STATEMENT: Police repression of republicanism must end

The Republican Socialist Platform unconditionally condemns Police Scotland’s harassment, detention and attempted criminalisation of peaceful republican gatherings in Edinburgh and Glasgow over the past few days. This is the culmination of nearly a decade of heavy-handed policing, aided and abetted at every turn by the Scottish government. From the indefensible criminalisation of working class people through the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, to the cold-blooded murder of Sheku Bayoh, to a culture of sexual violence and machismo within its own ranks — Police Scotland, under successive first ministers and chief constables, has acted with impunity to foster an anti-democratic environment in Scotland.

The puncturing of the relentless fawning at the proclamation of the new king in Edinburgh was an act of defiance. With absolutely no input from the people from whom he draws his living and derives his legitimacy, a man has been elevated to the highest office in the land by virtue of birth and death, without democratic consent or accountability. Absent a forum for popular democratic discussion of the head of the British state, we have recourse only to public protest to voice our dissatisfaction — if this were not an effective means of questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy, then Police Scotland would have no need to harass non-violent protesters as they have. Yet if there is one lesson common to the previous seven hundred years of Scottish history, it is that suppression of peaceful dissent cannot kill an idea: we suggest that the Scottish government and Police Scotland make a pilgrimage to the Covenanters Memorial at Greyfriars Kirkyard to remind themselves of that truth.

Earlier in the weekend, prior to the proclamation, Police Scotland made the appalling decision to ban a Glasgow march organised by mainstream Irish republican group Cairde na hÉireann to commemorate republican volunteers in the Spanish civil war, again clearly displaying the force’s authoritarian impulses as well as its willingness to appease fascist counter-protesters. This incident also evokes uncomfortable memories of Scottish police forces’ historic discrimination against the Irish minority and suppression of Irish republicanism in particular.

In England, at least two people were harassed by police officers for their peaceful protest of Charles Mountbatten-Windsor’s ascension to the British throne, with one arrested and threatened with charges. South of our border, this over-reach is possible because of the recent passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC), which extends police officers’ ability to harass and intimidate members of the public at will.

However, while the new laws have been rightly condemned in England and Wales as arbitrary and authoritarian, long-standing ‘breach of the peace’ laws play much the same role in Scotland and Scottish policing. Long used as a catch-all, pre-emptive punishment for those deemed personally unsavoury by Police Scotland, these laws represent an undemocratic and archaic approach to governing public spaces. That they have been wielded in recent days against peaceful protesters for the crime of showing insufficient deference to an unelected head of state is no surprise; they exist precisely to hinder democracy.

With policing and criminal justice devolved to Scotland, it is the Scottish government, led by the SNP and Scottish Greens, which must be held to account for this latest instance of over-policing. The RSP therefore calls on the Scottish government to rescind the charges lodged against the protesters and issue an unconditional apology to them for infringement of their inalienable democratic rights. The government must also repeal broad and repressive ‘breach of the peace’ and public order laws, and, in a show of their commitment to redressing these wrongs, commit to severely reducing the number of police officers present at protests.

The RSP further calls on the two parties that comprise the current Scottish government, the SNP and the Scottish Greens, to issue an unconditional apology to the protesters for their implicit support of ‘breach of the peace’ laws. Recognising that the SNP are not a left-wing party, we further call upon the Scottish Greens, who trade on their perceived radical credentials, to make good on their promises by issuing a statement acknowledging the irony of their complicity and silence in a government that would stifle peaceful republican dissent while they themselves are a republican party.

  • RSP members will be joining the solidarity demonstration taking place outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Friday 30th September, 9.45am.

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