Glasgow is currently hosting leaders from across the world as part of the UN COP26 Climate Change conference. The city has all but been taken over as a result, with thousands of delegates, police, and activists. There have been a number of processions and demonstrations across the city, but Saturday saw the largest of these, with two large processions which went from both the West End and South Sides, through the centre, and down to Glasgow Green.
I must confess to not being especially passionate or knowledgable about the central issue of climate change, but I am endlessly fascinated by freedom of expression, protest, and the dynamics of power when it comes to political resistance. It seemed like today had the potential to be a real moment in history, with what could well be some of the biggest demonstrations in the city’s history.
I headed into the city in the afternoon, after swithering over whether or not to risk getting soaked and trashing my camera in the morning’s torrential rain – only to find that most of the roads in and out of the city centre were closed – and I had to make most of the journey on foot. There was a huge police presence, with van loads of officers shipped in from south of the border. They were literally everywhere you turned – but particularly around the edges of the city centre. The only kind of reference point I had for this kind of scale of enforcement was when I attended the G8 Summit in Birmingham in 1998, where post boxes were taped up, and you could see snipers on roofs. It was surreal.
There was a massive, seemingly endless, diverse procession of people through the city centre, representing a variety of causes. In many ways this demonstration was about far more than just the climate, but rather inaction by politicians on a host of different inequalities, rallied around the central unifying issue of the environment. It was nice to see so many different kinds of folk there with their kids, dogs, and from countries all over the world – a real feeling that the world has come to Glasgow in many different ways. As strange as it is to comprehend.
The police presence at familiar sights such as the City Chambers was particularly stark, something that I have never seen before, and which in many ways was incredibly symbolic of how people increasingly feel about the relationship between the City Council with its SNP leader and the distance from everyday people.
Any kind of deviation from the ‘official’ protest route or methodology (such as an impromptu rave in a side street from a sound system on a truck) was met with what by any accounts was an incredibly disproportionate police response. For this small gathering, there were easily more police in nearby vans than there were actual individuals.
The end point for the marches was Glasgow Green, where there were many colourful and imaginative outfits and signs on display. There was something of a good natured, festival feel going on… though in all honesty I felt like there was a real opportunity missed to have something of more substance, given the variety and number of people present. I have never really understood the obsession of those in activist circles to have stages with speeches from people using badly amplified PA systems. For me, the far more effective and interesting part of activism is in the creative expression of groups – like those from the South Side who had turned up in what appeared to be a rented truck, blasting music and encouraging people to party in the middle of the street… or those who had built elaborate creations such as the unicorn below.
In some ways I was lamenting the lack of direct action on the day, as outside of the procession and disappointing gathering in the Green it felt like there were opportunities missed. However, it is also a testament to those attending that there was almost zero incidents of trouble, and not even the slightest excuse given to the overwhelming police force present to escalate things. This was especially notable when the police chose to deliberately target a group of young socialists, kettling them at one point in the middle of the march. From what I could gather, this appeared to be for no good reason whatsoever, except perhaps that the group in question were outwardly very critical of the police. It was the most bizarre situation to see a group of people so clearly closely followed by a large team of public order police, as if they posed some immediate violent threat. Quite the contrast to how other groups (who actually have been violent) are treated. What was especially strange was to see one of the group’s members literally snatched away and arrested as they tried to split up and disperse. Questionable tactics which seemed to just be to prove a point.
This was the first outing with my camera in quite some time, and I hate pretty much all ofthe pictures I’ve taken. My lack of practice was evident in how slow I was to focus or expose properly, and I wish I had just sucked it up and gone into town a bit earlier to have more of an opportunity to see more of the march, but I’m also not especially sad about not getting soaked. For now, I’ll leave things with this gem, which was too perfect not to shoot.