As we await news of the G8’s deliberations, it was good to receive, as others must have done, letters from Tony Blair to all who had contacted him about the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign. It read like a ringing endorsement of our participation in the march around Edinburgh last Saturday.
As soon as we discovered that a cheap flight from Stansted would allow us to join the demonstaration, visit my sister in Edinburgh and get back in time for the Sunday services, we had to go. Initially the organisers had hoped for 100,000 people, double the number that had gone to make a human chain around Birmingham in 1998, appealing for the relief of debt as the jubilee year approached. Certainly our government had welcomed that human chain as a sign that the G8 needed a new agenda.
This time the numbers and the organisation proved far greater. Where Birmingham had a static human chain, Edinburgh the chain was a march which went on for hours. By the time we completed the circuit there were still so many people waiting to begin the march the whole queue was at a standstill, three hours after the first people had begun.
Initially the crowd met in the Meadows, where two stages with giant screens were set up. Images, speeches and music underlined the message of why we were there. Glorious sunshine, and colourful banners added to the enjoyment of the occasion. The rival attraction of watching the Bob Geldof concert either at home or on a large screen somewhere had obviously not diminished the crowds.
Compared with Birmingham, the police presence and the vast number of barricades, looked like complete overkill. On Princes Street, the main thoroughfare of the city, the width of the road filled with four rows of barricades was greater than the width afforded to the marchers. But why? The joyful crowds were adequately marshalled by a large contingent of trade unionists in yellow vests. Under their guidance we were held back at the start and then allowed through a fairly narrow gap, about ten abreast, for the march. Above us, across Edinburgh Castle on its crag, was a huge MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY banner.
One wag with a megaphone yelled out “Call this a march? It’s only an amble. Step it out as if you mean it!” He then turned on the megaphone to give a brief imitation of a police siren.
Amongst the sea of white clothing, a few anarchist troublemakers in black with hoods and faces covered stood out so much that they were easily rounded up by police before any problems could be caused.
The day before, preparations being made in the shopping centre were hugely varied. Some places remained open, and we were certainly grateful for the opportunity of a late lunch. Thousands more marchers must have appreciated the fact that most eating places were open. But apart from the demonstrators, Edinburgh was extremely quiet and many people must have gone on holiday. Some shops were closed, and had signs in the window saying “Closed — so that our staff can join the march”. Others were boarded up, some in order to remain open behind fortress like entrances, but the majority were closed. Perhaps Saturday, for the police and for those who boarded up their shops, was only a seen as a prelude to protests by violent protesters.
But for all who dressed in white and joined the march, it was a great and purposeful day, helping to set the world’s agenda in a way which meant that the poor could no longer be ignored, and that justice needed to be done. The city’s transport coped well, and there were no problems in making return journeys. Indeed, we were at home in time to see the conclusion of the Hyde Park concert.