Global Policy Forum

Scotland: G8 Protesters


By Alex Bainbridge

Green Left Weekly
July 13, 2005

It began with a protest by parliamentarians from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) on June 30 and continued non-stop until the successful protest of around 10,000 on July 6 — the first day of the G8 summit.

In between, a huge mobilisation of up to 400,000 (police estimated 225,000) in Edinburgh on July 2 and the Live 8 concerts served to ensure that this G8 summit has already achieved broader public exposure than most, even if the liberal politics of Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof fell short of the anti-imperialism the war criminals and exploiters gathered at Gleneagles deserved.

With hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, under the banner of "make poverty history", the July 2 demonstration attracted a broad cross-section of people "from religious groups to samba bands", as Indymedia reported. "The march was set up with staggered start times, but because of the number of people and the tiny exit of the Meadows rally area, those who wanted to start marching at 1pm were still waiting to leave as it neared 4pm."

Scottish Socialist Voice's Jo Harvie described a similar picture: "Legions of coaches lined every pavement edge, pouring their passengers out onto the green of the Meadows. Every train pulling into Waverly station sent another wave of hundreds of people surging across the Bridges, south to the assembly point of the biggest demonstration Scotland has seen in living memory. Peace campaigners, debt campaigners, church congregations and the organised left. Environmentalists, fair trade activists, trade unionists and anti-war campaigners. Grannies, mums, dads and weans. All were united around one common aim — sending an unequivocal message to the eight men that will gather to meet in the opulence of Gleneagles Hotel on Wednesday, that enough is enough, in the 21st century we can make poverty history."

One activist told me that the July 2 demonstration had "fluffy" politics, "as if a bit more aid and the changing of trade laws from within capitalism would be enough to end global poverty". This reflected the liberal politics of the church and NGO organisers.

However the Voice reported that a more radical message was presented from a platform organised by the Stop the War Coalition at the march. Speakers on the platform included environmental campaigner George Monbiot, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter and newly elected Respect MP George Galloway. "Speaker after speaker took up the theme of the link between poverty, globalism and war", the paper reported. "Monbiot denounced the ‘false consensus' behind the [official] march and suggested that Overseas Secretary Hilary Benn who joined the march should have carried a ‘down with me and all I stand for' banner ... Galloway ridiculed the claims by Bob Geldof that [Prime Minister Tony] Blair and [finance minister Gordon] Brown were the Lennon and McCartney of the anti-poverty movement and suggested that Burke and Hare — the infamous Edinburgh grave robbers — was a more apt comparison."

Other events in the week of actions against the G8 included the 5000-strong G8 Alternatives Summit in Edinburgh on July 3. This was one of the largest political meetings that Scotland has ever seen, according to the Voice. "Plenary sessions focused on themes of war, globalisation, the environment and racism and immigration, while dozens of smaller workshops across the city covered issues as diverse as the privatisation of council housing, Coca-Cola's anti-trade union activities in Colombia, the status of minority languages, and agri-business."

The next day (July 4, "independence from America day"), 2000 people gathered to successfully blockade the Faslane nuclear submarine base on the Clyde river. This demonstration — the eighth of its kind since 1999 — was historic, because it was the first to completely close down the base. People came from all over Europe to participate, many looking for more direct action than had been offered by the organisers of the July 2 demonstration. In contrast to the mass arrest policy that usually prevails at Faslane blockades, on this occasion the police contented themselves with asking activists to remove masks.

Activists made an impact again on July 5 when more than 1000 protesters targeted the Dungavel Detention Centre for asylum seekers. Authorities had moved all detainees out of the facility before the protest began — ostensibly for their protection, but more likely to prevent any contact at all between detainees and their supporters on the outside.

Police were heavy handed. SSP parliamentarian Carolyn Leckie was arrested and charged for refusing to allow police to search her handbag. Activists believe that the police actions were intended to intimidate people in the lead-up to the main demonstration at Gleneagles on July 6.

The first challenge on July 6 was to actually get to the protest. The main motorway to Gleneagles was blocked, preventing the timely arrival of anyone coming from Glasgow, Edinburgh or anywhere else to the south of the venue. The bus on which I travelled took almost three hours to make a one-hour journey. Police prevented a number of buses from leaving Edinburgh at all and arrested two activists who had volunteered to liaise with police. Four-hundred people protested against the police decision to prevent the final four buses from leaving Edinburgh, after more than 50 buses had already departed.

Initially police said they would not allow more than 5000 people to protest at the perimeter around the summit, then at 11am — one hour before the protest was due to start — they issued a media alert falsely claiming that the protest had been cancelled. Then, when buses were late to arrive, police tried to insist that the 2000 people who had gathered at the starting point begin the march. Protesters refused to move until the buses arrived.

Media figures and politicians claimed that the local residents of Auchterarder — the town near Gleneagles — didn't want the protesters to come. However, when I arrived I was struck by the large number of buildings — churches, businesses and residences — that sported supportive banners, posters, and photocopied or homemade signs, in most cases reading "make poverty history". Even some of the businesses that were boarded up displayed these signs.

The march involved a broad cross-section of the left, with recognised contingents from every corner of the radical movement including the SSP, the various socialist parties from the rest of Britain, Greens, anarchists, the Stop the War Coalition and various NGOs. People came from all over Europe to be at the protest, and on every leg of the march we were greeted by local residents, waving with smiles on their faces. The march had a festival atmosphere. The anarchist "Clandestine Rebel Insurgent Clown Army" brought colour and humour to the demonstration, while the overall feeling was one of determination to confront the imperialist rulers. "How long is the march?" I heard someone ask at one point. "Until the war is over", was the response.

The march had to proceed through narrow village streets, which caused congestion at the fence blocking the road to the summit site. There were some attempts to break down the fence, but those who wanted to attempt to breach the perimeter fence discovered that a more promising opportunity lay across a nearby oat field. Thousands made the attempt, leading to almost surreal scenes of various groups of protesters, clowns and police traipsing back and forth through the field.

There were two outstanding features of the day. Firstly, the movement won a major victory just by virtue of the fact that the march proceeded at all, against repeated attempts by authorities to deny the right to protest. The Voice's Ken Ferguson hailed the victory for the right to protest against the G8 as "a stunning triumph for those fighting against the capitalist club's policies of poverty and war". He said this was "a direct result of the refusal of the mass movement to back down in the face of threats, bans and demands for insurance payments. In the end, the state had to face the reality that no amount of media scares, police threats or council obstruction would prevent thousands going to Gleneagles to confront the sharp suited warmongers in their plush lair."

The second feature of the day was that the movement succeeded in articulating a radical, anti-capitalist message right at the gates of the G8 meeting. This contrasts dramatically to the hollow pretence of figures like Bono and Geldof, of supposed concern for the world's poor while at the same time dining (literally and figuratively) from the tables of the corporate rich

More Information on NGOs
More Information on the Gleneagles Summit Protests
More Information on the Gleneagles Summit
More Information on NGOs and Social & Economic Justice
More Information on the G8


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