Opinion - Civil Liberties

2007 - 2021

The Gallowgate Blues

This eyewitness report of heavy-handed policing of a peaceful protest on Saturday by journalist Angela Haggerty (see also “Police were “commendable” at banned demonstration by UAF with no arrests – an hour before policing chaotic Green Brigade march”) raises significant issues about public order priorities in 21st C Scotland. See also the Glasgow Defence Campaign report here.

Surrounded by 200 police officers – around one for every marcher there – almost 20 riot vans, a line of police horses, a helicopter and 13 arrests, this was the scene at a peaceful support march in Glasgow city centre in 2013.

Stunned witnesses reported watching women and children being struck with police batons simply for standing in the wrong place. The march was organised by the Green Brigade, whose members claim they have been victims of police harassment and intimidation as a result of Scottish government legislation they say criminalises football fans.

Marchers began assembling outside the Chrystal Bell pub in the Gallowgate and several police vans were quickly on the scene. Men, women and children assembled, chanting “Celtic fans against the bill” as they set off to their destination at Celtic Park for the afternoon game against Aberdeen.

The procession marched up Watson Street and onto Bell Street, where it was then blocked by a line of police officers with support from a line of vans.  There had been no visible signs of any violent conduct from any marcher, no disruption to public order, but marchers were told if they took a step further, they would be arrested.

One legal observer and advocate for civil rights – people who observe protest marches and assist anyone in need of legal representation – who wished to remain anonymous, told me: “I had heard there was going to be a protest in the city by another organisation but it didn’t happen, so I came over to have a look here instead.

“This was extreme,” she continued. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I have never seen batons used on kids before, and I witnessed the Piccadilly and London riots. I’ve seen violent demonstrations, this was not that, they weren’t even throwing anything, nothing.”

A police line attempts to stop the march minutes after it begins (Picture courtesy of TCN)

A police line attempts to stop the march minutes after it begins (Picture courtesy of TCN)

Scuffles between marchers and police happened throughout Bell Street as marchers tried to move forward. Police threw marchers back into the crowd – some clearly young boys – one disabled child in a wheelchair was almost knocked over by the police line.

“After the march started the police just cornered them and the vans kettled them. The marchers then tried to break through and the police got the batons out. I was elbowed into a car by the police as I tried to take photographs, they were just grabbing and pushing people.

“I managed to get the name of one 14-year-old boy as he was arrested and had his head down in a puddle. I think they were taking advantage because those marchers weren’t political protestors, they don’t know their rights.

“The police kettled them in under a bridge, it was just totally disproportionate. There was no public around that area to be disrupted and it was just outside of public view.”

Marchers broke through the attempted police blockade underneath the bridge at Bell Street (Picture courtesy of TCN)

Marchers broke through the attempted police blockade underneath the bridge at Bell Street (Picture courtesy of TCN)

As the marchers were surrounded by police, reports were filtering through the crowds of several arrests being made. Marchers were told if they attempted to leave they would be arrested. Around eight police vans sat at the Bell Street side of the kettled marchers, with at least another eight gathered on the Gallowgate and several police cars scattered around the area. Police officers on horses then arrived to provide another reminder to marchers that they should not attempt to move. The police helicopter had been circling in the sky from the moment marchers began gathering.

I asked several of the police officers surrounding myself and the other marchers – estimates said around 200 marchers attended, indicating for every one marcher there was a police officer – under what legislation the marchers were being held.

“They didn’t apply to march,” one told me. “They have to make an application to Glasgow City Council. We’re here to prevent disruption. We’re here for public order.”

When I asked what indication the police had been given that this might be anything other than a peaceful march, he shrugged. None of the officers I spoke to named any legislation or indicated what had happened to necessitate such a heavy police presence. “We were just told to come here,” another said, “I don’t know any more than that.”

There were several reports of police using batons on marchers (Picture courtesy of TCN)

There were several reports of police using batons on marchers (Picture courtesy of TCN)

While boxed in with the marchers, I witnessed no crowd violence. I saw a policeman pick one boy out and order him to remove his scarf from covering any of his face or he would be arrested. The boy did as he was told. As we waited to find out what the police planned to do with us, we could see marchers who had either tried to escape from the kettle or been in the surrounding area being arrested. I heard one report of a police officer being hit by a bottle but could not confirm it.

