James Kelman

Subjective Account

About 200 folk turned up. Mostly individuals unconnected to any grouping. Very few young folk. We took it to them by moving into the chambers en masse. Inside we were asked to wait in the lobby while discussion on East End Management meeting venue went on; the security staff were not ‘empowered’ to let us through and we were acceding to their authority. Eventually initiative was taken by among others Brendan and Janette, we just empowered ourselves, walked through and on up to the room in question. A good initiative this. It meant we were playing by our rules, keeping control. It’s possible the body wouldn't have ‘been allowed’ upstairs en masse, for whatever reason or excuse. It gave us confidence for the stages to come - otherwise control could just have been handed to them on a plate.

Upstairs we were ‘instructed’ to wait by closed doors until the liveried staff could find out the score. Both men were agitated but firm; to have continued on then would have meant physical confrontation. The older guy laid his hand on my arm at one point and spoke of phoning the police; his taller mate was provoked by myself when I knocked off the older guy’s hand and wagged my finger into his face, but he managed to avoid hitting me.

They made the mistake of going away altogether, probably assuming the authority of their position: because they had told us to wait it didn't cross their mind we wouldn’t. Once they had gone we opened the door and continued through.

A liveried member of staff kindly pointed out the room. The East End Management Committee were already preparing for the meeting, so the room was selected by this time although that information had not yet been passed to the security staff in the front lobby. Knowing the procedure was so important here; not many of the public would have known which meeting to ask for, and the security guy would then have been less willing to give the information; it was the ability to ask for the correct committee meeting formally, showing authority to the guy, that got us through - Brendan I think has asked the ‘right’ question.

Again we took it to them by just empowering ourselves, and entering the room until finally the liveried staff caught up with us to put the block on. With Committee backing they tried to restrict the numbers of the public allowed into the meeting. We disagreed, insisted on full representation. Eventually they conceded and the venue was switched to the full chambers. We followed without waiting for an invitation, walking as a body.

The committee were obviously nervous but responding in different ways; some such as Councillor Matt Adam were happy to show their contempt for the lobby even at this stage; others used a similar defence mechanism - a mixture of genuine contempt plus the need to put on a face to the colleagues at all costs. And that was prevalent right the way through the meeting. The need to save face and to intimidate the body of the people came out in smiles and nudges and winks and the occasional yawns etc. One councillor, a member of militant asked Elaine, “Who do yous fucking think yous are?”

At the door of the chambers the Committee Chairman asked for three representatives to speak on behalf of the public. He was given three names by those at the door. This was a body of people representing nobody but themselves, it was not a formal grouping of any kind. That point was missed by every official there. They could not seem to comprehend the possibility of individual members of the public coming together to act as they were acting. The idea that nobody was empowered to ‘represent’ folk seemed totally alien to any of them. The issue of spokespeople must be discussed more fully. It keeps cropping up in different ways and we have to prepare for it. Ultimately on this occasion folk just spoke anyway. Decisions obviously have to be taken by individuals at some point or another but they should be anticipated as far as possible.

The public were shown to their ‘places’ in the back and side galleries by liveried gents but exercised the right to sit in other places. The agenda was altered, item 7 became item 1 for our benefit. But was this for our benefit or theirs? Would it not have been an idea for some of us to have waited through the entire meeting? My own feeling is uncertain and for that fact alone I would have preferred not to miss what they said after we had gone. I think it would have been good not to let them off the hook, that we might just have given them the psychological advantage by making ourselves scarce. We would have made them even more nervous by staying till the bitter end.

Hugh pointed out at the opening that he was speaking for himself alone.

