Officers set up an incident room to examine “valuable” CCTV evidence as SNP councillors criticised them for not acting more quickly to contain the disorder that broke out just hours after the Scottish independence referendum result was announced.
Police Scotland said arrests were for disorder, breach of the peace and vandalism, after people were attacked or threatened by the 700-strong mob who set off flares in the city’s George Square, where peaceful Yes rallies were held during the referendum campaign.
An estimated 150 police, some on horseback, were drafted in to separate the Union-flag waving demonstrators – some of whom were members of the extreme right-wing Scottish Defence League – from independence supporters.
A number of flags bearing Loyalist and Rangers FC insignia and messages could be seen among the pro-Union crowd, and witnesses reported hearing sectarian chants and songs.
Footage showed people being kicked to the ground, Nazi-style salutes and Saltire flags being grabbed from people’s hands. A photographer was forced to flee after being threatened with having his camera smashed.
He said: “I saw people being kicked about and some of the Unionists were even fighting each other. It was a poisonous atmosphere, with people with Union flags draped over their shoulders intimidating Yes supporters.”
Glasgow City Council’s opposition SNP group said the police response had been inadequate.
A spokesman for its leadership said: “They did not get this right – there were not adequate numbers there or the right strategy. The police just seemed to be standing back and were more interested in dispersing people.”
Deputy leader Billy McAllister is to write to Chief Constable Sir Stephen House over the concerns.
There was also criticism on Twitter. Matthew O’Hare, a Yes supporter from Glasgow, tweeted: “Not enough action by police”. Fellow Yes supporter “The Mitch”, from Ayr, was critical of the police and tweeted: “Openly allowing bigotry and racism to rule the streets of Glasgow.”
However, other politicians praised the police. Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The police did a superb job keeping order throughout the last week, and they again did well under tricky circumstances on Friday.”
Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “While the scenes in George Square were ugly and upsetting, I believe the police have done
a good job in bringing the country together over a very challenging period.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “There is no place for this kind of behaviour in modern Scotland. Whilst the police moved quickly to manage this situation, I would hope they would not be required to do so again in future.”
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “The small number of people who were responsible for causing trouble in George Square were clearly not affiliated to either side of the campaign.
“Police Scotland acted swiftly to take action against those intent on causing trouble and protect the safety of members of the public.”
Green MSP Patrick Harvie MSP said: “The small number of idiots who have behaved aggressively or violently bring shame on themselves and on our community. Their behaviour is an insult to democracy.”
Chief Superintendent Andy Bates, local policing commander for Greater Glasgow, said yesterday: “An investigation into Friday night’s disorder has begun and an incident room has been set up at Glasgow city centre police office, staffed by officers dedicated to identifying and arresting anyone involved in the ugly scenes witnessed across the world on television and social media.
“We have already secured valuable CCTV and other evidence, which I am confident will lead to further arrests in the coming days. Don’t think that because you were not arrested by last night that you will not be caught. If you were involved in any criminality in the square we will identify you and you will be arrested.”
Police said two Orange Lodge marches and one republican march in Glasgow yesterday passed off peacefully.