12th June 2011 – Tax Dodger Picnic – report

Today’s Tax Dodger picnic was a great success: we managed to spend several hours protesting in Princes Street with no arrests, and we even managed to leave with all of our banners.

In contrast with our last few actions, Lothian and Borders Police took a distinctly hands-off approach, and spent a lot of time watching us from inside their van. We were most disappointed, as this took all the fun out of the Protest Bingo game we had planned (we had printed bingo cards and everything). Two officers came to speak to us before we set off, giving us the usual speech about “facilitating our protest”, and since they addressed one member of the group by name without having been introduced, we think they might have been trying to make a point there. But we were undeterred, so we gathered up our flags, banners, and the enormous box of cupcakes, and headed off to Vodafone.

Vodafone have recently extended their shop on Princes Street from the tiny little cubicle where we managed to fill nearly the entire floor space with a sit-down protest last December, into a big glass box with only a single door. Needless to say, we didn’t get inside, but we did offer to share our cakes with the Vodafone staff to show that there was no personal animosity (they declined, pointing to a sign on their front window forbidding anyone to bring food inside). From there we moved on to Topshop, were the doors were also closed before we arrived, although the manager seemed to have phoned the police anyway, because a few minutes after he was on the phone, another two officers in high-vis gear came along the street and went to talk to their colleagues in the van, which today was parked on a mini-roundabout.

Our third stop was BHS – the scene of the arrests on our last two actions – and this time we had a police escort following us at a distance. At BHS we asked the security guard where they considered the boundary of their property to be, so that we could stay on the other side of that line while we picnicked and handed out flyers. Their security guards didn’t want to share our cake either, so there was plenty left for us and the interested passers-by. The police walked past a few times, but they didn’t find anything we were doing particularly objectionable.

Finally, we visited Boots, and this time we actually managed to get inside the shop. About half of the group lined up just inside of the front doors with banners, while the others stayed outside to hand out flyers. Rather than engage with us, the management of Boots phoned the police – who turned up with their van and two 4x4s – and one of the managers went to discuss the situation with the police on the other side of the road. We were then finally asked to leave by a rather abrupt woman, who decided that she had to grab your humble narrator’s arm quite roughly in order to make her point. Had any Uncutters behaved like that, we would almost certainly have been arrested for assault, but it seems that the rules are applied differently depending on who you are. We agreed to leave the premises, but stayed to picnic outside for a while before heading off to stage a repeat performance in the Boots branch on North Bridge.

All in all, it was a bit less eventful than our other recent actions, but for now we’re happy to live quietly.

More pictures of this protest can be found here.

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