This was always going to be the one that could go either way. Initially in the light of the weekends events one might have thought that the foundations had been laid for peaceful protest. Monday changed all that.

Nick and I went down to Waterloo Place to pick up the coach at 9am. the tickets had said 10 but the lady I bought them off told me they’d have to leave at 9 because there were so many of us. Over 30 coaches left in good time and set off for Auchterarder. Having negociated the Edinburgh rush hour we were then pulled over en masse at the Forth Road Bridge and the police did spot checks etc. There was no reason given, it slowed us down it got people edgy it laid down the law so to speak from their perspective. In comparison with what we had expected it was pretty mild and we crossed the Forth Bridge in fairly buoyant mood.

Nearly an hour later as we got to the junction of the A9 we were all pulled over again and the police presence was much greater. At this point we started to find out a little more of what had been going on around us whilst we journeyed North oblivious. The people left behind in Edinburgh, including a friend of mine that I was due to meet on the march, who were expecting to catch buses at 10am had not been able to leave because the police had stopped the buses from going to pick them up. They were staging a protest in Princes St. in defence of their right to march.

The media disinformation appeared to be a particular tactic. The police had initially issued a statement first thing in the morning asserting that the march organisers had called it off, they were forced to retract that so the next statement was that they (the police) had cancelled the march, which under the Human Rights Act they have no powers to do. Whilst this did not affect those of us who had just gone straight to the coaches, it undoubtedly had an effect on many people who may have been listening to the radio and such like as they got ready in the morning. In addition to this police were stopping cars and minibuses on the route from Edinburgh and telling people that it had been cancelled. One group we spoke to said that they informed the police that on the radio it had said it was not cancelled and the police retracted the statement saying oh yes oh yes we were just saying that it had been cancelled but it isn’t any more.

The reason, apparently, we had all been stopped was that there were anarchist roadblocks on the A9. Which was interesting since they were obviously conveniently positioned near enough this area where the police were able to keep 40 coaches without blocking the road. We were debating what we should do if the police didn’t let us go thru’ and whether we should all occupy the roundabout when I got the call from my mate on Princes St. to inform me that they were all being accused of inciting a riot! I later spoke to a mate of mine back at home who told me that he’d seen some pictures on the news and the “roadblocks” were the odd branch across the carriageway. From the news items I saw later there were some proper type roadblocks too but I did not see any on the dual carriageway at all they were all on country roads.

Some while later the coach drivers were told to start their engines and that we would be going, thiis turned out to be a false alarm. We were then told that were were waiting for another unit of plod to come down who were going to escort us to Auchterarder, this seemed rather ironic as for me out of a police escort or a cavalcade of anti G8 protesters I know which the anarchists would take more umbrage to. Perhaps in fact the truth was that we were to be escorting the police to Auchterarder! When the escort arrived and we set off after our more than 2 hour delay the escort proceeded to marshall us along the dual carriageway at 10-15mph. There was nothing at all on the road in either direction.

We arrived at Auchterarder after a total of 4hrs 30mins for a journey that should have taken just over an hour. The police had done their best to stop us but we’d made it in spite of them and the mood on the town common/village green was bouyant. After some speeches and some music we set off to march. The route had already been publisised in so far as we knew we were to walk up the main st. and get to the gates of the Gleneagles estate at which point we were expected to turn right and head round back parallel to end up where we came from. This seemed logistically naive from the outset, and I remember remarking to Nick days before that there was going to be a bottle neck at the gates and there was going to be trouble and that’s what the police were looking for because they’d just hem us in at the back and the top and employ the same tactic as Monday. I do not claim to be a prophet nor particularly in tune with police strategy I merely make mention of this here to illustrate how obvious it seemed beforehand.

