19th Feb 2011: The return of Tax Man

Following yesterday’s news that Barclays paid only 1% corporation tax on their 2009 profits, there was plenty of media interest in our protest in Edinburgh today. Tax Man was first spotted at noon, posing for photographs with the front page of the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/18/barclays-bank-113m-corporation-tax), and greeting admirers, before flying off to challenge the tax-dodgers on our high streets.

Tax Man led us to Barclays in South St Andrews Street, where he was no sooner through the door when a security guard tried to throw him out. But Tax Man valiantly stuck his foot in the door and we managed to sneak inside after the police forced their way through to referee the situation. Once inside the building, we took the opportunity to read some of the literature arranged on desks and counters throughout the branch; one leaflet said “Don’t Hold Back Your Feedback”, so we pulled out our banners and placards to make sure that everyone knew what we thought of tax-dodging bankers.

After a few minutes of placard-waving, we decided to organise some games to keep everyone’s spirits up, so we had a round of bank-themed charades, then did the Hokey Pokey. That was when Barclays staff decided that we were having far too much fun, so first they closed all the blinds to stop the photographers outside from taking pictures of us, then – after a few people started peeking through the blinds so that they could continue posing – they asked the police to remove us from the building. Who would have thought that children’s party games could be such a threat to a large multinational corporation?

While all of this was going on, a few Uncutters were braving the cold outside to distribute flyers to curious members of the public. This week, as well as protesting the behaviour of banks, we’ve been drawing attention to the fact that Edinburgh City Council have recently decided to close down the Blindcraft bed factory as a result of the budget reductions from Westminster. This factory has provided employment for disabled people for over 200 years, but unlike the banks, nobody is going to bail Blindcraft out of their financial difficulties.

From Barclays, we nipped over the road to the RBS branch in St Andrews Square, which is definitely worth a visit – for a building that the government has an 83-and-a-bit-percent stake in, it’s incredibly fancy, with marble and statues and a huge domed ceiling with star-shaped windows in it. The RBS employee who came to speak to us as he was leaving work for the day was very insistent that the government owns less than 84% of the bank, so we should be rounding it down. He also claimed that the figures published on the BBC News website about the cost of the bank bail-outs were double the actual figure, and that public spending cuts have nothing at all to do with the financial crisis, so his words should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

We also found time to pay a visit to Lloyds TSB in Hanover Street, where our protest outside the bank was met with great support from the public. During this part of the afternoon, Lothian and Borders Police decided to take a hand-off approach to supervising us, so watched us from inside their van on the other side of the road, which was occupying a clearly-marked disabled parking space. Apparently there was a very important “operational reason” that prevented them from parking the van somewhere else and making the last part of the journey on foot…

Just in case our old friends at BHS and Top Shop started to get jealous of us giving so much attention to other dodgy companies, we dropped in on them too. The welcome was warm, as ever.

Now we’ve packed up our banners for this week, and Tax Man has flown off to wherever it is that he goes when he’s not fighting fiscal injustice on the streets of Edinburgh. But tune in next week, when we’ll be back to tackle more of the monetary miscreants who are draining our communities. If the government are going to continue letting the banks get away with it, then it’s time for Big Society volunteers to step forward.

Press coverage of this protest and UK Uncut protests in other cities:
STV News: “Barclays forced to close Edinburgh branch amid nationwide protests”
Scotsman: “Protesters target Barclays over tax”
Guardian: “UK Uncut protesters target Barclays over tax avoidance”

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2 Responses to 19th Feb 2011: The return of Tax Man

  1. yonmei says:

    My thoughts on the day (the first UKUncut protest I’ve been on, and I was on crutches & flaked after the first Barclays protest):

    I hung around outside for a few minutes taking photos (Barclays have a sign outside pointing to their door that says “Through this door walk some of the loveliest people in Edinburgh. And you’re one of them” which made a very nice commentary on the protesters inside with their cardboard signs) and then thought, what am I doing? And went in.

    We all stood around just inside the door: we didn’t go near the tellers, and when we were asked to step away from a computer terminal for customers we did (though one guy picked up a stack of feedback forms and passed them around to collective amusement: some of us started filling them in right away). The branch was formally closed a few minutes later.

    We stood around some more. Played a few rounds of charades (problem was we all had the same set of words on our minds). Someone suggested we should bring along a set of Monopoly next time: I thought that would be funny and appropriate, but thought too that this would have been the right moment to produce a protest song sheet and that I must think of that next time. (“Bread and Roses”, “We Shall Overcome”, “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”: what else could we sing?) Someone suggested we dance the hokey-cokey, and this was actually quite popular (I couldn’t), especially with some of the words changed. )

    The thing about protesting, I remember from Iraq war protests, is how silly you feel, doing something so outré, even when absolutely convinced this is the right thing to do. I do not remember feeling this way when on Stop the Clause protests back in the 1980s, so perhaps it’s something that comes on with age.

    Then the senior police officer informed us that we were to continue our protest outside the branch, and that anyone who stayed in the branch after three minutes would be arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. This reads, FYI (I looked it up when I got home): “If the senior police officer, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any public assembly is being held or is intended to be held, reasonably believes that it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, he may give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the assembly such conditions as to the place at which the assembly may be (or continue to be) held, its maximum duration, or the maximum number of persons who may constitute it, as appear to him necessary to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation.”

    There was a pause. He told us again. I stood there, wondering: if we all just sat down, there would be significant problems in arresting all of us (though it would have been better if there had been twice as many – I think there were about 20 of us). In particular, of course, since I’m currently mobile by crutches and was thinking longingly of my next round of painkillers, I was wondering what they’d do with me.

    At all events, one woman decided to be the first one to leave, and after the spell had broken we all followed her out. After a while the protest moved on to the big RBS building on St Andrew’s Square, but I decided that I was by now due and over-due for a rest, and walked down to York Place to catch a bus home.

    At home, I uploaded my photos to Twitphoto and tweeted somewhat about the protest and looked up the Public Order Act to decide if I felt the senior police officer had been justified in telling us to leave the branch.

    • Indeed, some singing or chanting inside the bank would’ve been nice. We had more chanting and some singing going on at previous protests and this last protest was a bit quiet compared to previous ones. Dancing the hokey pokey inside a bank was certainly fun though – sorry you couldn’t join in, I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

      When it comes to leaving or staying (and possibly getting arrested), I think it always depends on the situation and what you can achieve by staying. If it is a very crowded place like somewhere along Princes Street on a Saturday afternoon, then sitting down and refusing to leave would attract a lot of attention and could definitely be a good option.

      With Barclays however, I feel it was alright to leave because they already announced closing the bank, there weren’t any customers inside and the blinds were closed, so people on the outside couldn’t see what was going on. And we didn’t stop our protest after we left Barclays, we shortly visited RBS, then went inside Lloyds TSB, and after that moved on to Bhs and Topshop (where security staff weren’t quite fast enough to lock the doors, so we managed to get inside) – which all wouldn’t have been possible if we decided to stay in Barclays.

      So basically, a few things could’ve gone better – there wasn’t enough chanting/singing and it would be good to get more people along the next time (although the turnout wasn’t bad considering how cold it was). On the plus side, we handed out almost 1000 flyers, visited five different targets and Tax Man made it on page 2 of Scotland on Sunday.

      For the next protests we’ll have a megaphone, which will make things a lot easier because then everyone will know what’s going on. There are already some new ideas for the next protest, so it should be interesting …

      – one of the Edinburgh Uncutters

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