The police began allowing the marchers to leave in groups of two or three at certain intervals and from different parts of the group. As I described the scenes to a colleague on the phone, he asked me if I had my press card with me – as I responded and said the words “press card” out loud, the police immediately escorted me outside of the kettled group and told me I couldn’t stand around.

I had no choice but to watch from afar as the rest of the group was dispersed. In total, the marchers managed to make it just yards away from where they had begun assembling at 12.30pm. As I left to find somewhere to write up my notes, I spoke to two men near the Chrystal Bell pub, the marchers’ meeting point, who had also witnessed the police using batons on marchers.

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde police said: “At around 1pm, police were called to reports of a large number of people gathering outside the Chrystal Bell pub at Gallowgate, Glasgow. The crowd, many of whom were wearing similar hooded tops and using scarfs to hide their identities, appeared to be attempting to stage an illegal street procession and officers were deployed to prevent this.

“The crowd were instructed that any procession on the road was illegal but that officers would facilitate a safe and orderly procession on the pavements toward their intended destination at Celtic Park. However, this was ignored and more officers were deployed as the crowd became increasingly confrontational and aggressive. The situation was contained a short time later.

“In connection with the police operation at Gallowgate, Glasgow this afternoon, 13 people have been arrested so far in connection with alleged public order offences, and they are currently being processed.  Police enquiries are continuing into the incident and officers will be studying CCTV and helicopter footage to gather further information.”

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  1. Tony says:

    This would be the ‘under-resourced’ Strathclyde Police. 200 police to kettle a peaceful assembly for no reason. Investigation needed pronto.

  2. megz says:

    Right call me paranoid if you will (i’m a Celtifc fan so i’m used to it) but this all stinks to high heaven. If any football fan group should be Pro independence it is Celtic fans. Why on earth should we sing about getting the Brits out of Ireland then turn round and vote along with the orange order to remain Brits?

    I’m sorry but to me this all seems like a blatant and transparent attempt to manipulate Celtic fans and i hate to say it but i get the feeling the Celtica themselves are actually involved. I’ve read that there is a feeling that this demonisation of the GB is being driven by the club and when you have arch unionist brian wilson on the board and other unionist labour fans you have to wonder just how much of a hand have they got in this?

    I know if i were a unionist i would be hellbent on driving a wedge between celtic and independence, for me thats what sectarianism is all about, nothing to do with football its about dealing with the scourge of Irish nationalism and ensuring it doesnt break up the British state. Divide and Conquer, it works for a reason and this manipulation will ensure britain prevails and labour unionist MPs can continue riding the gravy train at westminster.

    think about it.

  3. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    Megz I did think but I had already made a similar comment when I shared to facebook.

  4. Wullie says:

    If they were demonstrating against the Bedroom Tax or Youth Unemployment I’d be all for them. This is just self-indulgent nonsense. Folk are sick to the back teeth of sectarian marches disrupting their weekends in the city centre. Re-route all these marches to Strathclyde Park, they can circumnavigate the loch till the cows come home.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I don’t think they were sectarian in any way shape or form. People have the right to peaceful assembly and this was clearly both an atrocious waste of police resources and abuse of state power.

  5. thelatemrb says:

    Come on Bella!
    Any chance of skipping the melodramas revolving around the either end of the sectarian divide over on the west-coast? (my sympathies to the vast majority of similarly uninterested folk over there that have to put up with it more than I do)
    This surely isn’t where Bella’s content is heading these days is it? If so your readership may not drop, but it’ll surely change its composition.

    Nae mair – pretty please!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks for the feedback, we’ll try and keep the balance right.

      We’re focused on civil liberties, police repression, the recent history of excessive force and kettling as a tool for social control. We think these are important topics for an analysis of the British State and for those of us who want better for an emergent Scottish polity.

      Worth noting that none of the editorial team are Celtic fans and we took different positions over the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. I think it was an essential part of a response to ongoing bigotry and sectarian hatred in Scottish society, Kevin thought it was (I think) an attack on civil liberties.

      Editorially we’re not going to focus solely on constitutional questions – we think that cultural, political and social issues are deeply connected and any division is a false one. I think this was a signficant event and connected to – for example the protests against political policing here: http://glasgowdefencecampaign.blogspot.co.uk/

      We don’t endorse or condemn the Green Brigade but we are interested in how (and why) this country is policed.

