By Kirsty Topping
THE Queen’s annual garden party in Scotland faces disruption by gay students protesting against a controversial knighthood.
Up to 4,000 students will gather outside the Royal event in Edinburgh next month to oppose the honour for businessman Brian Souter.
Next month’s party, held in the grounds of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is one the biggest social events on the annual Scottish calendar.
But many Scottish students are outraged that Mr Souter, the co-founder of Stagecoach, is to be honoured by the Queen.
Gay rights campaigners remain furious at Souter for his 2000 campaign against the scrapping of a law which prevented teachers
The protesters will gather outside the Scottish Parliament on July 5 to
“chant and sing’, just yards from route some 8,000 party guests will take in to the palace.
Police and council chiefs said they were aware of the protest but said it did not need permission because no march was planned.
Organiser Nathan Sparling, spokesman for the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland on gay issues, said it was
“unacceptable’ that Souter had been honoured.
He said: “The ideal situation is that everyone in the Garden Party will be speaking about our protest.
“The real purpose is to raise awareness of the campaign and the issues that surround it. “
Mr Sparling added: “Honouring [Mr Souter] in this manner is disgraceful, and we urge all people who abhor discrimination to join us on 5 July and sign the petition calling on Brian Souter’s knighthood to be withdrawn.”
“Souter ploughed money into producing propaganda for the “Keep the Clause” campaign in 2000 in order to persuade the country to keep Section 28, which stopped schools introducing anti-homophobic bullying policies and banned local authorities from ‘intentionally promoting’ homosexuality.”
The protest is part of a growing backlash among the gay community over Souter’s honour. Thousands have already signed a petition calling for him to have his knighthood withdrawn.
Tim Hopkins, of the Equality Network, said:
“The [section 28 campaign] campaign, with its strident billboards all over Scotland, caused huge distress and damaged Scotland’s reputation for fairness and equality.
But independent MSP Margo MacDonald said the students
“would not impress visiting dignitaries’ with their protest and suggested they find other ways to voice their opinions.
“While I’m not enamored of the honours system I think Brian Souter is no worse or better a candidate for the honour he’s got than many more candidates that have received one.
“He has put lots of his own money into charities. I think that the group who are organising the protest could maybe find better ways, more appropriate ways to get their point across. “
Buckingham Palace refused to confirm whether Mr Souter will be a guest at the garden party.
A police spokesman said: “We are aware of this planned protest and we are in liaison with the organisers to ensure the appropriate resources are in place to facilitate any peaceful demonstration.”
Edinburgh Council said protesters had no legal obligation to warn them of the rally as protesters would not be marching.
Souter spent 1m funding a poll on the repeal of Clause 28 the Local Government Act 1988.
A third of registered voters responded and the results showed 86.8% were in favour of keeping Section 28, and 13.2% favoured repeal.
The act was eventually repealed in Scotland in June 2000.
Souter received his title in the Queen’s birthday honours or his services to transport and the voluntary sector.
He co-founded Stagecoach with his sister, Ann Gloag, in 1980 and the company now has 35,000 employees and an annual turnover of more than 2bn.
The garden party is held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse every July.
Around 8000 guests descend on Edinburgh in their finery to meet the Queen.
They consume around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake served up by 400 waiting staff.
Mr Souter declined to comment.