The day began with clashes between police and protesters in Stirling that led to at least seventy arrests. Demonstrators smashed cars with iron bars and trashed Burger King´s windows. Eight officers required hospital treatment, but the media have not reported on the number of protestors or civilians injured. Much of Stirling´s town centre was closed off throughout the morning.
The police responded by cancelling the planned march near Gleneagles without advising anyone what was going on. Coaches were halted in Edinburgh, but no information given by the police. Many demonstrators were held under section 60 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (allowing the police to stop, search and detain any person in anticipation of violence without "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed).
The main road from Edinburgh to Gleneagles was brought to a standstill as protesters staged blockades and lay across roads to delay traffic. Meanwhile 200 police encircled most of the Exchange financial district of Edinburgh (which houses the headquarters of the Clydesdale Bank, Standard Life and Scottish Widows).
When the protestors threatened to march on the US Embassy in Edinburgh if they were not allowed to march to Gleneagles, the police relented and allowed the march to go ahead. The protestors marched along the planned route, but many left the road to cross a field towards the huge steel barrier surrounding Gleneagles and riot police were flown in by helicopter.
Many protestors suggested that the trouble was inevitable given the frustrations and delays imposed by the police. One noted, "We were just led around the countryside and told nothing". Others felt that the situation had been inflamed as scaremongering had frightened away many of the peaceful protestors and given the extremists the battle they wanted. More worrying was the fact that the invasion of the field was easily predictable as the entire length of wall was unguarded. A resident who took part in the protest noted "It was inevitable. It was like an invitation. It was waiting to happen".
Bob Geldof completed his long walk to Edinburgh to join the huge rally/concert in Meadowbank Stadium. The night was a great success, with notable performances by Annie Lennox, Snow Patrol and Texas (and many others). Geldof used the platform to warn Blair (with whom he has often looked pretty cosy) that he would not forgive any failure to act. Despite intermittent rain, everyone raved about the evening. Let´s just hope that the thought of all those voters turning further against him gives Tony a suitable fright.
100 people appeared in court following the events of monday night. The protestors were largely charged with breach of the peace, but there were also some minor drugs and weapons charges.
A line of Policemen blocked the entrance to the Sheriff Court and refused to allow any members of the public access. The clerk of the Court, David Shand, has confirmed that the Police exceeded their authority by taking this action, which is a clear breach of Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a fair and public hearing). Again it is clear that our rights are easily swept aside when it suits them.
One protester was fined £300 for shouting "Get the fuckers!" as he charged a line of riot police. He appeared in court bearing numerous cuts and a swollen arm. An English student was accused of throwing a missile at police. However, the prosecution could not confirm which officer was hit, what the missile was, or whether any injuries were sustained. He was bailed until August 9, on condition that he did not enter Edinburgh, Sterling, or the Perth and Kinross council area.
Outside the court a supporters held placards stating "Breach of the Peace = Fighting For Peace" and "There are people in court today for having the courage to hold this unfair system accountable."
Today the center of Edinburgh was invaded by heavily armed men and women in a show of military strength not seen in Scotland´s capital for decades. I am not referring to the protesters, who drummed and danced their way along Princes Street and Lothian Road, but to the massive Police presence. Edinburgh became a militarised zone.
The first group of protesters that I met numbered about twenty, and had an escort of approximately one hundred and fifty men and women in black riot gear and ten mounties. The Police were drilling and marching in a highly threatening manner, while the protestors sang. I was not the only one to be shocked by the scale and threat of the police presence. An old gentleman that I spoke to gripped the metal fence outside the modern glassy monstrocity that is the Standard Life building and described his memories of the Army moving in to impose control in Glasgow when he was a boy."It´s happening again" he told other bemused spectators, "The army have taken the city". This view was no doubt compounded by the fact that all of the Police in riot gear seemed to have been drafted up from England.
By the time I had reached Princes Street, the true scale of the Police presence was apparent. A group of protestors in colourful clothes had taken up residence in the street in front of the Art Galleries. Although the atmosphere was still very friendly, there was a tension in the air. The Police lines were constantly moving to trap the crowd, many of whom were not even protestors but residents of the city brought there by curiosity and the shops. Every where I went I ran into an implacable line of Policemen and women drafted in from Manchester, the West Midlands, Liverpool and Yorkshire. There were literally thousands of riot police, but none of them seemed to know what was going on, their orders simply to hold the line.
