Jay Sutherland

Jay Sutherland

On Arms Fair Activism

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As Glasgow gears up for the arrival of the Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) Arms Fair, anti-militarism campaigner Jay Sutherland reflects on the significance of this, Glasgow City Council’s pathetic response and how activists can co-ordinate their response…

It seems absolutely remarkable that we should have to protest arms fairs in 2018, let alone in Glasgow. In the words of Campaigns Against Arms Trade: “Arms fairs promote weapons sales by giving arms dealers the chance to meet and greet military delegations, government officials, other arms companies and a host of individual visitors”. But, sure enough, the Scottish Exhibition Centre will host a three day conference at the end of this month (June 26-28). And so as peace campaigners it’s out duty to oppose UDT, “the underwater defence and security community’s most relevant exhibition and conference”, with all our might.

When we tell most people, even those who claim to be fully switched on and up to date about politics, that this is even occurring they’re shocked. But worse, it seems inconceivable that it could be sponsored and supported by the Glasgow SNP-led council. The biggest challenge for us to overcome is the simple that the council, and specifically the SNP group of Councillors, have acted to hide the fact they silently support this.

One can only speculate at the council’s motivations, but we’d argue it’s pretty clear that money talks in this case. The SEC, which is 90% owned by the council, is to host the event. Until the council changed its mind yesterday, we were nearly faced with the absurd situation of the iconic ‘People Make Glasgow’ motto being placed alongside logos from some of the world’s deadliest arms dealers (including BAE Systems).

It’s important to name and shame who we are dealing with: key council figures involved in the decision include council deputy leader David McDonald, who has publicly defended the fair within the city chambers. He has implied that it’s simply a technological conference and that Trident is not involved – this despite the event openly displaying speakers, events and information relating to Trident at the conference. To add insult to injury, the event will even feature be a student recruitment drive led by Trident experts. The very logo for the event involves trident – you would expect a council deputy leader to do his research.

Council leader Susan Aitken’s approach has been even more hypocritical. She has openly defended Gaza in the past but sees no issue with Israeli Defence Force (IDF) technology being promoted at the conference or companies linked to the IDF taking part. Some of the technology showcased at the conference will be the same which continues to be used to oppress the people of Palestine, surveying and targeting from the sea as well as on the land. Perhaps ‘War Criminals Make Glasgow’ would be more appropriate.

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S.A.M (Scotland Against Militarism) and activists from CAAT Scotland (Campaign Against The Arms Trade) have been doing a lot of ground work in Glasgow and beyond to try and get the event cancelled or at the very least force the council to retract its support. Recently we held demonstrations outside the city chambers and outside Susan Aitken’s surgery, where we confronted her about her support.

She claims that cancelling the Arms Fair would damage the city’s reputation. The opposite is true – it would demonstrate that Glasgow doesn’t deal with warmongering human rights abusers such as Israel. The fact that the SNP-led council will only speak to us when we turn up at their surgery’s unannounced is also extremely disappointing, especially given David McDonald had assured us he would always be happy to meet. He also provided no reason for cancelling his surgery when Scotland Against Militarism announced our day of action – hardly the actions of a democrat.

And so this is where you as readers come in. We have several actions lined up in the days and weeks ahead and want to make it clear to the council that we wont stop the disruption until they remove their support for this showcase. At this point, the council is betraying ignorance at best in regards to the fair’s links to trident and we have no choice but to step up our campaign.

We urge everyone to get involved by contacting their elected representatives, taking part in actions and attending the protest weekend we have planned, which has been backed the by the group of Scottish Greens MSPs.

On the 26th we will stage a mass protest at the main entrance to the Scottish Exhibition Centre at 10am. The following day, we will hold #ArtsNotArms, a festival of music and arts against the arms fair. On the final day, we are planning another day of activism, with more information to be announced soon. We can’t delay on this if we want this city to reflect the values many believe it represents. It’s time to take action.


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