Cloistered over a pint of Caledonian in an Edinburgh boozer late last night with the leading lights of the most clued-up resistance movement here, I watched them wince at the BBC’s coverage of yesterday’s disturbances. I had been out of town as Dissent’s Carnival for Full Enjoyment got underway around noon, and returned to find the town centre blockaded by scores of police battalions in riot gear. Lothian and Borders police said “mutual assistance forces” (meaning squads from the Met, Merseyside and West Midlands forces who have been studying footage from Genoa for months) had been deployed to prevent “mayhem”.
On the Beeb’s early evening coverage, activists not involved in the clashes condemned a violent minority, as did locals and a police commander. As the evening wore on, the angle shifted. By midnight, News 24 was screening incensed locals and a Make Poverty History spokeswoman who said the protesters were undermining “Bob Geldof’s message”. The over-dub was culled almost verbatim from the police report.
What happened, to the best of my knowledge, was this: a small group of anarchists and clowns – who had been corralled and searched by police even before they began to drum and dance – were boxed in throughout Edinburgh through the early afternoon. But the police (there were over 1,000 on duty) continued to allow locals to enter the controlled areas, though would not let them leave. Pregnant women and children were penned in for hours. When trouble began, it was as much caused by locals and others looking for a scrap as by the 200-odd masked protesters. There was damage to public property. The first of 100 people charged with public order offences appeared at Edinburgh sheriff’s court today.
In the pub, the comrades were aghast. Some had been corralled and searched earlier; others had been preparing for the far more significant march to Gleneagles tomorrow. These are the people who, along with some radical NGOs, have made it plain that they intend peacefully to blockade the Gleneagles hotel on Wednesday. They work with anti-authoritarian groups, but have also mobilised the diverse sections of civil society that will fill the 100 coaches to depart for Gleneagles station in the morning. These are the people who realised that begging the G8 for a crust for Africa is lunacy.
The winces turned to curses when the front page of today’s Daily Mail wafted before the cameras. Its headline: “Live Hate”. Today’s’ Scottish edition of the Mail has “Anarchy on out Streets”; the Edinburgh Evening News carries “The Nightmare Comes True”. The hyperbole makes Revelation look like a parking ticket. It is noteworthy that the news stands are filled with the same picture (a shot of a bobby crossing blunt instruments with a man in a hoodie and a facemask). The shots of bleeding civilians and raging officers are buried within.
This is not to condemn the police outright. They have been fed a diet of Genoese belligerence for months. At Faslane yesterday, they were genial and handled the blockade of the nuclear plant there sensibly, despite some provocation. If anything, the flared tempers were in part the result of the sheer frustration of genuine activists whose voices went unheard at Make Poverty History’s sanitised rally on Saturday. (I am told that, while Walden Bello, the only anti-capitalist to grace the Meadows’ hallowed stage, implored his indifferent audience to take direct action against the G8, MPH’s press office was frantically instructing stage managers to “get him off!”). If the police were provoked, the media’s attack, launched from the chaises long of Television Centre and Northcliffe House, is a calculated attempt to discredit intelligent, direct resistance to the G8 by association and misrepresentation. Tomorrow at noon, their faces unmasked for all to see, those protesters will take to the streets.