At times the tension looked like it could break and spill over into violence. At one point, a rubbish bin was emptied near the Police line and cans and plastic packaging thrown over the riot shields. One policeman moved forward with his batton raised as members on both sides of the line tried to calm the situation. A small scuffle broke out, but was soon subdued. I was told by one policeman that the protestors had attacked them earlier, throwing heavy objects over the fence from Princes Street Gardens. A reporter who witnessed the incident confirmed the protestors had thrown earth and flowers from the garden but little else. By the late afternoon tempers were frayed on both sides and cans were thrown from the Gardens across the police line. Veteran protestors began advising anyone there with their children to leave immediately as the police looked likely to charge. Of course, getting out was not easy as police lines three and four deep almost encircled the area. Those of us in the gardens were actually locked in by heavy padlocks, but a resourceful punk broke one allowing a number of us to escape.
The English police officers could not be expected to recognise and handle the large number of Edinburgh "neds" who were drinking in Princes Street Gardens, and gleefully joined the protest with little or no interest in the aims of protestors. Much (but not all) of the abusive language and threatening behaviour came from them. However, I also met a elderly lady, trapped there when the police line pushed forward unexpectedly. She told me she had approached a line of riot police behind us and they had refused to allow her to leave. She was terrified.
Police blamed "a hard core of determined activists" who were "highly organised, using maps, radios and mobile phones to plan their actions to cause maximum disruption." So possessing a map of Edinburgh and a mobile phone makes you dangerous and highly organised? How then would one describe 10,000 Policemen, many in full riot gear complete with CS spray, retractable batons and CB radios? It is perhaps unfortunate that the police drafted up from England were not provided with maps of Edinburgh, as none of them seemed to be able to advise the best way for an innocent passerby to leave the scene. Later in the evening, violent clashes broke out between police and a group of protesters in Rose Street, culminating in a baton charge and a number of arrests. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries on either side.
Chris Nineham of "Stop the War" criticised the heavy-handed policing. "There were thousands of riot police with helmets - some of them with their ID numbers concealed, which created an atmosphere of tension from the first." The MSP´s Mark Ballard and Shiona Baird (Green Party) were there about 6pm. Ballard confirmed that "Police were rushing into the crowd and antagonising them. It was the most surreal and bizarre policing I have ever seen. Police seemed to be inflaming the situation by letting innocent bystanders wander into the areas of trouble, then not let them exit."
Of course, the media have already reported that the Police action was a success, and that the protestors were dangerous and threatening. Lothian and Borders Police described the event as "Unacceptable and irresponsible" stating that "spontaneous acts of protest" are not allowed. Clearly, we have to request the right to exercise our "freedom" of speech and movement in Blair's Britain. The Police claimed weapons had been brought into the city by protestors, the only missiles I saw were from the rubbish bin and the gardens.
North of Edinburgh, G8 protesters managed to close down Faslane (Britain's largest nuclear submarine base) for over eight hours. Organisers said about 2,000 people converged on Faslane at 7am, although police put the figure at 600. Four people were arrested.
An estimated 225,000 people created a carnival atmosphere on the streets of Edinburgh as the "Make Poverty History" marchers created a human chain around the city center. The causes were disparate and many, but all agreed that the current situation is unacceptable.
The city looked truly beautiful as the happy throng wound their way along the cobbled streets, but the crowd was strangely quiet with little chanting of slogans. Businesses who had boarded up their doors looked really silly as thousands of potential customers walked peacefully by. In the meadows, people queued for hours to join the march while others relaxed in the sunshine and listened to the speakers and bands from the two stages.
Some banners proclaimed "Make Capitalism History," while others urged "Make Bush History". Another common demand was Debt cancellation and Trade Justice. Some of the banners were home made (there was a craft area in the meadows were you could create your own t-shirt or banner) and very inventive, while others were distributed by the various charities attending the event. Of course the wide specturm of opinion led to the feeling that the headline campaign (Make Poverty History) had detracted from the Anti-G8 element of the protest by framing the G8 as the potential heroes of the hour. It is interesting to note that the "Make Poverty History" organisers refused the "Stop the War" coalition the right to march with their own banners or speak at the rally!
George Galloway certainly questioned the relationship between Tony Blair and the organisers (in particular Bono, who he referred to as "Sir Bono, because he soon will be"), and noted that war causes poverty and wastes huge amounts of money. This point is well illustrated by the recent UN report which confirms that the U.K spends eight times as much on weaponry as we do on aid (the U.S spends twenty-five times more on weapons than aid).
It is always difficult to really gauge the strength of feeling at such an event. Obviously it was no hardship to wander around an unusually sunny Edinburgh with thousands of smiling friendly people, and many people will have gone home feeling that they had "done their bit". Hopefully, some will have realised (perhaps for the first time) the scale of our own Government´s involvement in the systems which create and maintain poverty. However, for many, the promise of a bit more aid money will be enough.
The police presence was very relaxed, and there was little for the coppers to do (they made only one arrest in connection with a drug-related offence). The march coincided with the Live 8 global music event, which (allegedly) focused on poverty in Africa.