‘We don’t support what’s happening in there’: SNP councillor says #UDT2018 will be Glasgow’s last arms fair

Caitlin Logan

Protest at UDT conference demands Glasgow city council take action to prevent any future arms fairs

GLASGOW SNP COUNCILLOR Graham Campbell spoke at the protest outside the Under Sea Defence Technology (UDT) arms conference in Glasgow today (26 June), where he told demonstrators that SNP council members “don’t support what’s happening in there”.

The councillor for Springburn and Robroyston was joined by members of SNP Socialists at the rally outside the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), which he estimated to be around 500-strong.

The SNP-led Glasgow city council has come under fire from peace and human rights campaigners for failing to withdraw its backing for the event, only pulling the People Makes Glasgow logo from the event website one week before the conference.

Campbell defended the council’s position, stating that the decision to hold the conference in Glasgow had been made by the previous Labour administration, and that cancelling the event would result in the council being taken to court by the organisers, costing taxpayers money.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Campbell said: “The council has come in for some criticism and I understand why people are concerned. Obviously this was agreed before the current SNP administration came in – this is one of many of those political unexploded devices that have been left for us to deal with.

“I hope for the future the council today will put out a statement about how we’re going to change the criteria by which the city Convention Bureau may accept bookings like this. I hope that our human rights clause will exclude bookings for destruction mongers and warmongers that we’ve got in that chamber there today.”

Explaining his own support for the protest as an anti-war activist of many years, Campbell said: “We’ve made it quite clear to them that their business, their trade – we don’t [do] business with their business, basically – and we don’t agree with the arms trade as a legitimate business that Glasgow should be trying to attract or trying to support.”

The council released a statement on Monday in advance of the conference in which it acknowledged that “some people have expressed their opposition to this conference being held in the city” and that Glasgow Convention Bureau had now been asked by the council to “re-examine policies and procedures” so that strategic aims such as “being a human rights-supporting city and other ethical concerns” will be taken into consideration in addition to economic criteria.

The position of the council appears to have softened since the council deputy leader David McDonald had been accused of trying to “whitewash” the arms fair on 17 May at a full meeting of the council. McDonald said that it was a “technical exhibition and conference for underwater technology, defence and security”, adding: “It includes topics that range from acoustic modelling through to energy conservation and its use in underwater environments.”

When asked by Cllr Jon Molyneux whether he acknowledge the “public outcry” about the event at the 17 May meeting, McDonald said such conferences were good for Glasgow’s economy and refused to rule out hosting an arms fair in the future, but said a policy on convention hosting would be forthcoming.

McDonald denied that there would be any discussion of the Trident Renewal Programme, but subsequent CommonSpace investigations uncovered speakers, sessions and student recruitment at the convention all directly linked to Trident replacement.

Many of the protesters held signs and took part in chants which directed criticism at Glasgow city council’s involvement. One sign read: “Arms Dealers Make Glasgow?”, while another said: “Glasgow Life/Glasgow Death”, in reference to the arms-length body which delivers council services, Glasgow Life.

A musician sang a song composed specifically for the protest, with a strong message for council members: “We ain’t gonna vote for you no more, no more, while you shake hands with the men of war.”

Several Glasgow Green councillors were at the protest, following on from their outspoken opposition to the conference. Councillor Christy Mearns of Anderston, City and Yorkhill told CommonSpace that the Green group was “very shocked that Glasgow City Council has supported the arms fair taking place at one of Glasgow city council’s own venues”.

“We raised this issue in full council and we’ve been told that we won’t withdraw support for the event although, after pushing, we were given assurances that an ethical events policy would be created for future events,” she said.

“We are going to be continuing to push at the full council on Thursday to make sure that ethical events policy does what it should, which is prohibit any weapons, arms, business of war, taking place in our city and with our support.”

Allan Young, Green councillor for Govan added that the event was “a stain on Glasgow”. He said: “Some of the people meeting here are planning the renewal of Trident, and are discussing weapons, discussing trade that is causing misery around the world.

“I think it’s shocking and I think we need to stand up to this.”

In attendance at the event were a variety of campaign groups, including Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, Quakers for Peace, and Scotland Against Militarism (SAM).

Jay Sutherland of SAM said it was “an absolute disgrace” that the council was being held “in a city that’s supposed to be against nuclear weapons”. Sutherland said the council’s statement on the issue was “progress”, but said that campaigners needed details now about what its ethical events policy will consist of.

Picture: CommonSpace