A comic incident occurred during Peter Dow‘s protest against the Queen’s visit to Edinburgh last year. The republican campaigner may not share the majority view, but we do ostensibly live in a free society, tolerant of all opinions, from the mainstream to the slightly less so. It is this amiable fiction that was punctured comically as Dow, bedecked in custom pseudo-military tunic and holding a placard aloft was pulled aside by Lothian and Borders’ finest boys in blue, escorted off the Royal Mile, and deposited in a makeshift holding pen in Holyrood Park, out of sight and sound of the world and disturbingly, chillingly displayed to public ridicule. He bore the indignity stoically proving a far more powerful point about the extent of our freedom to think and act than may have been intended by the police who hemmed him in. Perhaps some speech isn’t free after all.
The degree to which the police will act to defend the greater public interest, and protect us not only from burglars and violent criminals, but also from assaults on our rights and freedoms was exposed earlier in the summer, when the Sunday Herald reported that police in Glasgow ordered protesters demonstrating against the scientology movement to take down placards which described them as a cult. The pernicious influence of the scientology movement has been well documented, and public concern about its opaque tactics would appear to be well founded and justified. For the police to take such a partisan step as to restrict the demonstration in this fashion would render the notion of peaceful protest not only a farcical fiction, but would signal the first descent into a police state where only ‘approved’ demonstration is permitted. Peter Dow and the anti-scientologists will tell you that quietly, surreptitiously and without greater public awareness, we have reached that point already.
September 23, 2008