With COP26 looming and 30,000 people about to descend on Glasgow to save the planet, there is growing concern that protests. strikes and demonstrations may wreck the summit and with it, Scotland’s reputation. Extinction Rebellion have already warned that they will have “no choice” but to disrupt the summit. Notorious for blocking traffic on the M25, causing huge tailbacks, they have promised to bring their version of “targeted disruption” to Glasgow in November. The climate change summit will run from October 31 to November 12, but there is a particular focus on Saturday 6 November, when there will be a Global Day of Action and it is anticipated that over 100,000 people will join marches and demonstrations in the city. Despite assurances that they will act “swiftly and robustly” against protesters who are violent or cause damage, it is feared that Police Scotland’s “friendly, fair and accommodating” approach may backfire.

Addressing an online event organised by The Scottish Police Authority earlier this month, Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins, ‘gold commander’ in charge of policing the conference, said “Our policing plan is about facilitating peaceful protest, even on occasions when it might be unlawful; we might have to deal with the unlawful aspects of it further down the line.” A statement from the police that they will “facilitate unlawful protest” appears to stretch credulity. If the police take no action when the law is broken, is such an act by the police not itself unlawful? Is this behaviour by the police permissible? If so, Scotland really has rolled out the red carpet for every lawbreaker, felon and delinquent who wants to block roads, smash windows, vandalise cars and generally cause mayhem. Surely the police need to re-think their tactics.

Assistant Chief Constable Higgins stressed that Police Scotland’s philosophy, style and tone during COP26 would be “fair, friendly and accommodating”. He may discover that the style and tone of Extinction Rebellion and other extremist Green protesters, will be far from fair, friendly and accommodating. They clearly have no compunction in causing massive commotion and disorder in their eagerness to hit the headlines. Bizarrely, the policing operation during the climate change summit is to be known as ‘Urram’ which is Gaelic for respect, although the most radical and selfish elements of the climate protest movements have shown little ‘urram’ for people’s livelihoods and right to go about their lawful business.

There is no doubt that the policing of COP26 will be a major challenge. Together with the 30,000 participants, there will be around 120 world leaders coming to Glasgow, including President Joe Biden and the Queen. Operation Urram will see around 10,000 police officers, many drafted in from every police force in Britain, deployed on each day of the summit. As well as monitoring the safety of the thousands attending the conference, the police will also have to keep alert for any threats of terrorism. They have an unenviable task. But while ensuring that the protesters’ right to free expression and peaceful assembly is scrupulously observed, the police must also ensure that the law is not broken. Those who brazenly commit offences must surely be arrested.

Roger Hallam, Extinction Rebellion’s founder, has boasted that he would be happy to block an ambulance carrying a dying patient, if it helped to get his movement’s message across. When shown video footage of a woman begging Insulate Britain protesters to get out of the way to allow her to rush her 81-year-old mum to hospital in London, Hallam bragged that he too would have blocked her way. The climate activists have been arrested in England for gluing themselves to motorways, spreading fake blood on buildings and pavements, locking themselves to railings, breaking into airports and blocking slip roads and junctions. Now Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s coalition ministers, has said that she will back activists who disrupt the summit. For a minister in the Scottish government to make such a statement is shameful. 

Assistant Chief Constable Higgins has even admitted that he and his deputy, Chief Superintendent Mark Hargreaves, held an online meeting with four of the leading members of Extinction Rebellion, reassuring them that unlawful protest in Glasgow will be tolerated. Higgins said “We explained what our policing philosophy is here; we explained that we will facilitate peaceful protest, we will facilitate unlawful protest, to a point.”  Higgins warned officers coming to Scotland from forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that they would be expected to adopt Police Scotland’s philosophy of “friendly engagement” with protesters. He emphasised that all officers policing COP26 would have to sign up to Police Scotland’s code of ethics, threatening that anyone who failed to conform would be “returned to their home force.” The eco-warriors will be rubbing their hands together in glee at this open invitation to break the law. 

In her speech to the Tory Conference in Manchester, Home Secretary Priti Patel promised that she would “give police and courts new powers to deliver so they can deal with the small minority of offenders intent on causing disruption to our communities”. In Scotland, however, those powers lie with the SNP government and Keith Brown MSP, the Justice Secretary. While the SNP have been quick to criticise Priti Patel for her crackdown on peaceful protests in her Westminster Policing Bill, they have sought similar powers themselves at Holyrood, implementing draconian legislation to limit demonstrations outside the Scottish Parliament. It seems the SNP government is quite content to allow climate radicals to run amok elsewhere, so long as it is not in the precincts of Holyrood. Breath-taking hypocrisy.

The last time Scotland hosted a major international conference was the G8 summit at Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder in 2005, when Tony Blair was prime minister. More than 200,000 people took part in Make Poverty History and anti-globalisation demonstrations, with violent anarchists blocking roads and railways. Over 700 people were arrested. That event should have served as a lesson, but the order has gone out; during COP26 in Glasgow the police will tolerate people who break the law. Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart, of beloved memory, would be spitting his dummy out.