      1. thelatemrb says:

        Thanks for such a well-formed response.
        I do appreciate the stated categorization as one of civil liberties (i noticed the piece was tagged as such), and I have no problem whatsoever with whatever football affiliation any of the editorial team (or other contributors) may have – we are all subjective creatures with our own sets of filters and perspectives – I also have a healthy respect for the self-awareness and professionalism of Bella’s team to guard against the traps of their own biases.

        I agree that that it is a good thing for Bella to focus on a broad spectrum of issues, my problem with the piece is twofold –
        First, it’s entirely one-sided and bereft of context. The apparent bewilderment that on match-day in Glasgow, an unauthorised demonstration comprising disgruntled football supporters (from one of the teams playing that day) numbering around 200 would be handled in the same way as any other demonstration is, in my view, purposefully naive. The report on the heavy handed policing itself contains *no* eyewitness accounts from the reporter, instead we get many quoted statements to that effect from anonymous others.

        The demonstrators were all asked to record things, so presumably there is ample video and photographic evidence to educate the public and take the police to task?

        Am I wrong in thinking that the demonstration concerned the banning of some fans from attending at Celtic? For what? ‘Offensive behaviour’/’Sectarianism’?

        If so, then given the lack of any real content or context on the policing (beyond numbers and kettling), it leaves the piece as exactly what I said, another melodrama springing up as a side-effect around the ‘traditions’ of the west of Scotland. It apparently surprises folk to discover that these traditions and the storms that brew around them are a minority interest. I expect that is true of the majority of old firm fans too.

        I did visit the http://glasgowdefencecampaign.blogspot.co.uk/ site (I saw the links at the top of the piece), alas it doesn’t appear to say much about the ‘political policing’ they are against. Of course it would be a great concern to me if I knew of examples of political policing, but I didn’t get glean any from a quick poke round the site.
        I think many of the issues are just the nature of modern police and policing, problematic though they may be – doubly so when football and (dare I say it) sectarian aspects are thrown in to the mix. I’d certainly like to see any Bella articles on that subject; the current M.O. of the police does worry me, but I see it as an institutional thing with all forces aspiring to the depths offered by London’s Met.

        I’m sure I’ve been clear (to the point of boring) about my opinion as to the merit of the content, but obviously concede that some (inc Bella editors) feel differently. I’m fortunate that the site is a forum where my disagreement can be aired and noted.

        Sorry for the length (Im a blether), but thanks again for the repsonse – I’m happy to continue to trust your sense of balance.

        p.s. For what it’s worth, much as I personally might not like the slant or constitution of the piece – I do respect the reporter’s drive and involvement, and hope they continue with their journalism in general.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Thanks – it was intended as an eyewitness report – which it was. One of the issues abut the event is tat t was felt that it was happening outside the public eye. We do value people’s feedback – and take on board your views. We’re just a tiny group of people working on an entirely voluntary basis. Your disagreement is absolutely essential, thank you.

          But you say: “The apparent bewilderment that on match-day in Glasgow, an unauthorised demonstration comprising disgruntled football supporters (from one of the teams playing that day) numbering around 200 would be handled in the same way as any other demonstration is, in my view, purposefully naive.” Surely ‘equality before the law’ is an essential principal?

          1. thelatemrb says:

            Indeed, “equality before the law” is an essential principle, but conflating the principles of law with a context laden policing of an event is wrong.
            A bunch of seedy looking guys with sweeties and puppies is worth a glance, but a bunch of seedy looking guys with sweeties and puppies at the playpark is worth more than a glance, no?

            Context is a huge factor in policing events surely? You can’t treat them all the same. Just leave the Fascists and the Anti-Fascists to have their demonstrations at the same time and place?

            If another 200 strong group of disgruntled football fans had on their match day started an unauthorised ‘corteo’ and were left to get on with it by the police, then there would have been a case for arguing that the Green Brigade hadn’t been dealt with in a way that was not in keeping with the principle of equality before the law. But there wasn’t.

            I’m running the risk of sounding like an apologist for heavy-handed policing, let me be clear; I am not.
            But it looks to me like the Green Brigade are busy hijacking concerns about policing for their own ends, and others are hijacking the subsequent ripples to have a go at the SNP, or Yes. For what? Because a small number of people have fallen foul of legislation they disagree with – boohoo.
            Police heavy handed? And the Green Brigade weren’t expecting that when they organised a ‘corteo’ without authorisation on match-day in Glasgow? It looks like a tango to me.

