Glasgow Defence Campaign: a year fighting police repression in Scotland

December 2011 marks one year since two members of FRFI were targeted, arrested and charged by police on a militant student demonstration in Glasgow. FRFI members were singled out following months of organising against police harassment through the Govanhill Defence Campaign, established after unsuccessful attempts by officers to shut down stalls and ban the sale of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! in August 2010. It was clear state intimidation was set to intensify, and the Glasgow Defence Campaign was formed:

‘Having opposed political policing and intimidation on the streets of Govanhill in Glasgow, we will stand up for all our rights as we mobilise against the budget cuts and organise in defence of the working class...We call for maximum unity in defence of all those attacked and imprisoned by the British state in its attempts to silence dissent.’ (GDC statement, December 2010)

Scotland has not seen anything like the outbreaks of disorder, mass protest, civil disobedience and inner-city uprisings which have shaken the authorities in England over the past year. There has been no serious struggle as yet against the cuts in Glasgow. Trade unions continue to accept wage freezes and negotiate voluntary redundancies; genuine working class campaigns, such as that against the closure of the Accord centre, remain isolated; student occupations and direct actions have ebbed and flowed.

Nevertheless, Strathclyde police and the Crown Office have waged a targeted campaign against those activists and groups that have sought to organise effective opposition to the attacks on living standards and democratic rights. This open political policing is even more insidious than that in London given that no serious challenge to order has been posed. The maxim of General Sir Frank Kitson (one-time head of the British army of occupation in the north of Ireland), that the ‘genuinely subversive elements’ must be ruthlessly sought out before they become effective, has not been forgotten, even when ‘subversive’ activities remain firmly within the bounds of peaceful political protest. In Glasgow and across Scotland, the ground is being laid for widespread criminalisation; the police are training themselves in the control of dissent and containment of protest, compiling a mass of low-level intelligence on anti-cuts activists.

On 12 April 2011, after securing the conviction of FRFI member Dominic O’Hara the previous day, police carried out a series of co-ordinated raids which by the end of the week had seen Dominic and another two FRFI supporters arrested, as well as two young students involved with the Hetherington occupation at Glasgow University. Significantly, all were released only on condition of a unilaterally-imposed ‘undertaking’ which banned them from entering the city centre and ‘assembling with two or more people for the purposes of a demonstration’ – a clear breach of human rights. At the end of July, police conducted another series of violent raids on the pretext of charging those involved in ‘disorder’ at a party in Kelvingrove Park on the day of the Royal Wedding. Thousands of people were present that day; out of a dozen arrested and charged, all but one were known political activists.

Despite there not being a single outbreak in Scotland during the August riots, several teenagers from Glasgow and Dundee were remanded in custody for posts on Facebook allegedly inciting disorder. Police stated they were sending a message ‘to anyone who is thinking of causing trouble here’. In September, Palestine solidarity activist Paul Donnachie was found guilty on the charge of ‘racially aggravated conduct’ for disrespecting the Israeli flag in a dorm room, given community service and expelled from St Andrews University. Under new ‘anti-sectarian’ legislation which seeks to criminalise political songs, a 17-year-old Celtic fan appeared in court on 10 November charged with singing ‘Up the ’Ra!’ at a game, before being remanded in custody (see article below). It is clear that a campaign of political policing is being waged from within the very highest offices of Strathclyde police and the Procurator Fiscal.

Throughout this time, FRFI supporters have built the Glasgow Defence Campaign – combining street actions and militant organisation, creating an online blog, compiling legal briefings and a log of police harassment. Following the arrests in April 2011, the GDC, FRFI and Free Hetherington organised a militant rally in the city centre against political policing. All charges were dropped the following week. Arrests on protests in January and June led to spontaneous marches to police stations. Throughout dozens of court appearances, the GDC has organised solidarity pickets, subjecting the machinations of the District Court to a level of scrutiny clearly uncomfortable for the judges and prosecutors used to dealing out ‘justice’ without scrutiny.

Armed with a clear understanding of ruling class lawlessness, the campaign has withstood ongoing attempts to destroy its work through police harassment, surveillance, arrests, the use of undercover police and court cases. The success of this work was demonstrated on the Scottish TUC’s People First march in Glasgow on 1 October, when a member of the GDC’s contingent was dragged off the march by police. In previous instances such an attack would have gone unnoticed; now, GDC supporters were able to lead hundreds off the main route to stop and kettle the police, condemn the cops and secure the comrade’s release. Strathclyde police – the most radicalising force in Glasgow!

And yet throughout this period, the left in Glasgow has utterly failed in its duty to provide solidarity to those facing criminalisation, leaving others open to attack. Committed to providing a ‘radical’ cover for the trade union bureaucracy, almost the entire left – from the SWP and the International Socialist Group (ISG) to the Scottish Socialist Party and Communist Party – has failed to provide any support to the Glasgow Defence Campaign or attend a single court picket. On 1 October, the flags of the SSP and CP could be seen drifting into the distance as the arrest attempt took place. The left is clearly more comfortable negotiating with the police than organising against them. This is especially odious in connection with the ISG, with its empty rhetoric about defending protest in relation to one of its members, Bryan Simpson (among the few not to receive a custodial sentence after pleading guilty to disorder at Millbank in November 2010).

Alongside the Free Hetherington students, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and individual members of the Scottish Socialist Youth who have been subject to police repression themselves, the GDC has built itself up from new and independent forces. In his address to the May Day rally in Glasgow, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey explicitly applauded the work of the GDC in defending young people, and the STUC passed a resolution condemning political policing. This welcome support now needs to be followed up with real action. It is those experiencing directly the brutal class nature of the state whose growing unity will be key. The GDC recently received messages of support from over 40 Irish political prisoners incarcerated in Portlaoise gaol, expressing their ‘support and solidarity with the work of the Glasgow Defence Campaign’ and anti-fascist prisoner Ravi Gill, currently serving 21 months in HMP Wayland.

The experience built by the GDC over the past year is crucial as the cuts begin to happen. We will challenge the liberalism which sees the police as part of the ‘99%’. The growth of state interference in political organisation should put us all on alert, and unity and solidarity must be fought for in the struggle to defend democratic rights and the vital interest of the working class.

Police hands off protest! An injury to one is an injury to all!

Joey Simons

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 224 December 2011/January 2012


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