According to one Scottish newspaper, the police are planning a clampdown on protests at the G8 in Scotland this summer. The measures revealed in the Sunday Herald include plans to turn a former RAF base in Edinburgh into a “holding facility” for protesters awaiting trial and to scrap all trials in Edinburgh’s sheriff court for the first two weeks in July.
The police also want special anti-terrorism powers around Gleneagles, where the summit will be held. They plan to put up to seven sheriffs on standby to deal exclusively with G8 arrests in the Scottish capital.
This all appears to be part of a wider effort to generate panic in the local media. The police announced that they have block booked Edinburgh University to accommodate 5,500 extra constables for the G8.
“The measures are actually illegal,” says human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar. “There is no case for using anti-terror legislation simply because people are planning to protest. “And there is no basis for taking over local courts in advance. This is pre-emptive justice, which is no justice at all. We are going to challenge these measures in the courts.”
It seems unlikely that the police are really concerned about the potential for violent demonstrations. The last time the G8 came to Britain in 1998 the huge protests in Birmingham were entirely peaceful.
The Genoa G8 was the only one where there was significant violence, and the Italian courts are now accepting that there was police violence and provocation.
Since 11 September 2001, there has been an unprecedented wave of protest in Britain with no violence and next to no arrests.
Police admit that on 15 February 2003, when two million people marched in London, there were fewer arrests in the city centre than on an average Saturday.
It is awesome hypocrisy for the police to criminalise people planning to march for peace and global justice just as they are putting together their multi-million pound plans to protect the leaders of the G8—men responsible for more murder and misery than any other group you could think of.
The aim is presumably to divide the movement and to discourage peaceful protesters from attending the July demonstrations.
That’s why it is important that the various components of the movement stick together, refuse to condemn any other section and make it clear that it is only the police and the media that are raising the spectre of violence.
In this spirit, G8 Alternatives hosted a joint press conference on Wednesday of last week uniting different strands of the movement with a common underlying message.
“The people coming to Scotland in July are intelligent,” said Frances Curran MSP from the Scottish Socialist Party. “They understand the issues. They know about AIDS, they know about trade, they know about debt.
“They understand what the leaders of the G8 do. They understand that they are warmongers. They understand that they are brokers for the unfair trade in the world, and that creates mass poverty.”
The police are clearly worried by the likely scale of the protests at the G8. The mobilisation is unprecendented—already, four months before the G8 arrives, there have been packed G8 Alternatives meetings up and down Scotland.
In England, Make Poverty History activist meetings have been attracting hundreds of people. Some 30,000 turned up to Trafalgar Square at the launch of the Make Poverty History campaign recently.
On Thursday night last week 80 people came to the Glasgow organising meeting of G8 Alternatives, from trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local colleges, refugee groups, art centres and left wing parties.
The mood was defiant. It was agreed that the police are trying to scare people away from the protests, and that the movement needs to calmly insist that Edinburgh is an open city in July and that protest will be allowed at Gleneagles.
“We need to remember that we are speaking for the majority and that there will be hundreds of thousands of people protesting in July,” said an Amicus steward at the meeting. “We should be demanding that the authorities work hard to facilitate the people’s protest.”
An open letter signed by senior trade unionists, leading NGO activists and MSPs from the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party is being used across Scotland.
Already the pressure is beginning to tell. Jack McConnell, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Labour group of MSPs, conceded last week in a speech in the Scottish parliament that protests should be allowed at Gleneagles and that somewhere needed to be found for protesters to stay.
The protests and the alternative summit are getting global support. The international speakers confirmed so far include Medea Benjamin, Dita Sari, Trevor Ngwane, Walden Bello, Vittorio Agnoletto and Haidi Giuliani.
The Edinburgh and Gleneagles demonstrations are shaping up to be a landmark event for the global justice movement. Scare tactics from the police and media should not distract us.
Chris Nineham represents the Stop the War Coalition for the G8 Alternatives mobilisation