What does a “domestic extremist” look like? Someone wearing a red baseball cap emblazoned with slogans claiming to make their country “great again”? A far-right thug who uses the threat of violence in an attempt to intimidate anyone who looks different from them? Or members of a community peacefully waving home-made placards, campaigning to protect themselves from pollution?
It’s far from a term of endearment and I doubt that many people would welcome being labelled as a “domestic extremist”, whether they fit the descriptions above or not. Yet that’s what Police Scotland sees me and other Green activists to be.
As reported in the Sunday National and the Ferret, Police Scotland has been trying to infiltrate communities near the Ineos petrochemical plant at Grangemouth and disrupt other campaigns. This is described in both their local and national planning documents, lumping peaceful protesters into the same category that includes the far-right threat posed by banned neo-Nazi groups such as Scottish Dawn and National Action.
Recent years have seen revelations of past police actions targeting campaigners, but it’s clear now that Police Scotland is continuing to treat so-called “Extreme Left Wing activity” in the same way as those kinds of far-right threats. So to be clear, if you have been involved in “protests around shale oil and gas extraction and unconventional oil and gas extraction” then the police are calling you a “domestic extremist”.
Greens have been consistent in the cross-party fight against fracking in Scotland, but that case has also been made by members of the SNP and even people who are now government ministers. So that means members and supporters of the Greens, Labour, the SNP and members of other parties and none have been given this insulting and ludicrous label. People who have been peacefully protesting for their own communities not to be put in danger by fracking tycoons have also been dubbed extremists.
Let me say unequivocally, anti-fracking campaigners who exercise their democratic right to protest are heroes, no matter what Police Scotland thinks of them.
Issues of justice are devolved and ministers in Scotland are responsible for overseeing policing in our country. All this begs the question of when ministers, including the First Minister, knew that Police Scotland tarred our activists with such a disgusting slur.
I asked Nicola Sturgeon about this yesterday at Holyrood and the issue was dismissed as an “operational” issue. It’s not. It’s a political question about the relationship between police and citizens in this country. The Government should clarify when they became aware of this and what actions they are going to take to challenge Police Scotland’s attitude.
If individuals, campaign groups and communities cannot peacefully campaign on issues that matter in our society without being treated as “domestic extremists”, the same category used to describe racist and fascist forces, this strikes at the heart of freedoms which are of critical importance in a democratic society.
We’ve known for years that environmental campaigners, along with peace activists and others, have in the past been spied on or infiltrated by police forces in the UK, including in Scotland, but this statement of current practice is shocking.
The Green spokesperson for justice, John Finnie MSP, has already sought answers from the Chief Constable. I’m pleased that the First Minister now intends to raise this issue with him too, but it needs to be made clear that the situation must change.
The section of the Police Scotland annual plan which lumps anti-fracking and animal welfare campaigners in with the far-right states an intention to “explore all opportunities to disrupt and detect their activities”. This cannot be allowed to stand.
Tomorrow I’ll be joining members of my party – as well as people in the SNP, Labour and many others – at Faslane Naval Base to protest the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Scotland; just as people have worked together across party lines to oppose blood sports, environmental destruction, asylum evictions and more.
I’m sure that many individual police officers working at the rally will not want to treat peaceful citizens in the same way as far-right hate-mongers. They know, in spite of what Police Scotland says, that fracking, environmental and peace campaigners are as far removed from “domestic extremism” as it gets.
I’m also sure the First Minister knows that many of her own party members will be there tomorrow, and I hope she will take the action necessary to ensure that Police Scotland rethink their approach and accept that their duty is to protect people’s freedom to peacefully campaign for a better world, not to disrupt us.
We have a right to a guarantee that nobody will be designated by Police Scotland as domestic extremists merely for attending a peaceful rally.