Perhaps there is a need to restrict the number of speakers, who knows, until the matter arises. But this matter was not being allowed to arise by the councillors. Their brand of democracy is geared to excluding different voices. Not everyone wants to speak in public anyway. And those who do usually make an effort to raise different aspects from previous speakers. When they don’t they’ll soon have it pointed out by everybody else. There was no way that the many arguments of the public could be ‘represented’. For a start, nobody knows what these arguments are. The ages of the Protest lobby ranged from about 5 years of age to 80 years of age. Who knows what they all thought. Once we had returned to the pavement outside there was somebody amongst us said that we didn't want it deteriorating into ‘anarchy’. But using language in this way is playing into the hands of those in authority, whether it be in George Square or Whitehall. As far as they’re concerned the voice of the public is anarchy, and from here it’s a very short step into talking about mob-rule and the need for what they call Public Order. In this context Public Order always means State Control - which was what had already happened since 50 or 60 of the troops were on the premises. Who called in the police is something we should find out immediately and make public.

If we don’t want to allow everybody and anybody the right to speak then maybe we need to discuss what we mean by public protest. It was obvious that many folk didn’t know the formalities of this kind of meeting - I’m one of them. I don't see anything wrong in it. Not everyone wants to know the formalities. Part of the strength of this group is exactly that, we play by different rules, we aren’t controlled by their agenda. If the public weren’t angry and emotional then they wouldn’t attend the protest lobby. But part of these formalities is that you don’t get angry and emotional. Public outrage is exactly what this kind of meeting is designed to suppress. It is public outrage that make folk like Matt Adam chortle with glee. I personally don't see anything wrong with the elderly woman who berated the councillors from the back gallery. Nor with the guy from Springburn who reminds folk that the actual pavements now seem to be the property of the building developers. We should never be tentative or embarrassed by folk who are emotional - leave that to the councillors and M.P’s. As soon as we stop being angry it’ll be because we've won the battle.

This battle is far from won. One thing required is a working definition of ‘integrity’ otherwise it’ll be used against us. Also be aware that the East End Management Committee have only agreed ‘unanimously’ that the ‘surface’ of the Green isn't going to be tampered with. Where do overhead motorways and underground road tunnels come into it? Because it's a “Regional” decision what strategy should we apply?

Other points for future ref: workload needs to be spread. New ideas are all very well but it’s the implementation of the ideas that need doing, putting the ideas into practice. Three or four folk are consistently doing the leafletting and postering and putting the Keelie together and some other bits that demand time, eg. writing and gathering information, giving out information, talking to the media and so on and so forth. But maybe we should be looking at ways of spreading the work about, otherwise folk’ll just get scunnered. Think twice before raising an idea if you can’t attend to it yourself.

Very few young people are involved. Not many women. Should we look at that or not? Should we anticipate the need for spokespeople, maybe on a rotating monthly basis. Use our own meetings as ways of getting folk used to public speaking. If Workers City is initiating campaigns then should it be looking at its own role a bit more thoroughly. How does this support group differ from a political party for instance? Is it feasible to initiate a campaign and expect a newly formed committee to act autonomously straight from the kick-off? It isn’t that Workers City needs to keep control of any campaign initiated by them, but it definitely has to see that the new committee has a working knowledge of what’s required, and if not then it has to be prepared to give assistance at a very basic level. To what extent is there room for expansion in the Workers City group itself?

A lot of problems are to do with organisation, rather than strategy, and this seems to mean the need for the kind of formalities we are suspicious of, maybe things like subcommittees etc, but we don’t have to be scared by that, although it definitely pays to be wary.

I wrote the above account immediately after the demonstration referred to. Although it was a genuinely historic occasion I don't think this occurred to anybody until later; certainly not to me. At the time I did think it important enough to record quickly with as much details as I could remember. Obviously it’s subjective. It’s an account of how things went as I saw them, and some points I thought relevant at the time. I did it for the record itself and also that the document might be used as a discussion piece for the folk involved in the Workers City campaigning group. The discussion never took place - my own fault, I had passed it to Ian MacKechnie then forgot all about it. He gave it to Farquhar McLay who reminded me of its existence, and asked to use it for this anthology. I thought it best to submit anonymously. Farquhar thought it best I attach my name. I’m still not entirely convinced, but bow to his editorial judgement. I wrote the account in a oner and took pains not to revise it, without dwelling too long on why I thought that important, though I still do.

James Kelman
(November 1990)