Sunday Herald article on Glasgow police banning "cult" placards last weekend

The Sunday Herald have a report on the events I witnessed last weekend. Apparently they got this comment from Strathclyde Police:

Strathclyde Police admitted officers had stopped activists using the word “cult” after receiving a complaint.

A spokeswoman said: “The word is not a breach of the peace in itself. However, in this case it was exacerbating the situation and our stance was that we had to remove that.

“From a policing point of view, a balance has to be struck between the right to assemble and hold a meeting and other persons’ rights to go about their business or demonstrate without being obstructed or hindered.”

I’ve seen the protesters out several times in recent weeks. As far as I can tell they have not hindered the public using Buchanan Street nor have they prevented the Scientologists from organising their “free stress tests”. They have simply held up placards and worn masks. They may have used some chants but if so I’ve not witnessed that. To me, it seems they have done nothing wrong and the police have failed to justify their action.

If someone you’re protesting against can get the police to remove your placards simply because they (claim to) find a word on the placard offensive, then it seems to me the right to peaceful protest is dead.

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Glasgow anti-Scientology protestors told to bin "cult" signs

Today I was helping out at the Glasgow NO2ID’s stall in Buchanan Street. As we were packing up, Geraint, the Glasgow No2ID group coordinator mentioned that the police had been called to an anti-Scientology protest taking place further up the street.

I’d noticed the “free stress test” stalls run by the Scientologists earlier in the day, and we were both curious as to what was happening so we went to chat to the protestors. The police were still talking to them when we got there. I was told by one protestor that a “May Day” flag had been confiscated, and that they were being told that the word “cult” was offensive and, if I recall correctly, if they continued to use it it would constitute a “breach of the peace”.

Also, I personally witnessed one of the protestors taking some signs to the bin at the direction of one of the officers. The signs being binned apparently used the word “cult”. Geraint later told me he’d seen a the protestors holding a sign saying “Cult” with an arrow on it which was held so as to point at the scientologists. This was presumably one of the binned signs. The protestors were however allowed to continue their protest, though the were told to make sure they were well over the other side of the street from the Scientologists. I’ll add that the police were perfectly civil towards the protestors as far as I could tell.

However apparently Glasgow police think it is “offensive” to describe Scientology as a cult, or at least were willing to act on the basis of offence caused to whoever phoned them up to complain (most probably one of the Scientologists).

And this episode, along with the recent episode in London (which has had a happy ending thankfully), illustrates why “causing offense” should not be considered a valid restriction on freedom of speech or the right to peaceful protest. People can (claim to) take offence at ANYTHING, including purely factual statements. Not causing offense may be good manners, but you should not be required by law to do so since that allows people to silence those whose message they simply don’t like and to silence those exposing awkward truths.

The Church of Scientology would love to have the power to silence its critics and it seems the idea that causing offence is sufficient grounds to curb someone’s speech or protests is beginning to give them that power here in Britain.

Glasgow No2ID Music Gig

Glasgow’s No2ID group, campaigning against the government’s national identity scheme, have organised a fundraising music gig for the 26th July at Barfly, 260 Clyde Street, Glasgow, doors open at 8pm. Tickets are £5 in advance, £6 on the door. You can buy them here.

The gig takes place on both floors with downstairs featuring rock/metal and upstairs for acoustic/experimental music.

Bands appearing include: Mama Mayhem, Serpico, Marshan, Stonesthrow, Warped Memories and Traquair.

See also the No2ID music site on myspace.

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Is Scotland’s First Minister considering more nuclear power?

The prospect of the world’s oil supplies running out is clearly having an impact on our politicians, as they begin to question the moratorium in building new nuclear power stations.

Tony Blair has dropped hints about this over the last year or so and today, the Sunday Herald reports that Jack McConnell, the First Minister of the Scottish Executive, is considering allowing more nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland:

First Minister Jack McConnell is paving the way for a Scottish Labour U-turn which would remove its opposition to new nuclear power stations being built in Scotland. McConnell has launched an internal party consultation on whether Scotland can afford to turn its back on the controversial energy source.

His colleagues are being asked to decide whether a commitment to another generation of nuclear reactors should become official party policy.

The move follows widespread speculation that Prime Minister Tony Blair will back new nuclear power stations as a solution to energy shortages and as a way of helping the government to fulfil its pledge to reduce carbon emissions.

But the energy issue is sensitive for McConnell, who along with his coalition partners at Holyrood, the Liberal Democrats, has ruled out any new nuclear power stations while the problem of radioactive waste remains unresolved.

The consultation is part of Labour’s “policy forum” process that will lay the foundations for the party’s 2007 Holyrood election manifesto.

