My Afternoon in the Cells
It’s sometime after 2pm on Sunday, I can’t be sure when because the police have taken my phone, and all my effects, and there’s no clock in here, and I’m lying on a thin mattress in a cell in St Leonards Police Station.
An hour ago I’d just arrived in the café at the back of BHS on Princes Street and sat down to read the Observer while I waited for the rest of our group to arrive and our demonstration to begin. The front page story, broken on Political Scrapbook on Thursday, reported that health policy advisor to David Cameron Mark Britnell had told a seminar that “[i]n future, the NHS will be a state insurance provider not a state deliverer.”
Just one more way in which the financial crisis we’ve come through, and the recession we’re still not fulling out of, are being used to privatise our public services and force through changes the Tories and Orange Book Liberals have always wanted but could never achieve.
And, of course, that’s why we were there, in BHS, on Sunday. Because even if you do think we need to bring down the deficit, and in the long run we do, though there’s a danger in taking that too fast, there are other ways to do that than cutting away at the services depended upon by the most vulnerable and deeply valued by all of us. On the one hand we need investment in education and new energy, and on the other hand what our real problem is, why we had a deficit before the recession, is that we simply don’t tax enough, and we don’t enforce the tax laws we do have adequately.
And that last point is what UK Uncut is all about; we must be the least radical protest movement ever, we aren’t calling for nationalisation or common ownership, we aren’t calling for higher taxes, all we’re asking is that the government close the loopholes that exist and collect the tax that’s due to us from banks and the super-rich. People like Philip Green, whose Arcadia Group owns the BHS store we were protesting in on Sunday.
Alyson already provided a very thorough description of what happened at the gig, so I won’t go through all that again in too great detail. Our comedians began their act, some people seemed to be enjoying it in the audience, some were nonplussed and continued quietly with their lunch. Then the police arrived and we began our by now standard practice of debating with them for a few minutes as to what law they thought we were in violation of and whether we should leave. But unlike the previous 15 odd protests we’ve had in Edinburgh instead of simply being led outside this time they decided to make an arrest. Of me.
I don’t know why that happened at this protest but not at any of the others, and I’m not going to speculate at this point, but I saw nothing happen that led me to think this time would be more contentious than the others. And, ironically, our whole plan for a comedy bail-in was to do something less threatening and more accessible than the chanting and blocking entrances we’ve done in the past, for which there were no arrests.
It’s an odd experience being arrested, in the back of the van, sat on a piece of wood, in a plexi-glass box, with your hands handcuffed being driven to the station. When they process you, they ask you to describe your own appearance, “what colour is your hair?”, “Are you slim or proportionate?”. It’s not often someone stares straight at you, takes a photo of you then asks you what colour your eyes are.
I should say, though, the officers who took me in and processed me were all perfectly polite and friendly enough throughout. I’m sure most of them would rather be doing something different than arresting me and they’ll be facing cuts themselves, whether directly through their own jobs, or the schools and nurseries their kids attend, the libraries they make use of at the weekend or the higher VAT they pay doing their shopping. We really are all in this together, well most of us.
Once they have my description, and my jacket, belt, shoes, personal effects, I’m led to the cell. There’s nothing to do there (I didn’t even have a copy of rights in the EU to read, like Adam did, though I was also inside for a far shorter time), so I’m trying to get a bit of a nap and managing to drift in and out of consciousness just enough everything seems slightly unreal and it takes me a second when a police officer opens the door to take me to have my fingerprints and DNA recorded, before returning my belongings and letting me go.
Outside I find about ten of my friends have come to sit by the entrance and wait for my release after finishing the rest of the protest. This gets described on twitter later as a picket or sit-down protest, but I think that may be an exaggeration. I’ve been given my phone back, I was worried that, as in London, they might have kept it, and as I turn it back on there’s a deluge of emails, texts, tweets and facebook posts offering solidarity and checking how I’m doing. It’s all somewhat bizarre to be honest, I never expected to be quite the centre of attention when I left home that morning, but I can’t overestimate how much that meant.
So now I appear in court on June 15th. I’ll be meeting my lawyer to see what happens next week and I’m sure I’ll keep you all up to date with what transpires.
I find the comments from “man in the street” to be very tedious, narcissistic and self-important. You’re not the silent majority, you’re just some tosser on the internet. If you dislike what you read here so much, have you considered going elsewhere?
Good luck Ali. I certainly didn’t find the post narcisistic at all but very modest and interesting – and disturbing. I think Ali has been very calm and courageous and I stand in total solidarity with him.
Man on the street,
Ali almost always writes thoughtful, carefully researched and fascinating pieces. I encouraged him to write this, because I wanted to know what had happened, and I know lots of other people did too. Those who didn’t want to read it had a very clear warning in the headline about what it was going to be about. You were free not to read it. Sorry if it turned out to say what it said it was going to, but, personally, I was interested to read about Ali’s reflections on an experience most people haven’t had.
I didn’t find it narcissistic at all. I found your tone rather modest, and I think your response to that comment is far too generous.
It’s your damn perogative to share your experiences with others. More than that – it’s important for these incidents to be recorded. That you could have been arrested for holding up a banner is both absurd and disconcerting – let alone charged. Total madness.
Should the protesters think about changing tack? Possibly. But what’s more important is for others to ask themselves whether they really want to live in a society where people can be arrested for something so innocuous.
I hope you don’t mind me saying that I find these posts from people who have been arrested very tedious, not to mention narcissistic and self-important. When you say “we’re really are all in it together” I feel as much empathy towards you as I do towards Cameron when he says it. I’m probably totally wrong but that’s how it comes across. As someone on another thread said, I’d seriously rethink how you’re going about these things…
However, to reiterate, I agree totally with your aims.
by the way, football fans have been arrested for years and years for much less, sometimes just for standing up in seating areas at matches. Not sure what law was being broken but it stops everyone from doing it.
Hi man in the street,
Sorry you found the post tedious, but glad you agree with our aims. As I said in one of the other posts, there is a serious point to consider, seperate from my arrest, as to whether our current actions are as effective as they could be and we’ll undoubtedly debate that.
As to this post, it may well appear a little narcissistic, I hope it doesn’t seem self-important. I really would rather not write about myself, or have others write about me. I try not to do that on this blog, or elsewhere in fact. However, a number of people did seem interested to hear my account of what happened and I hope at least some of our readers found it informative. I don’t think I mislead anyone as to what the post would entail and if you do find these sort of pieces dull, well there’s no obligation to read them; I won’t feel offended if no one reads or comments on my pieces – I’ve written posts I thought far more interesting than this to which that has happened.
Anyway, hopefully we’ll return to proper policy and startegy analysis soon and you find that a more rewarding read.
Hey! Hope you get out of this unjust mess without any trouble. Solidarity!
I still shake my head in outrage for the reasons that you were arrested for in the first place, but thanks for writing this.
seems like we are moving more and more to a police state. Very worrying. Keep up the good work,