Sinking the Glasgow Arms Fair: our demonstrations at the SEC

On Tuesday 26th June people from across Scotland came together to oppose the Undersea Defence Technology conference in Glasgow – also known as the Glasgow Arms Fair. The UDT was actively brought to the city by Glasgow City Council’s arms-length body Glasgow Life, more usually found running parks and libraries. In its generosity the council went even further, not only providing a wide range of free services to the attendant multinational arms corporations, but also exclusive use of much-loved venues including the SEC and Kelvingrove art gallery.

Edinburgh CAAT joined forces with a diverse array of groups under the banner ‘Sink the Glasgow Arms Fair’ to raise awareness and express our opposition to the event. Despite the City Council’s vigorous insistence on the economic benefits that an arms fair would bring to Glasgow, they and the SEC strangely neglected to promote the UDT in any public forum. Our repeated attempts to meet with Susan Aitken – public servant and leader of Glasgow CC – and deputy leader David McDonald were met with mute silence and obfuscation. The SNP-led council repeatedly expressed support for the event, explaining generously that it was “just a technology event” featuring talks on underwater acoustics and ocean modelling. At a City Chamber meeting Green Councillors managed to get an agreement from Mr McDonald on an ethical policy for future events hosted by the city, however the council continued to support the UDT.

With the arms fair set to go ahead from Tuesday 26th to Thursday 28th June the Sink the Glasgow Arms Fair coalition forged on. We held a successful rally in the city centre on Saturday 23rd June featuring a mass die-in, speakers and music. This was a last chance to raise awareness, and an opportunity for those unable to protest mid-week to express their opposition.

Finally on Tuesday morning the main event kicked off. There was already an excellent turnout at 8 am when Edinburgh CAAT arrived, despite the official demonstration set to start two hours later. Under a clear blue sky the activist presence at the front entrance made itself heard with flags, banners and chanting. We donned grim reaper outfits and thanked the arms dealers walking past for doing such an excellent job of propagating death and destruction. There were large numbers of police loitering by the front entrance and six police horses wandering around. The horses were doubtless wishing they were anywhere but here, marooned on an ocean of concrete under the baking sun.

As our numbers swelled and media began to arrive we commemorated the 121 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military in the recent 2018 Gaza protests. Activists respectfully read out the names of the dead next to a sea of covered bodies, followed by a powerful period of silence. When this ended we began the official demonstration with speeches by councillors, activists, trade unionists and representatives of the Sink the Glasgow Arms Fair coalition. The speeches were punctuated by music, poetry and brief moments of shouting as various individuals attempted to breach or obstruct the front entrance. (Cue the six police horses.) Passing arms dealers were treated to chanting and general derision from the well-mannered crowd. Small groups of protesters edged around the side of the building to grin and wave at the arms dealers having lunch in the SEC cafe, although the lack of reciprocity was disappointing. Perhaps it was the large banner saying ‘Arms dealers not welcome’. As the speeches concluded and the temperature rose into the swelteringly high twenties we left the reins to a hardcore of committed Glaswegians armed with suncream and water bottles, satisfied that we’d made our point – to the arms dealers, to the media and to the City Council.

We’d like to thank everyone involved in the Sink the Glasgow Arms Fair coalition and the two rallies for their hard work in opposing the UDT. Together we forced the arms fair out of the shadows and into the public spotlight, despite the best efforts of the Council. Going forward we’ll continue to push for the ethical events policy promised by David McDonald, and will fight to end arms fairs and the wider arms trade in Scotland. Get in touch if you’d like to join us for future events.

UPDATE: we did it! Read about Glasgow City Council’s response to the UDT demonstration.

– Robert (Edinburgh CAAT)


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