Alex Nunns. The G8 Alternatives demo at Gleneagles on the 6th July was a very strange affair. To start with, it was officially cancelled, yet it ended up with military helicopters hovering over young kids who were rolling around in a field.
At 10am the police told the media that the demo could not go ahead for reasons of public safety (read: because it was not endorsed by Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis). By this time the G8 Alternatives coaches from Edinburgh were already en route, as were many others from all around the country. By 11am we had been stopped by police and were forced to park up in a huge improvised coach park/detention centre on a roundabout eleven miles away from Auchterarder for an hour. There then followed an almost surreal period as police escorted a convoy of dozens of coaches along closed off country lanes to Gleneagles. The matador was leading us by the nose into the bullring.
Not that we didn't want to be in the bullring, of course. In fact news was spreading that up to 500 demonstrators had been turned back to Edinburgh and were planning an improvised demonstration, and that activists from the Stirling campsite were being viciously repressed and prevented from travelling. The trains had been stopped from running, meaning that our apprehensive convoy contained all the people who would be on the demo. But it was clear that we would get to have our march, and that the earlier cancellation was merely a police lie to keep the numbers down.
The march, which had been organised by the Globalise Resistance/SWP/SSP crews, began in predictable fashion. George Galloway gave a rousing speech, and then everyone trudged off behind a plethora of banners and placards. The march moved extremely slowly down the narrow roads, passing the houses of locals who sometimes waved and sometimes asked why we wanted to shout at a fence. Just how incisive a question that was became clear when we reached the gates of Gleneagles, or rather three rows of steel barricades backed up by three rows of riot police backed up by a row of mounted police. Nothing could be more symbolic of how close these eight 'leaders', all of whom profess a passion for democracy, really are to the people. (Apologies to Vladimir Putin who really shouldn't have been lumped in with the other seven there, having never professed such a passion).
We all looked at this spectacle for a few minutes, as if we had never seen riot police before, and then did a U-turn to go back to where we had started by a parallel road. At this point, I saw something I couldn't believe. The fence stopped on the corner, leaving open access to a field that stretched right up to the main security fence around the hotel complex itself. No one had ventured in to the field, but I decided to hang around as it could only be a matter of time before someone did.
Sure enough, a few minutes later at 4pm a man dressed in black carrying a black coffin bravely strolled out across the field. Oddly, he was followed by a group of Congolese people dressed in white carrying a white coffin. And then by demonstrators carrying a huge Iraqi flag with the words Make Occupation History emblazoned on it. Gradually, these isolated few became a trickle, which became a flood as the Infernal Noise Brigade, an American marching band, headed to the fence with dancing protesters in tow. Sections of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army followed, and soon there were 400 people scattered across the field.
In a matter of minutes, the staid atmosphere of a formal procession had changed to one of spontaneity and life. Protesters massed by the fence, pulling a section down under a police watch tower. Inexplicably, some proceeded to walk straight through the gap and were immediately arrested. A tree on the boundary was climbed and covered with banners. Elsewhere the Infernal Noise Brigade were noisily marching in random directions up and down a hill, while the clowns were clowning around. Some activists were rolling about in the crops; others had formed themselves into a giant H, apparently tempting the police helicopter overhead to land on them, which would really have taught the police a lesson.
By 4.20 the riot police arrived on the street where some marchers were still dutifully marching through (socialist discipline, you see), and the mounted police that had previously been stationed behind the fence appeared in front of it. Then suddenly the atmosphere changed completely when a military Chinook helicopter circled very low overhead. There was outrage from the protesters in both the field and on the road, with people remarking that they had never seen a military helicopter on a public demonstration. The chopper landed and dispatched around 30 riot police, before taking off to get some more. At least four times it came swooping in, seemingly within touching distance, plainly trying to intimidate protesters as much as possible.
Meanwhile the longest riot police line I have ever seen had formed up, covering the entire width of the field. More police marched in on the street, followed by a detachment of clowns who had perfected the art of the distinctive police march (even down to the serious faces). In response to the police manoeuvres the whole crowd began to chant 'we all live in a terrorist regime', with a real sense of urgency and fear to it.
At this point there was an appalling example of protest stewarding. The stewards, all appointed by G8 Alternatives, began telling people that they had to move on back to the park. They claimed that there were police waiting to cordon us in on the road, which was simply not true. I asked a steward how a cordon could be successful with a whole field in front of us. She just said that if I wanted to get clubbed in the head that was fine. Other stewards shouted that if we did not move on then they would not be responsible for us, before promptly clearing off up the road. The role of stewards should be to help protesters with the situation they are in, not to tell demonstrators what they can and can't do. Instead of staying in solidarity with the protesters in the field in the face of police intimidation, the stewards were clearly more concerned with the agreements made between G8 Alternatives and the authorities. Apparently the organisers reputation with the police was more important to them than their reputation with protesters. It seems it is not just Make Poverty History that has been co-opted.
Within minutes the mounted police began a charge, causing the protesters nearest the fence to scatter. Some were hit with shields and batons. At least one sustained a serious cut to the head. All of those in the field began to run back towards the road, pursued by police with attack dogs. The huge police line formed a giant arc across the field, which gradually closed in, cutting off the space. By 5.30pm the field was clear, and protesters moved on down the road.
Having occupied a large field blocked only on two sides, it should not have been possible for demonstrators to get surrounded so quickly and easily by police. There were no narrow city streets perfect for hemming people in. Protesters effectively walked up to a heavily policed fence and waited to be pushed back. A fluid, constantly moving demonstration could have circled round the whole hotel complex, breaking off in to smaller groups and then converging, and there would have been no way to surround it. This might actually have caused disruption to the summit for a sustained period of time, and would have lifted protesters' morale. But it seems that demonstrators are far slower at learning new tactics that the police are.
Back on the coach, I found that the nice Scottish woman I had sat next to on the way up to Gleneagles had since turned into a Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown. I told her of something I had witnessed: a group of three people dressed like activists who were huddled round a CB communicating about positions in the field - almost definately police agent provocateurs. In turn she said that a cabbie had told her of having nervously picked up a group of 'scruffies', only to find that all of them had police badges. Given that the police will go to these lengths, protesters will have to show a lot more ingenuity than they have this week if they are to seriously disrupt summits in future.
We departed the scene as we had entered it, directed out by police from what felt like a set-piece battle.