            As an aside, I note that the bbc are reporting (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-21813699) the police as claiming they offered to facilitate the demonstration to travel to Celtic Park on pavements, but that the offer was refused by the protestors. If true the demonstrators clearly felt that proceeding with a demo which the police were going to stop was more use to them than getting to Celtic Park with a journey of less impact but being able to make their demo at their destination.

          2. thelatemrb says:

            sorry double neg in the 3rd paragraph. It should (hopefully obviously) read ‘… a case for arguing that the Green Brigade hadn’t been dealt with in a way that was in keeping with the principle of equality before the law.”

            Also I now know far more about an event I didn’t really want to give oxygen to – that’ll teach me to not just shut up! 🙂

  6. stevie says:

    Bella your last reply sets your stall.
    The simple fact is stated by a policeman early in the article:
    “They didn’t apply to march,” one told me. “They have to make an application to Glasgow City Council. We’re here to prevent disruption. We’re here for public order.”
    I am often regarded as anti-police and anti-establishment but on this occasion I support, in principle, the presence of the police. Oh and just to make things clear I am also a Celtic fan, but certainly not a fan of this infantile Green Brigade.
    They are an embarrassment to ordinary supporters like myself who have followed Celtic, without any religious or political prejudice, for almost 50 years. The closest prejudice I bring to my support of Celtic is my nationalist pride – for a proud Scottish football team.
    The hoods, the scarves covering faces – we’ve all seen it. Would you want to see a crowd of 200 football fans meeting up outside your door for a “peaceful” protest, especially if you know of their reputation?
    Protest marches of this size have rules governing application, not to remove our right to free speech, but to maintain order for the rest of us. I’ve been on marches through Glasgow in the early 70s supporting UCS and protesting against Vietnam. I was 12 and for me it was fun. These days things are so different – social media make sit easy to gather a group, sometimes a mob at short notice – and the rules are there to maintain some semblence of order, for all of us.
    Police taking batons to children is not to be condoned though and needs to be investigated.
    However children should not be in an unauthorised protest march.
    And yes, I agree, I shouldn’t have been at the UCS or Vietnam marches either. That was my own father’s attempt to mould me into the kind of Socialist he was.
    I’ve managed that the long way round myself.
    If this group have a plausible political message to make then that’s fine. I just wish they’d find another medium to convey it through other than my beloved football club.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Well that’s one view, that any demonstration that isn’t registered should be banned. I disagree with the premise (this is a very recent development). But what we have here is a peaceful protest being violently suppressed. The reality is that the British police have an appalling track record of managing protests in recent years from the high profile of Ian Tomlinson to (if you want to get historical) Blair Peach.

      If you are happy with that style of policing that’s fine, I think it’s totally unacceptable.

  7. floakmusic says:

    This was a protest against Police Harassment which culminated in severe Police Harassment. Anyone who thinks this is “just west coast sectarian” nonsense is failing to even try to understand whats happening here. The Green Brigade may be young and naive in political, civil or diplomatic matters matters but they are not violent or evil yet have suffered constant abuse at the hands of Strathclydes finest. The Police are acting beyond their remit and they are USING a law that the SNP forced through to do so. This is already generating bad press and extreme ill-feeling for the SNP amongst Celtic and other football fans, which in turn affects the Independence Campaign.
    Going back to the most basic level, are the “Bella lets just move on please” commentators okay with such Police actions…lets hope there no issues on your next Rally or demo, organised, approved or otherwise.

  8. Craig P says:

    I don’t think much of the Green Brigade (they delight in taking offence, so in a perverse way this incident will have cheered them up no end) but this is dangerous, as many ordinary Celtic fans will hear about police harassment, then do the mental leap to Catholic persecution in an independent Scotland.

    I still think the new laws are necessary though, as sectarianism needs to be dealt with, and Rangers and Celtic football clubs (not schools, not churches) are the wellspring of this.

    1. floakmusic says:

      While i agree that there is clear worry about a misguided concern regards Catholic persecution under a Free Scotland, I feel the main question here is not Sectarianism but how the Police are acting/enforcing this law. Already there has been a case in Inverness thrown out of court after 2 Police officers evidence was deemed unreliable by the Judge. One officer claimed “Well i was offended” as enough justification for arresting a young football fan singing a song that the Police had misinterpreted. The Police should not decide the law, they should uphold it and their current actions seem to be more political than social

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