SCOTLAND’S top cops have promised to do all they can to allow for “peaceful protest” during a climate change conference in Glasgow – and pledged to use the lessons learned from violent clashes around the globe.
Officers say they will facilitate rallies from climate change groups, political activists, and even schoolchildren while the world’s leaders attend the United Nations’ COP26 at the SEC in November.
With the likes of President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Pope Francis all expected to visit the city alongside “thousands” of delegates, cops say they are doing all they can to allow for “everyone’s voice to be heard”.
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins, who is responsible for the policing operation of the event – named Operation Urram – said: “We are already engaging with known protest groups and telling them our Police Scotland philosophy.
“We are engaging with the United Nations and telling them how their delegates should expect to be treated in Scotland.
“We believe protest is inevitable at this conference. At every COP conference so far, there has been protest but it has been peaceful or non-violent direct action – people doing lock-ons or mass sit downs on the road.”
As well as planning for peaceful protestors – such as “schoolchildren or climate activists” – ACC Higgins pledged to do all he could to protect Glasgow and the wider public from “anarchists”.
And while he moved to reassure locals there was no evidence at this time that any such threat was set for the city, he said officers were working closely with international partners to clamp down on violent disruptors.
He revealed Police Scotland was liaising with top brass in America to learn the lessons from the Capitol Hill riots, which saw protestors storm the US Congress building.
Thousands of officers are set to be drafted in from across the UK to help with policing such incidents – and the wider event – and will be held in 11 “staging posts” in Scotland, including at Mount Florida’s Hampden Park.
ACC Higgins, who said Scotland’s force will provide around 45% of all officers, said: “The trick I have to overcome is that within the policing plan is that I need to be able to allow [for peaceful protest] but cut off [anarchists]. All at the same time.
“We will be drawing on assets all from across the UK. Thousands of police officers will be travelling north.”
During the storming of the Capitol Hill, rioters were discovered to have used children as “human shields”, and ACC Higgins added: “It’s not happened in Scotland or the wider UK but it is one of the learnings we got from the Capitol Hill riots.
“The week after this, by coincidence, we had a Webinar event with chiefs of police in America and what they said is that some of the anarchists were sitting behind peaceful protests and throwing bricks at police lines.
“It’s a contingency we need to consider.”
With protests likely to take place in and around the whole city, some businesses and locals have raised concerns about the impact the conference could have but ACC Higgins has pledged to do all he can to support them.
“We respect the rights of the wider communities of Glasgow,” he said. “While there will be an element of disruption my job is to limit that.”
“We have to have a fluid approach to it. There are some right next to the site which will be impacted and probably have to close. That’s a matter for the UK government.
“The flip side is that tens of thousands of people are going to come into the city and there will be a potentially economic boost to certain elements in the city and that’s something the business community recognised.
“At the start of November and the start of the Christmas rush, we are potentially going to get thousands of people coming into Glasgow and spending money and going to restaurants and bars.
“The disruption will be both positive and negative and my job is to make sure these businesses can still safely operate.
“If somebody wants to protest outside McDonald’s, for example, then so long as they are not preventing legitimate customers going into McDonald’s, then they can protest away.
“It’s when they stop people going into any shop then that’s when it becomes unlawful and we need to take action.
“The impact on the business community could be economically beneficial.”