Pitched outside the Scottish parliament is the Holyrood Rebel Camp. Those involved are partaking in five days of action to persuade the government to more to ‘combat the climate crisis’ and to prevent ‘ecocide’. Tents are nestled amongst banners and huge hand crafted sculptures, pop up toilets and gazebos scatter the lawn which is specked with luminescent police officers. When asked if they had permission to be camped in this spot, activist Marco said ‘No’. In fact, he says: ‘Parliament came and served us a letter when we arrived, to state that we do not have formal permission to be here.’ But despite this clear breech of what is legally permitted, Marco is of the understanding that the presence of the Peace Camp is not entirely frowned upon.
‘There’s a precedent of protest being tolerated on this land, the parliament sees it as a democratic right to protest, and because it is a relatively short camp, and because it is clear we are looking after ourselves and the site these things are being taken into account.’
The thing is; the Extinction Rebellion is not really bothered about ‘legality’. So far, this particular bout of action has accumulated in thirteen arrests, a dance that both protesters and police are now well versed with. During an arrest, a police officer will read the offender their rights, before removing them using whichever tools they may require to assist in the arrest. The arrestee will play dead weight, making it as difficult a process as possible. Normally, two or three officers are required to lift the protester off the ground. Arrest is an integral part of the Extinction Rebellion strategy, as is outlined on the Legal Strategy section of the website. ‘If the courts keep hearing the same message from us, then that message will get through, and more people will demand the urgent and radical action that is required’.
The Extinction Rebellion activists are not the only ones with a strategy, the police are seemingly following one too. On Monday, disruption peaked in Edinburgh City centre when Extinction Rebellion activists chained themselves together, laying down in the middle of Lothian Road at the height of rush hour. The road, normally humming with cars and busses, was instead glowing with fluorescent police jackets. Howard, a pedestrian from Gorgie, was arguing with a police man, who was flat out refusing to allow him to pass. ‘You’re going to have to go round the long way,’ said the policeman. But Howard was utterly appalled by the diversion. He noted that in blocking one of the main arteries through Edinburgh, emergency vehicles were unable to pass through. ‘This is utterly selfish; it just puts lives at risk’.
Here is where the apparent police strategy becomes clear, and surprisingly, it seems to be rather similar to the strategy of the Extinction Rebellion. Maximise Disruption. In order to successfully quash the movement, police must villainise it, and prevent others from joining. To do this, they must disrupt as many non-protesters as possible.
This theory is described by one protester, who wishes to be identified by the name ‘Rebel’. He explained that the Extinction Rebellion would never intentionally block road to emergency vehicles, and rarely to pedestrians. Authorities are notified before the action, so that they can make necessary adjustments, and protesters will always allow ambulances and fire vehicles through. The latest protests in Edinburgh had been organised it so that businesses on either side of the road could still be accessed, and those walking could still pass through the blockade.
‘On Monday, we purposely left space for emergency vehicles and cyclists. But then the police come and drove twelve vans in, to completely block off the entire road. They didn’t let anyone past, not even pedestrians’. ‘We don't want to stop pedestrians. We don't want to reroute emergency vehicles. That's dangerous. But by overreacting and bringing in hundreds of officers to deal with just five people glued to the road, the police are actually creating disruption,’ ‘Rebel’ said.
‘Rebel’, Marco and their fellow activists explain that the heavy police presence is intimidating to people that may want to join the rebellion, which really, seems like rather an effective strategy from the point of view of the authorities. Walking down to Holyrood Palace where the Peace Camp is positioned, one would never guess that the UK is suffering from a police shortage. The area is brimming with uniformed officers. For now, the camp is peaceful, and the police are good natured, but for an outsider to the cause it sure does look intimidating. With that in mind, is the Extinction Rebellion still garnering support from the general public? Or is this latest week of action working to isolate the cause and those working for it?
To give an example. The Peace Camp is nestled in the shade of Arthurs Seat, which is now adorned with a huge green banner, that reads: ‘Act Now’. It’s rather inoffensive, dwarfed by the magnificent Cliffside of Arthur’s Seat. On Twitter, however, the trolls are out, questioning whether the XR activists ‘caused damage attaching the banner to the Cliffside’. It’s a criticism that often spars against the Extinction Rebellion action. Becoming an activist with this particular cohort is leaving yourself wide open to scrutiny. ‘He better be drinking from a keep-cup’. Says one passer-by, looking on at the protesters glued to the carpark down at Holyrood Palace, where one of the boys is drinking from a paper coffee cup, (a true villain of the eco-saga). To be fair, the cup looks like it’s been used before, it’s not a new one, but it’s been spotted, and the word ‘hypocrite’ has been muttered.
There are definitely mixed reviews here. On the one hand, people are grateful that action is being taken. They are grateful for a colourful revolt which takes the focus off of a bland Brexit. On the other hand, they are suspicious that the action is self-fulfilling rather than effective- some sort of glorified camping trip that just equates to virtue signalling. You’ve got to hand it to this Peace Camp however, for their requests have been realised. On the final day of the Peace Camp, before the closing ceremony, it was announced that the Scottish Government would be creating a Citizens Assembly.
XR Scotland has said that they would be checking to ensure that the government keeps to this new promise, but it’s a minor victory for the rebellion.
It shows that their five days of camping out, dancing, debating and human chaining have not been all in vain - and it hints that the rebellion, in this form, will live on.