SCOTLAND: Democracy for sale, as G8 protests loom

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Alex Miller

As the leaders of the world's top eight industrialised countries (Britain, France, Russia, Japan, Italy, Canada, Germany and the USA) prepare to gather for the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Perthshire, activists from all over the world are expected to converge on Scotland for a week of mass protest. These protests could be the biggest political demonstrations ever in Scotland.

The July 2 Make Poverty History demonstration is organised by G8 Alternatives. The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is working with G8 Alternatives to mobilise support for protests and direct action during the summit. In addition to the July 2 Edinburgh demonstration, these include: a G8 Alternatives Counter Summit on July 3 featuring George Galloway, Bob Crow, Mark Curtis, Susan George, Linsey German, Rosie Kane, George Monbiot, Scott Ritter, Dita Sari, and many others; a blockade of the Faslane nuclear submarine base on July 4; a demonstration at Dungavel refugee detention centre on July 5; and a demonstration at the G8 summit itself at the Gleneagles Hotel on July 6.

In the June 10 Scottish Socialist Voice, Donnie Nicolson of the SSP-affiliated Scottish Socialist Youth explained the thinking behind the protests: "In 30 years of G8 summits, global poverty has got worse and worse. It's hard to imagine what a crowd of 30,000 children looks like, never mind get to grips with the fact that this many die every day from curable diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoea.

"Since the G8 last met in Britain in 1998, with 'economic restructuring' at the top of the agenda, we have seen more cuts, privatisation and deregulation at home, and more war and poverty across the world. This year, the G8 leaders meeting in Gleneagles claim to be addressing concerns about climate chaos, world poverty and the Aids crisis. But the real aims of the G8 summit are to strengthen the capitalist system at the root of these problems ... appealing to the G8 to stop poverty is like appealing to lions and tigers to stop eating meat."

Meanwhile, the British authorities have been doing all they can to stymie the protests. In addition to local Scottish forces, 6000 police have been drafted into Scotland from England and Wales, and the June 8 Press and Journal reported that Grampian Police had filmed delegates arriving at a G8 Alternatives meeting at Aberdeen University.

The June 7 Glasgow Herald reported: "Ministers have ordered an unprecedented and sweeping information blackout on preparations for the G8 summit on the basis of national security. The move means Scotland's competence in handling the meeting of the leaders of the world's richest countries at Gleneagles in July, as well as protests in Edinburgh and elsewhere, may become a long-term state secret. Police forces, health boards, councils and government agencies and departments which might hold any information 'in connection with the preparation and provision of security' for the G8 have effectively been issued with a blanket exemption from disclosing it under freedom of information (FoI) legislation."

Labour's Margaret Curran, the Labour Scottish Executive's minister for parliamentary business, has imposed the first "prospective ministerial certificate". The Herald continued "[The certificate] applies indefinitely, but may be reviewed in future years ... Although the certificate was signed on April 29, knowledge of its existence has been largely confined to government and authorities which were sent a copy to help them process FoI requests about the G8. It was not laid before the Scottish Parliament nor copied to MSPs, nor placed on the Executive's website. Examples of exempt information include police shift patterns, temporary accommodation and transport or equipment they might use, such as water cannon or plastic bullets."

A June 9 press release on the SSP website reported that Perth and Kinross Council had imposed a £5 million liability insurance precondition that means that it could cost G8 Alternatives up to £30,000 up-front for the right to hold a demonstration near Gleneagles on July 6. SSP MSP and G8 Alternatives organiser Frances Curran was quoted in the press release: "This is a travesty, a threat to the democratic rights of the people of this country; it means that democracy is for sale. Children in Africa are dying because they don't have enough money to buy food and we can't protest about it because we don't have enough money for the liability insurance. I'm absolutely appalled."

From Green Left Weekly, June 22, 2005.

Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.