Published 7 April 2013
Thousands of football fans rallied in George Square on Saturday and sent a strong message to the Scottish government and Strathclyde police in response to events three weeks ago in the Gallowgate, when almost 200 Celtic fans were kettled as they attempted to march to Celtic Park.
Protesters from across the country, Ireland, Cyprus, America, Sweden, Canada, Germany and Australia all gathered together to make their message, summed up by Jeanette Findlay of the Celtic Trust, very clear: “If you try to beat us off the street we will keep coming in back in bigger and bigger numbers until you have not enough truncheons and horses and dogs to keep us down and you don’t have enough bodies to kettle and constrain us.”
Men, women and children defied police instructions over dispersal after the rally and took to the streets with their banners and placards held high. In a non-violent act of civil disobedience, it was clear that the Scottish government and Strathclyde police had lost the respect of thousands of its citizens.
Some in the Scottish mainstream media may put a negative spin on that defiance, but history offers a different view on civil disobedience. The suffragettes didn’t bring about change by acting within the boundaries set down by the people who were oppressing them. They are an inspiration for the nation’s young women today. They fought for something that mattered and such battles are rarely won through official channels alone.
The numbers that filled the centre of Glasgow showed their support for football fans arrested or banned from football games in an embarrassing series of court cases and charges that have even left Scottish judges baffled. Sheriff Richard Davidson, when he cleared 19-year-old Dion McLeish of any wrongdoing when he sang a song in tribute to IRA hunger strikers at a Dundee v Celtic game, said: “In this context there might be a problem with Flower of Scotland. The word ‘mince’ comes to mind.”
Fans of Scottish football fear they have become an easy target for Alex Salmond’s Scottish government. However, the first minister must now realise he has an issue when that target is multiplied by thousands, willing to take to the streets and growing unconcerned with official permission. The march was impromptu, passionate, loud and charged through the streets of central Glasgow on behalf, it felt, of those prevented from doing so three weeks ago.
As Findlay pointed out in her speech at the rally: “What kind of city takes young people who are interested in politics and makes them hate police? This is dangerous and all football fans should be concerned.”
And they were. Fans from St Pauli, St Mirren, Motherwell, Dundee United and Hibernian joined the majority number of Celtic fans at the rally and stood in solidarity against the Scottish government’s Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act. The Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, should be paying attention. Football is cultural, it’s not just about supporting 11 men on a pitch. The Scottish government would be foolish to underestimate the power of that.
Labour MSP Michael McMahon spoke at the rally, and said of the Scottish government: “We have to make them listen because having an opinion that is different from theirs can’t be a crime. Be relentless and stay focused. You have my support.”
The demonstration at George Square was organised by Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC), an umbrella group comprising the Celtic Trust, the Green Brigade, Celtic Supporters Association, Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs and Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs. The group held an event at St Mary’s church in Glasgow a fortnight ago to gather evidence from those who had been at the Gallowgate the week before.
I attended that event and offered my statement. My 73-year-old father was kettled by Strathclyde police that day, on what should have been a trip to Celtic Park for his birthday. We didn’t make it; standing in the rain in freezing temperatures for an hour rendered that unpractical for an elderly man. I took him home instead.
At that event, 13 arrests were made as 200 Strathclyde police officers clamped down on the march, organised by Celtic fan group the Green Brigade, whose members say they have been victimised, harassed and put under surveillance by the authorities. Police vans, horses and a helicopter were in attendance at the incident, which police said was in response to an unauthorised march, despite the same officers having policed a banned event just an hour before without a single arrest.
This time, Chief Superintendent Andy Bates, Divisional Commander for Greater Glasgow Division, said: “There was no disorder and no arrests and I am delighted by the way in which those who took part conducted themselves.
“When planning for a day like today, we have to strike a balance between protecting people’s right to peaceful protest whilst ensuring that the city continues to operate with the minimum of disruption to the people who live and work here.”
What a difference three weeks makes.