G8 ten years on: Violence marred poverty protest

G8 riot police and protesters clashed during Monday's protest.

G8 riot police and protesters clashed during Monday's protest.

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THE most graphic images of the events surrounding the G8 summit ten years ago show angry rioters clashing with baton-wielding police officers on the streets of the Capital.

But just as dramatic are the pictures of a quarter of a million people filling the city centre as they march through Edinburgh in bright sunshine, calling on the world leaders to “Make Poverty History”.

Protestors clash with police. Picture: PA

Protestors clash with police. Picture: PA

The marchers had been asked to dress in white to create a “human wristband” around the city.

It was Scotland’s biggest-ever protest march and was beamed around the world as part of the build-up to the three-day gathering of world leaders at Gleneagles, where the world’s most powerful figures, including US president George Bush, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and French president Jacques Chirac, as well as host Tony Blair, were to discuss their response to world poverty.

So a decade later, how should the summit and the protests be seen? Has the world lived up to the hopes of the campaigners marching through Edinburgh that summer Saturday?

And how did the Capital acquit itself in the glare of global attention?

Saturday's march was largely peaceful. Picture: PA

Saturday's march was largely peaceful. Picture: PA

The summit produced a series of pledges, including America’s promise of 50 billion dollars of aid to developing countries – half of it for Africa – by 2010; an agreement to forgive debt to the most indebted countries; universal access to anti-HIV drugs in Africa by 2010; a foreign aid target of 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2015; and a reduction in tariffs that were inhibiting trade.

There was some disappointment that the summit did not go as far as campaigners had hoped – there was no agreement to address global warming, for instance – but others judged it to be possibly the most productive such gathering in the 30-year history of the G8.

Lesley Hinds, who was Lord Provost at the time and addressed the Make Poverty History rally, says: “It certainly put Edinburgh centre stage in the world.

“There was a big cordon put around Gleneagles, so Edinburgh became the focus of attention for a lot of the activity and also as a city which is supportive of Make Poverty 
History.

“It was a beautiful hot day. I remember masses of people at the Meadows and the highlight, the march along Princes Street. There was press interest from all over the world and I remember feeling proud as Lord Provost that our city was welcoming all these people and endorsing the message of the campaign.

“I think it did change policy because America and Britain and Europe put in place mechanisms to support poorer countries. Gordon Brown, in particular, was a leading light and even the current Conservative government has not cut back on aid.

“It changed people’s attitudes and said we should be caring about people throughout the world living in poverty and tackling big issues like clean water and fair trade, not just adopting a sticking plaster approach.”

And Councillor Hinds believes despite the violence Edinburgh came out well from the summit.

“There were skirmishes and ad hoc demonstrations that caused problems and challenges, but mostly there was a really good spirit.

“The police and the emergency services and the council all worked well together and Lothian and Borders was not about confrontation.”

She also believes the global exposure was an unmatchable gain for the Capital.

“Where else do you get that kind of profile – a glorious hot sunny day and Edinburgh beamed all over the world with the beautiful Castle in the background and the city laid out in front?”

But she does have one big regret – that she missed out on a rendezvous with George Clooney.

“I was on my way to an event in Princes Street Gardens where he was meant to be, but there was some kind of demonstration and the police advised him not to come out of his hotel, so I never did get to meet him.”

Tory councillor Iain Whyte was leader of the opposition group on the council at the time of G8 – and a member of Lothian and Borders police board.

“There were good pictures and bad,” he says. “The main march was mostly very well-behaved and showed the city in a very good light. But then there was some rioting in Princes Street in the next few days and Strathclyde police horses were brought through to join Lothian and Borders’.”

On the day of the march, he was out with a group of observers, both in among the crowd and in the police control room.

“It was the biggest march in Scotland’s history and it was well policed,” he says.

“Some very determined troublemakers infiltrated the crowd but the police managed to stop them and keep them away from the rest of the march and it went off peacefully,

“It was a great credit to the city, the Lothian and Borders force and the council and people of Edinburgh as well as the organisers.”

A report after the event estimated city retailers lost £7.4 million of sales during the summit, but hosting the G8 had boosted the Scottish economy overall by £65m. It estimated the big march and the Live8 concert had brought 100,000 extra visitors to Scotland and generated £10.2m new expenditure, while the cost of disruption was “impossible to estimate”.

Colin Fox, then a Scottish Socialist Party MSP for Lothian, was among those taking part in the Make Poverty History march. He recalls how the following Friday, once the summit was under way, buses of protesters heading for Auchterarder, the nearest town to Gleneagles, were stopped by police.

“People on buses from Jack Kane Centre, Waterloo Place and the West End were prevented from leaving Edinburgh. I think there were 15 buses set out, but only two got there. The others were stopped from leaving the city.”

Mr Fox was one of the few who eventually managed to get to Auchterarder and march as far as the Gleneagles cordon.

Looking back, he does not regard the violence in the Capital as the lasting legacy of the summit.

“There were skirmishes between police and anarchists – I remember at the time feeling that was a storm in a tea cup. It was unsavoury. But it is not my lingering memory of the week.

“The Make Poverty History march and the Friday protest were far more significant.”

The Rev Richard Frazer, minister of Greyfriars Kirk, recalls “a tremendous amount of energy” around the time of the summit. And he remains positive about the legacy of the events of 2005.

“I have a huge amount of respect and confidence in the younger generation coming through,” he says.

“I see a whole generation of young people emerging, filled with hope and optimism and taking responsibility. The young people I know are very committed to social justice and caring for the environment – sorting all the things their parents’ generation messed up.”

ANALYSIS

By Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland

Ten years after Make Poverty History, it is right to recognise – and be proud – of the progress made.

Around 250,000 people marched in Edinburgh to demand urgent political action from the leaders of the world’s richest nations in the largest ever anti-poverty movement in the UK.

The white band became a symbol of solidarity, and of our hope for a more just world.

The campaign called for action to deliver more and better aid, debt cancellation and trade justice with the display of people-power applying unparalleled pressure on G8 leaders meeting in Gleneagles.

It led to commitments to cancel debts and to increase aid to poor countries by 2010.

While delivery was far from complete – the G8’s collective $50 billion promise was missed by around $20 billion at the 2010 deadline – overall aid levels did rise.

The debt relief for poor countries also helped developing countries boost spending on education and healthcare; in Zambia, the abolition of user fees in rural healthcare clinics benefited millions of people.

Of course, much more could have been achieved if all countries had delivered on their promises but millions of women, men and children have better health, and have gone to school.

And the Gleneagles legacy has endured with the UK government meeting its promise to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on aid in each of the last two years.

This welcome commitment is critical when the number of people affected by humanitarian crises has almost doubled over the past decade and around one in eight people still go to bed hungry.

Worse still, climate change and extreme economic inequality risk undoing the progress made.

A decade after Make Poverty History, we cannot allow that to happen.”