In 2015 I was invited by the Scottish Government to provide independent advice on marches, parades and static demonstrations in Scotland. My Report in 2016
reflected wide-ranging and positive conversations with the three key parties in the marches and parades process – those seeking to march, parade or demonstrate and those tasked with facilitating and policing such events. That report concluded by emphasising the fact that most marches and parades in Scotland, including those seen by a wider public as 'controversial', are professionally conducted, facilitated, and policed.
In 2019 the Scottish Government asked me to review progress made on the recommendations from my 2016 report and to identify any emerging issues impacting on processes relating to marches, parades and static demonstrations in Scotland. Having done so, I am very happy to restate my earlier conclusions: the majority of such events in Scotland continue to be carried out with a strong sense of procedural goodwill and civic responsibility. The exceptions - where such events cause serious difficulties – are, thankfully, relatively rare, and these exceptions should not distract us from the wider, and positive, picture.
I am deeply grateful for the time, honesty and generosity of all those individuals and organisations who shared their experience and views with me. I hope that I have done justice to their expertise in this report. I am also very grateful to the Community Safety team at the Scottish Government for their professionalism and collegiality in supporting my work.
This report aims to contribute in a constructive manner to the good running of marches, parades and static demonstrations in Scotland. Such events offer a litmus test of our democracy: the freedom to assemble and express opinion, whilst respecting the freedoms and rights of others, is a difficult balance to achieve. The aim must always be the best achievable balance between the rights of those assembling and marching, and the rights of the wider communities they impact upon. Rights never can, nor should, be absolute: they must always take into account the rights of others.
My conclusions to this report echo those of my Report of 2016. In particular I emphasise the crucial importance that 'the good relations, constructive dialogue and trust built up between parading organisations, local authorities and the police [should] be built upon further and not lost'.
Dr Michael Rosie
Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh