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28 October 2014

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Adam at Gleneagles
Adam and friend at Gleneagles

March on Gleneagles - Peace amidst violence

By Adam Yosef
Wednesday 6th July was a day for many Make Poverty History events, all taking place at the G8 summit in Scotland with some more controversial than others.

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

I was attending the event with the largest police presence, the G8 Alternatives demonstration.  It wasn't the G8 Alternatives or all of the affiliated organisations that caused concern for the thousands of police officers in heavy riot gear and the local residents who had boarded up their businesses. 

It was in fact the more radical activists and anarchists who wanted to use the event as an opportunity to cause trouble and violence similar to previous G8 protests across the world. 

They were only a small minority but it was quite shameful that they would betray the trust of the organisers who had fought so hard to assert their right to march so close to the Gleneagles Hotel.

From Birmingham to Gleneagles

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

We had made our way from Birmingham at 5am and got into Scotland six-hours later.  I had already followed this routine a few days earlier but only this time, I was more tired and getting into Scotland in a tight and very uncomfortable minibus.

When we first made our way to Gleneagles, police seemed to have lined all routes into the city and were mischievously sending people around the bend. Cars, coaches, bikes and vans were being misdirected by officers to ease the influx heading directly towards Gleneagles itself. 

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

Even those on foot were wandering up four or five different footpaths leading in different directions.  After wasting valuable time riding around stirling and so many identical little villages, we were finally on our way to Auchterader where the protests would begin from the local park.

I'm not an anarchist

Of course, we must have waited ages once we found the correct route as the queues of commuters waiting to get to Gleneagles were amazingly long and the sun was also beating down so that didn't help.  Then there was that detail of police checks in case we were 'hiding any bricks or weapons', we were told. 

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

Of course, it was hardly a thorough search and we pondered over how easy it would have been to hide any number of weapons.  I got a feeling the police weren't really taking this security lark very seriously but were probably waiting for the actual demonstration - as if they were up for a fight as much as the radicals.

Maybe, like the anarchists, travelling all the way to Scotland for the Manchester, Staffordshire and other Forces on a nice weekend was enough to make them want to leave with a bit of action.  Hmmm, I wonder...

'Welcome to Auchterader' – ‘no violence please’

I was quite surprised as I walked through Auchterader towards the park as to how many small businesses had been boarded up.  Had the regional press been frightening local residents by broadcasting images of the G8 violence in Genoa back in 2001?

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

Whatever it was, they had truly been reduced to a people in fear - not that the smiles on the faces of those who actually left their homes would suggest so.  Those who came out to greet the guests were a very friendly bunch and unbelieveably amazed to see so many diverse people converge on their tiny town. For the rest, however, it was as if aliens had landed. 

Posters on house and shop windows identically stated 'Welcome to Auchterader' in what seemed like a community initiative to reduce hostility. As if it wasn't hard enough getting my tongue around 'Auchterader', there were further signs in multiple languages for those who had travelled from across Europe and the rest of the world.

Make Poverty History chips

Church in Auchterader
Church in Auchterader

I have absolutely no idea what the locals were thinking though.  On one hand you had shops boarded up.  Not Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King and other global brands but the local Delicatessen and village chemist.  What did they think anti-globalisation protesters were going to do to a delicatessen?

On the other hand, you had cafes, churches, chip shops and pubs displaying Make Poverty History signs and all offering 'Special Make Poverty History' offers and deals on meals etc. 

There we were, on a mission to call for an end to world poverty, globalisation and commercial exploitation and yet, we were being exploited by a tiny population of residents in the middle of nowhere - a people who hadn't seen anything like this before but managed to get one step ahead on the commercial enterprise ladder.

Well, what can you do?  It was actually rather funny and very ingenuiative of them so fair play, I guess.  Although the chips were awful, I must admit.

Thousands march at G8

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

We finally got to the park and a G8 stage had been erected from where speakers including human rights lawyer Amer Anwar (the guy who helped gain permission to march on Gleneagles), Rose Gentle (Military Families Against
War) and Respect MP George Galloway spoke to the crowds.  Once the park was filled with thousands of people, the march began.

We all marched and chanted along the heavily secured route and generally it was well natured, carefully contained and managed by stewards, all monitored closely by police. 

However, the inevitable had to happen once we got to the gates which were the closest point to the Gleneagles Hotel.  Some, it would seem, couldn't contain their anger and excitement at knowing they were so close to the heads of the G8 nations.

Peaceful protest turns violent

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

Violence broke out at the protest following an overwhelming police presence, security searches and a large security fence to keep protesters away from world leaders. 

Although the majority of demonstrators and revellers remained peaceful as organised by the anti-war coalition, members of radical fringe groups broke off from the main march with the intention of targeting police officers lining the high security fence at the point closest to the Gleneagles Hotel where world leaders were meeting.

Many breached the official route and headed through Stirling.  Stewards struggled and riot police were called out as violence ensued with anarchists hurling items at officers and attempting to kick down the security fence.

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

Police charged on the violent minority, arresting some for carrying knives. Extra riot police reinforcements were sent in via a military Chinook helicopter and the break-away groups and individuals were rounded up in various fields around the site. 

The battle between officers and protesters resulted in a number of injured activists along with 19 injured officers, 5 of whom needed hospital treatment.  The rest of the 7000-strong march continued unaware of the confrontation taking place at the gates by the small handful of radical activists.

A message to the G8 leaders

Marchers proceeded through Auchterarder and most fulfilled their promise of a noisy protest 'within earshot' of G8 leaders gathered at Gleneagles. Lothian and Borders Police made 17 arrests during the day, most during the violence in Stirling. 

G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles
G8 demonstrations at Gleneagles

The 'March on Gleneagles' took place on the same day as the Long Walk to Justice Concert in Murrayfield which was supported by a smaller Make Poverty History rally. 

The protest was organised by the G8 Alternatives and supported by the Stop the War Coalition and various other organisations including the Muslim Association of Britain - oh, and apart from the violent elements, it was actually a lot of fun.  Let's hope the message got through.

Written by Adam Yosef

last updated: 26/07/05
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