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Dave Moxham: Glasgow must not deny us our right to protest

LAST week, Michael Kelly weighed in on the growing debate over whether political demonstrations have a place in Glasgow city centre and, in particular, whether George Square should henceforth be a no-go area as a starting or finishing point for such events (Perspective, 16 August).

He recognised that the “anti-austerity” cause for which we will be demonstrating on 20 October is just and he also recognised that such events “always attract solid support from Glaswegians” and are “very well led and disciplined”.

But beyond this, we were subjected to a fairly depressing lecture along the lines of “protests don’t achieve anything” and the unequivocal view that any event deemed to cause disruption to the retail sector or to tourism in Glasgow should be excluded on commercial grounds.

The supposed negative commercial impact is not evidenced, is most certainly exaggerated and ignores the positive economic benefits of our bringing 10,000 people into the city where – aside from peacefully expressing their view – they will eat drink and otherwise spend money.

We must not assume people not involved in the march will consider it an annoying inconvenience. At the last large political protest in Glasgow on 30 November, shoppers applauded marchers in the street in their hundreds.

While no-one would disagree that balances need to be struck, the prospect that, as a matter of policy, central civic spaces should be denied to those wishing to exercise their freedom to assembly should be unthinkable. Yet this is precisely what Mr Kelly and, it appears, Glasgow City Council, are proposing.

From time to time, we permit our freedom of assembly to be restricted but only on good and compelling grounds. Absent those rules, no democracy has an entitlement to de-limit the freedom of expression of its citizens. The state exists to enable citizens to fulfil their lives, including their democratic lives, not vice-versa.

On 20 October, a 250,000 people have been given permission to march through the centre of London. Other great cities across Europe have seen protests that, frankly, dwarf the one we are proposing. It would be a sad day if Glasgow saw itself differently.

• Dave Moxham is deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress

 

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