UN climate change summit in Glasgow could be a terrorist target and Scotland's police must have the tools they need – Tom Wood

The recent release of Scottish government’s Cabinet papers for 2005 revealed some interesting titbits.

Security was tight as the G8 group of world leaders met in Gleneagles in 2005. The United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow will pose an even greater challenge for police (Picture: Kenny Smith)

One issue vexing the Cabinet early that year was the security threat around the upcoming G8 conference being held in Scotland that year.

The G8, the annual meeting of leaders of the world’s largest economies, was scheduled to take place over two days in July at the Gleneagles hotel in Perthshire.

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The threat was clear: protest and demonstration intent on disruption and possibly even terrorists drawn by the media spotlight.

Gleneagles was a good choice for a venue, remote, self-contained with a defendable perimeter. It was ideal for the relatively small number of delegates.

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But despite this there were attempts to breach the security cordon at Gleneagles, violent demonstrations in Edinburgh, and in London, Islamic terrorists killed 52 innocents in coordinated suicide attacks.

The G8 put enormous pressure on police resources in Scotland, even though considerable assistance was given by English forces.

A protester dressed as a clown stands by a fence near the Gleneagles hotel during the 2005 G8 summit.

Why the history lesson? Because it puts into context the enormity of the challenge that awaits our police service when, Covid permitting, the postponed 2020 United Nations climate change conference, Cop26, is held in Glasgow this November.

This conference is quite simply the largest and most complex event ever held in the UK. Thousands of delegates representing 200 countries will converge on the conference campus surrounding the SECC over an energy-sapping 11 days.

And the agenda has never been more important. Many believe that Cop26 is the last best chance for our leaders to get to grips with climate change, and save our planet.

It’s make or break and the world’s media, the celebs, the hangers on, and the protesters will all descend.

So, given the size and importance of this event, can our police manage it? The security surrounding the world’s leaders and delegations will present a huge logistical challenge. Guarding the perimeter of the huge conference site will also be an immense problem, especially over the protracted period of the conference.

Of course, given the media focus, there will be the usual political contretemps. Then there’s the demonstrations.

In recent years, climate change protests have attracted huge crowds. Groups like Extinction Rebellion are well-organised and adept at disruption. They will certainly try to grab the limelight.

Others will also see the world stage as a opportunity, we can expect any number of protest groups to turn up in numbers. And sprinkled among the genuine will be the malign, the anarchists intent on subverting peaceful protest. They came to Gleneagles and they will be in Glasgow.

Add to this mix the racing certainty of a cyber attack and the ever-present threat of terrorism and you have the mother of all challenges.

On the upside, Scotland’s police are well led and experienced in handling big events. Cop26 will be well planned and will draw on specialist resources from across the UK.

But to succeed at such an endeavour requires resources as well as skill. Let’s hope the government and police authority step up to provide that support.

Cop26 deserves a calm and secure space in which to take the most important decisions of our time. We can be confident that our police service can do that job – if they are given the tools.

Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable

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