Our man in Princes St. told me that he had been issued a Section 60 and told that the police had video evidence of him doing all sorts of shit, and yet they wanted him simply to leave the area or be arrested. I know the guy and to be frank the notion of him doing anything violent or damaging is laughable, besides which if they had video evidence of him I have no doubt he would have been arrested there and then. He told me the only scuffle he’d got into was when he’d pulled a guy off a car and said “don’t give them an excuse mate.” As he was on his own and not in a group of people he understandably left the area.

The first 45 mins or so of the march at Auchterarder was good-natured and loud with singing and chanting and general pleasure that we had all got there. It was as if there was an enormous sense of relief that we had all got there and were now safe in our numbers, what was going to happen would happen but we were all there regardless. Nick and I had already discussed that we were not going to do any damage, that wasn’t what either of us were here for, but if there was a fence breach and people started into the estate we would follow suit to try to ensure the safety in numbers. If 5 people were arrested within the compound they would have the book thrown at them, if 100 were arrested it would be more difficult, 1000 and the police position would be less tenable still.

Everything ground to a halt, there was no moving for a while and people started wondering what was going on. In typical chinese whispers fasion rumours were getting back to us that there was a crush against the gates, or there had been a sit down protest or these had been a breach of the fence. The police were principally responsible for this, they were telling us to move back which we did. Still nothing went forward, then the chinook helicopters started arriving whirring around the compund and the march area clearly as a show of force, they buzzed around us and did low fly-bys and banked in our vicinity. It was all rather petty to be honest and once again it became clear that the police had set out their stall long before we arrived. In conjunction with this riot vans had been appearing at stretches along the march and groups of police were forming lines to separate the marchers into smaller groups.

It must have been over an hour before people started to walk back to the common, first a handful then a lot more. We stayed put, it seemed like hours, there seemed no information from the stewards and the police were still claiming there was a crush. At one stage the march was moving forward and I was being told to move back by a plod. I simply stood where I was and he berated me I answered that if there was a crush up the front and everyone was going forward then standing my ground was a valid tactic and if everyone currently did it then there would be no crush. He responded angrily that if I spent my time doing as I was told and stopped being so difficult it would be wise. I stood my ground.

That was the last time I saw the march move forward. From that point on people continued to drift backwards, it was already long after our buses were supposed to have left so clearly they would have to wait for us wouldn’t they? I don’t know what time it was but eventually the stewards started telling us that the police were not letting people through at the front and that the advice from the chief steward was that we were to go back to the village green. It was stated in no uncertain terms that the buses would only wait a certain amount of time. The inference of this was pretty clear and Nick and I were left with little practical choice but to join the backward line.

We encountered a rather bizarre stand-off at this point where the stewards were telling us to go back and leave the area and yet we were still prevented from doing so by a large group of police in a line. This seemed rather ironic and I would have loved to have said that we all turned round and said ‘well ok if you insist officers’ and marched back towards the estate! The order was slow in coming but obviously it did get through in the end and we were allowed to walk back. Just shy of the village green we were crossing the road and a parked Greater Manchester police van revved its engine just as I walked in front of it. I’m afraid I got the red mist and gave him the finger straight away and yelled at him to fuck off and stop trying to intimidate pedestrians who had the right of way. The driver of the van did not look pleased at all but at that stage I simply didn’t care, I was tired and hungry and very pissed off that we had not been allowed to make our point to those in their ivory towers.

Back at the green Nick and I found a queue for some thick vegetable stew that was being ladeled out and given with a slab of fresh brown bread. What was even better was that it was free. I have no idea how it was orchestrated or who paid for it but I could have kissed the girl serving it, it was hot and filling and good, I was so hungry I even ate the cabbage! It gave us some more energy and we could have marched back again given the chance. There was a sort of debrief, pats on the back for us all getting there and such like.

On the return coach journey the mood was cheerful but not as bubbly and vocal as before. there was a communal sense of disappointment, tinged with anger and perhaps a little relief that we few had managed to come out unscathed but without shying away from what had to be done.

Song Of The Day ~ Led Zeppelin – No Quarter

Advertisements