The eyes of the world were on Scotland. Over 225,000 protesters came to Edinburgh to promote the ‘Make Poverty History’ (MPH) campaign’s demands. Organised by the various churches, aid charities and NGO’s it aimed to put pressure on Gordon Brown and the G8 Finance Ministers to write off billions of uncollectable Third World debt. On the same day, the Live 8 concerts took place before the G8 summit to encourage activism and debate within the G8 member countries, with the aim of increasing political pressure on the leaders.
With hindsight, the SSP’s national co-spokesperson, Colin Fox, is critical of the tactics and expected outcome.
“The ‘MPH’ organisers were of course very naive about the politics involved and incredibly weak in their moralistic demands. They achieved nothing of consequence and left nothing of consequence behind them. Unlike the churches and all the other middle class ‘do-gooders’ the left had no illusions in the likes of [Saint] Bob Geldof and [Saint] Bono.
Neil Scott, Campsie organiser reaches a similar conclusion: “The millions who joined in the clicking fingers and wearing the white teeshirts and white rubber bands did not make poverty history.”
Fox continues: “At the same time the G8 leaders were due to meet at the Gleneagles Hotel to issue some meaningless ‘communique’ about how bad poverty was and then carry on plotting on behalf of their neo-liberal puppet-masters. They rejected the idea they were responsible for greedy, exploitative and barbaric system behind it.”
Knowing this, the Scottish Socialist Party naturally brought their unique spin on the affair – in two major ways.
Protest in Parliament
They rejected the idea they were responsible for greedy, exploitative and barbaric system behind it.Colin Fox, on the G8The G8 gatherings had attracted huge numbers of protesters and huge media coverage everywhere they went – this was at the time of the killing fields of the second Iraq War. Recognising the democratic right to legitimate protest, Scottish Socialist Party MSPs demanded that the Scottish Parliament accept there should be a peaceful legal protest at Gleneagles within earshot of G8 leaders, and that they work constructively with G8 Alternatives to facilitate everyone’s right to protest against the world leaders so they be held accountable for their role in world poverty and war.
When First Minister Jack McConnell continually ignored such demands – SSP MSPs held a small protest in the Holyrood debating chamber during First Minister’s Questions – “we left our seats and went down and held up pieces of paper protesting at this affront to liberty”, Fox recalls. The SSP were punished for this outburst with the largest single penalty that has ever been enforced in British Parliamentary history – a £30,000 fine, and exclusion from Parliament for a whole month.
Fox remembers it well. “The Presiding Officer George Reid showed just how little he understood the SSP when he foolishly claimed at the time: ‘They cannot hope to be simultaneously on the barricades and on the benches of this parliament.’ For that is precisely the type of party the SSP was, is and will remain.”
He remains defiant, describing the punishment like a back-handed compliment – “it shows how frightened the Scottish political establishment were of the SSP.”
Frances Curran protested along with her parliamentary comrades: “If we hadn’t protested in Parliament to defend this right, we would have lost the the right to protest against the the eight most powerful people in the world when they stepped foot on our soil. This included Blair and Bush, responsible for the war in Iraq and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. I am proud of our stand.
“The penalty of £30,000 voted for my all the MSPs including punishing our staff for our actions by withdrawing their wages as well was barbaric. It goes to show how most politicians are such fair-weather democrats, all but Margo [MacDonald – independent Lothians MSP] directly supported this punishment.”
Make Capitalism History
Furthermore, we recognised the true nature of the assault on our world. We countered the white t-shirt march in Edinburgh, with a splash of deepest red, and our own slogan: ‘Make Capitalism History – Make Socialism the Future’. A considerably more astute, authentic slogan and rallying call. Curran aptly describes it – “capitalism creates and maintains poverty for people and nations.”
In the context of today’s ever-deepening economic crisis, this approach remains important. It does not focus on replacing capitalism’s nastier aspects, but rather replacing the wholly corrupt system at its core.
(Photos by Wullie McGartland: except where noted)
Campsie branch organiser Neil Scott, remembers it with more direct fondness: “It was superb – buses filled with SSP folk going to all of the protest sites for a fortnight. It was a real summer of socialism!”
The SSP also organised busloads of people snaking through the Perthshire countryside. Curran remembers that she almost didn’t make it:
It was a real summer of socialism!Neil Scott - Campsie branch organiser“Police blocked motorways, held and stopped coaches on the road, preventing some leaving Edinburgh. I drove the back-routes uphill and downdale, weaving across the Trossachs and Perthshire to reach the assembly point in Auchterarder, avoiding police road blocks. When we finally arrived everything was at a standstill, there were a few hundred people in the park, and the police were refusing to allow a march to go ahead and negotiations were going nowhere, I told them that we were going to march anyway and if they were making it illegal, they would have to arrest us.”
The protesters that day were the ones who believed another world was possible.Frances CurranCurran continues: “When we reached the road to the hotel it was blocked. Protesters swarmed into the adjoining wheat field and made for the Gleneagles Hotel.
“The picture in my head is always of people who looked like stick figures far away in the distance partially obscured in the wheat field as they approached the police watchtower, with tall red flags sticking up and fluttering. It looked like a painting.
“The police charged and surrounded the protesters driving them back. I was in contact with the police chief, warning the police behaviour was trying to provoke a riot. I along with Keith [Baldassara] and others stayed until the last person left the wheat field, making their way back to the start point. We had defended the right to protest against most powerful men in the world, despite the attempts of the establishment to prevent us.
“The protesters that day were the ones who believed another world was possible. The men behind the fence were carving up the world for the benefit of the rich and powerful.
“Within three years the G8 2005 promises to make poverty history were reduced to ash as their capitalist world system crashed, plunging the world into further poverty and instability. The message and the ideas of the G8 Alternatives are more relevant today than they were then. Another World is Possible – Make Capitalism History. The fight continues…”
Scott summarises in simpler terms: “I will also remember the beautiful moments when we all came together in Scotland to fight against the elites who want us to be in perpetual war. I will remember the many millions of lives still blighted by the Blairite reaction to 9/11 and 7/7. I will continue to shine a light on the elites who make millions on the back of death, destruction and poverty.”[rev_slider g8_portrait_photos] [rev_slider g8_landscape]
Two Worlds Collide
Alan McCombes – a leading member of the Scottish Socialist Party wrote a pamphlet to accompany the G8 protests “Two Worlds Collide: power, plunder and resistance in a divided planet” outlining wide-reaching criticism for our modern arch-capitalist world, and showed a vision that an independent socialist Scotland as a route to break free from the imperialist, warmongering capitalist machine of the British state.
It has been converted to an eBook and is available for free download. Kindle owners should download the MOBI version, and transfer it to their devices. Most other e-reader devices should download the ePub version.
Videos from the time by prominent SSP activists – they are presented here for historical interest.
by peace campaigner Ronald Mackay.
by Neil Scott
Note: contains scenes that some viewers may find upsetting.
Post photo by Eddie Truman. Other photos by Eddie Truman, Matthew Geraghty, Michael Scott, Neil Scott and Wullie McGartland.