According to today’s paper edition of the Sunday Herald, between 1990 and 2002, nuclear power accounted for 35% of Scotland’s electricity, gas accounted for 20%, renewables 11% and coal 33% (there appears to be 1% unaccounted for).

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Scottish Parliament votes against Labour’s ID cards plans

Today, on the basis of a motion put forward by the Scottish Green Party, Members of the Scottish Parliament voted, by a margin of 52 to 47, with 15 abstentions, against the govt’s planned identity cards:

The Scottish Parliament has voted against UK Government plans to introduce identity cards.

The measures were branded “regressive” and a threat to personal freedom during a debate called by the Scottish Greens at Holyrood.

Labour insisted that the system would actually strengthen civil liberties.

MSPs rejected ID cards by 52 votes to 47 after the Green motion received cross-party support, although the matter is reserved to Westminster.

It should be noted that whilst the Parliament cannot oppose the measures outright, they can prevent the cards being required to use public services in Scotland and thus can minimise its impact.

None of the Scottish parties other than Labour could support this measure, not even the Tories who say they’re in favour in principle.

The Lib Dems abstained, claiming that the motion did not go far enough in opposing ID cards outright, as opposed to the govt’s specific plans. Whilst this was true, it seemed to me that defeat of the motion would have been a blow to the campaign against the cards and that a stronger motion would have seen the Tories oppose, thus making it likely the motion would be defeated.

Nevertheless, this is a welcome development for those opposed to the ID cards and the database associated with them. Thanks should go to the Scottish Green Party who gave up one of its few slots in the Parliament for this debate and the accompanying motion.

Now for the House of Lords…

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Glasgow night club chips its sheep customers…

Following in the footsteps of a club in Barcelona, the Glasgow night club, Bar Soba, has decided that its cattle customers can avoid the hassle of having to bring their wallets with them if they get a VeriChip stuck under their skin:

A Scottish nightclub is about to become the first in Britain to offer its customers the chance to have a microchip implanted in their arm to save them carrying cash.

The “digital wallet”, the size of a grain of rice, guarantees entry to the club and allows customers to buy drinks on account. Brad Stevens, owner of Bar Soba in Glasgow, said his customers had responded enthusiastically to the idea.

The VeriChip is inserted by a medical professional and then scanned for its unique ID number as a customer enters the bar.

“There are a number of advantages, from instant access, to not having to carry money or credit cards, to letting bar staff know a customer’s name and favourite drink,” said Mr Stevens. “By the time you walk through the door to the bar, your favourite drink is waiting for you and the bar staff can greet you by name.”

What’s to stop someone else reading the chip without your knowledge, stealing its unique ID number and creating their own chip using your ID and your money to buy drinks at Bar Soba?

What’s to stop someone using this chip to track your whereabouts at other times for more sinister purposes?

It seems that getting yourself chipped is the latest in a line of bad suggestions for what to do with these things, e.g.:

  • A company in Mexico will chip your kids ostensibly as a measure to prevent them being kidnapped. Surely this simply means the kidnappers will now mutilate the kids to remove the things? Maybe they’ll even get scanners in order to track the kids to kidnap them in the first place?
  • A couple in the UK were reported to have decided to chipped their daughter after the murder of 2 girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, in Soham. This received the backing of academic Kevin Warwick.
  • Schemes for chipping schoolkids’ clothing, or in tags they wear around their necks to e.g. keep tabs on their arrival/departure from school have been proposed or are being implemented, e.g. in Japan and the US.

Spy.org.uk have this to say about such schemes (and I quite agree):

These so called “security” chips are the 21st century version of permanent cattle brands (indeed the original market for Verichips is for prize cattle and pet cats and dogs) or tattoos.

We find the concept completely unethical, bordering on actually evil. What is there to prevent this technology being used by exploiters of slave labour, pimps and brothel keepers, religous cults, abusive or paedophile parents or police states in order to control the movements of their victims and to prevent escape via actual alarm systems or the fear that “we will track you down if you try to escape”? (Emphasis added)

I’d add that the current uses of these chips for tracking children or allowing you to pay for drinks without having your wallet with you will tend to get people used to having technology in them/their clothing allowing them to be tracked 24/7.

Note that many of us already voluntarily carry around devices that can be used to track us — our mobile phones. At least we can easily leave them behind or switch them off if we want to stop it. A chip under the skin will be a different matter — fancy gouging it out just for some privacy?

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No2ID e-Petition and Scottish website

I’ve been meaning to blog these two items for a while. No2ID an umbrella group campaigning against ID cards have a petition online here. This will be sent to the govt in time for the Queen’s Speech on the 23rd November. The closing date for signing up is the 19th November.

There is now also a website for No2ID in Scotland. This is run by Trevor Mendham of Big Blunkett fame.

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