Regulations threaten future of Borders Common Ridings and festivals

WITH the Border Common Riding and Summer Festival season well upon us, the Government is being urged not to burden volunteer organisers with more regulations and red tape.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 23rd June 2010, 12:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2010, 12:21 pm

Political pressure has been mounting throughout the year for events such as the Border Common Ridings to be exempt from controversial legislation, enacted four years ago, to control and curb the violent excesses of sectarian marches in west and central Scotland.

This week Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont hosted a meeting in the Scottish Parliament with representatives from a number of Border Common Riding and Summer Festival committees, and the community safety minister Fergus Ewing MSP, to discuss concerns over an increasing amount of regulation which is affecting the organisation of such events.

Mr Lamont said: "I was pleased that the Minister agreed to meet with representatives from a number of the Common Riding and Festival Committees.

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It was certainly a constructive meeting.

"There is a great deal of frustration over the extra regulations which now affect the organisation of these events and the Minister listened positively to the points made in the meeting.

"It is important to remember that the people who organise these events are volunteers and the Government should be wary of burdening them with even more regulations."

The legal requirements were introduced to address disorder associated with some of the more controversial marches in urban parts of Scotland.

But major disorder has never been a factor in the processions which have taken place in the Borders, where ridings and processions are of a celebratory and commemorative nature.

Some organisers claim that the legislation takes no account of the unique, cultural and historic nature of the Border common ridings and festivals, some of which go back hundreds of years, and Mr Lamont believes the legislation is "simply not appropriate" for the Border events.

He explained: "The legislation was designed for the policing of marches and parades in the West of Scotland which have a history of disorder.

"To apply the rules in the same way for Borders Common Ridings is simply not appropriate. Furthermore, there is the possibility that these organisations might have to pay large fees to obtain road traffic orders in future years.

"The Minister agreed that this was not acceptable and would investigate this further."

In April Scottish Borders Council agreed that leader David Parker, who believed that the legislation had not been "well thought through", and Kenneth Gunn, representing the opposition SNP group at Newtown, should write directly to Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill MSP, stressing the case for the region's historic events to be excused from the bureaucratic burdens explicit in the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2008.

The decision came after Mr Gunn urged the council to approach their counterparts in neighbouring Dumfries and Galloway with a view to making a joint representation demanding exemptions for common ridings.