Glasgow City Council are poised to bring in new legislation that could effectively ban public processions and demonstrations from the city centre, among other draconian measures which together form an unashamed attack on democratic rights in the city. As we reported earlier this year, this comes as part of their much trumpeted drive to cut down on the number of the sectarian parades in the city – which is reportedly higher than the annual total in Derry and Belfast combined.
Now the full extent of the council’s plans have been revealed in a consultation document sent this Monday to 29 ‘relevant stakeholders’, including SSY. Among the proposals are:
- to ban marches which would ’cause too much disruption or congestion’
- to develop ‘standard procession routes which minimise disruption and congestion’
- to ban marches which ’place an excessive burden on the police’
- march organisers will be ‘encouraged to consider alternatives to processions’
- no procession will be allowed to ‘become elongated by a formation of fewer than four abreast; a procession will not be allowed to move off until in the correct formation’
- all events with more than 1000 participants will ‘be required to assemble in a public park and progress to a public park’
The target of this is, we’re meant to assume, obviously the Orange Order, as well as their Protestant supremacist pals in the Black Institute and the Apprentice Boys of Derry, who together make up well over 200 of the city’s 370 odd marches each year. Certainly, everything in the consultation document points towards this – there’s even a couple of proposals thrown in there which specifically target these organisations, including a ban on carrying swords without prior permission. However, everything we’ve seen over the past year – since GCC initially announced their plans to slash the number of parades in the city ‘by up to ninety percent’ – indicates that this is far from the reality of the planned legislation.
Since this original announcement, several marches in Glasgow have indeed be rerouted. There was the 3000 strong Unison anti-cuts demonstration, forced to take place at 9.30 in the morning and squeezed out of the city centre. There was the EIS teachers’ union demo against cuts, 10,000 strong, again forced out of the city centre and to the earlier time of 10.30am. Then there was the 9000 strong Wave march calling for immediate action on Climate Change, forced despite protestations to take a route which again completely cut out the centre of the city. You might see a pattern developing here – this demo was pushed back to 10.30am too. These three marches, two called by trade unions and one by a grouping of NGOs, were hardly the most provocative, controversial or dangerous to take place in Glasgow over the year, yet all were denied their desired route and time. The council paper does in fact allude to these marches, as examples of ‘groups which are opting for alternatives to having processions through the city centre’. This is taking serious liberties, no pun intended, with the truth. Meanwhile, the Orange Lodge’s biggest event of the year – the ‘Big Walk’ in early July – was allowed to go ahead entirely unhindered, giving drunk, sectarian bigots ownership of the city centre for the whole day and making it an effective no-go area for anyone else. Nor has it stopped permission being granted to at least two provocative Orange marches directly through the Gallowgate over the past twelve months.
It all bears disturbing similarities to current goings-on in Northern Ireland, where the devolved government is currently attempting to push through a swathing attack on the right to protest, the Public Assembles Bill. Similarly, this is being done under the cloak of cutting down on sectarian parades. But as the coalition which has come together to oppose the Bill makes clear, it’s no coincidence that this has arisen at the same time as the worst attack on the working class since the creation of the welfare state: “The two main parties in the Assembly who have already agreed to make these cuts are also the two parties who sat down together and drafted this proposed legislation. The intention could not be clearer. The purpose of the law is to smash any possible opposition to the destruction of the public sector and the sacking of thousands of workers.”
Under the Bill, all public gatherings of more than fifty people will require permission with 37 days notice. Failure to comply will potentially lead to a prison sentence or hefty fine for all participants. Obviously, Glasgow City Council do not possess nearly the same level powers as the NI Assembly – and their consultation document bluntly makes clear that they’re stretching the boundaries of current Scottish, UK and European legislation to their very limits.
However, the document doesn’t shy away from revealing the council’s main agenda in putting forward this new policy on public parades. In fact, a whole section is entitled ‘City Centre Developments: the Changing Face of Glasgow’. Cue a list of major new “improvements” to the city centre over the past few years, among them the £100m extension to the St Enoch’s shopping centre, the planned expansion of the Buchanan Galleries, the “award-winning” financial district at the Broomielaw, and “many other prestigious office developments”. It concludes that the importance of the city centre to ‘Glasgow’s economic prosperity’ rules it out as somewhere suitable for public processions. It might as well read: anyone expressing dissent to the neo-liberal restructuring and gentrification of Glasgow – can fuck off. It’s also worth noting that the paper bizarrely singles out the May Day demo in 2009 for special attention, claiming it was ‘particularly problematic’, involving a ‘day of protest in the city centre against capitalism and globalisation’. Were they on the same demo as us – all I remember is the usual tame procession from George Square to some equally boring rally at the Old Fruitmarket…
The next few years will bring a virtually unprecedented attack on the social wage of the working class. There’s already been broad speculation that cuts of 25% in state spending will bring what’s possible under a democratic system to its absolute limits. In Northern Ireland, the governing parties are doing the ConDem’s dirty work for them, severely limiting the right to express any kind of dissent. The same can now be said, perhaps, of Glasgow’s Labour council.
The full consultation document can be viewed here