Regardless of what your views on RBS are on many subjects, they are not the exclusive bank of oil companies and resource miners. So, apart from some publicity for all concerned the whole climate change protest thingy in Edinburgh in August 2010 was simply a minor itch that most residents and visitors thought was a Fringe show. Anyway, "protesting against climate change" seems to me to be about as useful as protesting against night following day!
The day of innocent and idealistic protesters taking to the streets in non-violent, silent vigil, and changing the course of history was likely a one-off event that most would-be protesters missed because of a hair-dressing appointment. However, the "we-was-there-and-it-was-great" myth perpetuates. These current protests, for what they were; were well organised and that points to a paymaster with an interest in it all happening - and being recorded as such by media.
I stumbled across such an organised incident in George St/N Castle St, Tuesday 24th August 2010, where two protesters chained themselves to the hand rails outside RBS George St retail branch. Accompanied by their "legal observer" in day-glo yellow vest and also by at least two "plain-clothes" observers with cameras and leaflets, they poured "oil" across the front door and across the ATM. A rumour was that the "oil" was actually molasses, but it was clearly lost on the protesters that sugar production contributes just as much to the current climate crisis as drilling for oil, so we'll leave their poor understanding of climate change issues to one side and concentrate on the real event - the public arrest of the protagonists.
Who was disturbed by this incident? Well, a couple of old ladies couldn't get into the bank and a girl trying to get money out of the ATM without standing on the "oil". Other than that most folks passing thought it was a Fringe Festival stunt for the latest student show. On cue, as it were, the police turned up to remove the protesters. Someone at police incident control wasn't sure what was really happening, so a full bakers-dozen uniforms appeared to apprehend and control a handful of benign students - and more back-up was coming
I was a passing citizen, a council-tax payer of Edinburgh, interested in why my police resources where paying to pick up the wine-bar warriors from London, just so they could brag over a couple of fizzies with their mates after they got bailed. And who, anyway, was paying the bail money and/or the fines they'd surely get after justice was served? Actually, I had another interest... as a photographer who likes shooting urban street scenes, such incidents serve to test just how much freedom there is for law-abiding citizens (and photographers) to go about their business. The professional photo press is always on about the restrictions imposed by Sections 43 & 44 of the Terrorism Act and whether the police have rights to stop photographers, look at their shots (and delete them) and potentially take their kit. So I decided to hang around on the fringe of this incident - making sure I wasn't interfering - to see what developed, if anything.
On a mere minor note, I didn't have my camera with me. In fact it wasn't even in the car, but back at home, so here I was in a "developing incident" of the news-worthy kind, with no camera to hand. I didn't even have a my mobile on me - it was in the car too! This problem was solved for me by Lothian & Borders finest who decided to huckle the protesters into the wagon - whatever happened to the "Black Maria" of the 1960's - but away from the branch in case it caused a "disturbance". I followed the crew of now nearly twenty people - more uniforms had arrived - further down the street where they conveniently stopped right next to my car! So, a double opportunity presented itself - a developing incident and would Apple's iPhone now leap into the furore and save the digital day because my Canons were at home resting?
Its easy to spot press photographers on the street; a pair of 1D's and the white "L" series lenses knocking out unfortunate pedestrians as they rush to the scene, is the giveaway. But what if all you've got is an iPhone? I started taking shots with the iPhone of what was going on - which was nothing really. Two, zip-suited protesters were in hand-cuffs surrounded by a brace of uniforms each. The "legal observer" was photographing stuff and scribbling notes (to be used against you...blah, blah) and a couple of girls ("plain-clothes", under-cover observers) were trying to annoy the uniforms by getting in their way. I was on the fringe of all this, cursing the iPhone's ultra-slow shutter - a pro-camera shutter is near-instantaneous - as I continually missed the shots I wanted. The iPhone isn't designed for this kind of job - you have to anticipate a scene about two seconds before you want to get the picture, and for news that's two seconds too slow. The police wagon turned up and one of the hand-cuffed protesters got bundled inside - photo as above - only because they stopped there for a few minutes, long enough for the iPhone shutter-delay to have no impact on the scene.
Meanwhile, one of the "under-cover" girls managed to annoy a uniform enough to get herself arrested for Breach-of-the-Peace - Scotland's catch-all offence. Even the legal observer didn't observe it - she had to ask another uniform why the cuffs were going on. I, by now, was thoroughly pissed-off with the iPhone's shutter delay and decided instead to switch to video. Now, this was more like it and the iPhone rose like a salmon to the fly. This phone was built for unobtrusive video. So unobtrusive that the "legal observer" now legally observed me and asked if I was "Police, journalist or secret service"! Yes, that me, James Bond in my hired Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 using an iPhone to record who's who - its the cut-backs you know, helps us chaps blend in or whatever.
I continued to video under-cover girl in her fetching purple tights and cyan cardigan (style, NOT!) as she reveled in her arrest, flashing the cuffs as she was searched for...what? A more suitable cardigan? Now that would have been a laugh. She noticed me videoing and started shouting at me who I was and why I was recording her. I imposed my constitutional right and refused to answer her on grounds she was a prat. She asked me to stop videoing. One of the uniforms sniggered at the irony - she'd been arrested for sticking her camera in the faces of others who were equally upset by her similar refusal, so I could see I'd found a friend. I stopped however; no reason to get myself in the cells beside them - I might have been poisoned.
Through all this - about 45 minutes all told - the police were calm and ignored me, although my observing from the fringe was suspicious simply because I'd been there for so long. The protesters though were now getting agitated at me. The "legal observer" decided to take a photograph of the number-plate of my hired car. Now why would she do that? Do "they" have access to DVLA records? Who are "they"? I thought this was an innocent protest by principled students concerned about the injustice of big business - until of course the scrutiny is turned on them and then "they" react in a very organised and un-innocent way. A police officer approached me, concerned my presence might cause things to kick off. He didn't ask my name, but what was I about? I replied I was a "concerned citizen and Council-tax payer" but as nothing was happening I'd leave the scene. So I got in my "secret service" hired car and drove off wondering if in a couple of weeks I'd be driven off the road by a balaclava-clad man in a dark battery-powered car - or maybe he targets some poor schmuck who'd hired the Corsa next and turns up dead in a ditch instead of me. Should I be worried?