that proposal by 55% to 45% in the independence referendum in 2014.

The Court granted a motion on Tuesday which allows a period of 4 weeks for written arguments to be revised and has set a date of March 9 for a hearing to determine further procedure.

The procedural hearing in March is a precursor to a further hearing, at a later date, where the substantive arguments of the case will be heard.

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A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “We recognise the importance of peaceful protests in a democratic society.

“However, by seeking to occupy this land on a long-term basis and refusing our request to vacate, we had no alternative but to commence legal proceedings.

“The parliament makes its land available for the use and enjoyment of everyone equally, and we cannot permit its exclusive use by one particular group. We welcome the progress made today towards a resolution of the issue.”

In a letter to MSPs last month, Scottish Parliament chief executive Paul Grice said: “Over the last week we have seen a gradual increase in the size and scale of the camp with the arrival of a caravan, cars and the use of petrol/diesel generators, lighting and fire braziers.

“The protesters have made it clear that they intend to camp indefinitely on parliament land without permission and will not consider alternative options such as the organisation of a series of one-day protests outside the building.

“There are many ways groups and individuals can engage with the parliament and make their views known.

“However, the occupation of a public space on an exclusive basis and to the exclusion of others is not a precedent that the corporate body wishes to see established.

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“In addition, the presence of a permanent camp advocating a particular position is at odds with our policy on the use of parliamentary resources under which we aim to maintain a politically-neutral position.

“While our strong preference was to resolve the issue through mutual agreement, it is clear that we must consider alternative routes to return this land to public use.

“We have been in discussions with our legal advisers and now believe we have sufficient grounds to pursue a legal remedy to the situation.”