Supporters of Occupy Edinburgh were thin on the ground at the city’s sheriff court on Wednesday, 25 January, Robert Burns Day. Only 15 or so activists went to protest against their eviction from St Andrews Square, outside the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland (whose chief executive has just received a £963,000 bonus). ‘Oh, you’re with that lot,’ the security guard manning the metal detector said when I asked where the Occupy case was being heard. ‘Should have got rid of them months ago.’ After rummaging through my rucksack and confiscating my Dictaphone, he pointed in the direction of Court 13.
The case against Occupy was brought by Essential Edinburgh, a city-centre initiative representing various high-end retailers, including Harvey Nichols, RBS and Virgin Money, with interests in the lucrative and mostly privatised shopping streets around St Andrews Square. The occupation began on 15 October, with considerable popular and (largely opportunistic) party political support. Since then, however, numbers have dwindled amid negative press coverage, most of it focused on anti-social behaviour and alleged anti-semitism as well as concerns about the movement’s direction, or lack of it.
‘We want to present ourselves in the right manner,’ the veteran socialist Willie Black told the sheriff, Katherine Mackie. Unlike Occupy LSX outside St Paul’s in London, the Edinburgh protesters had agreed to vacate their site before the eviction notice was even served. Courtroom drama was in decidedly short supply. There were no Guy Fawkes masks or grandstanding statements, just a mundane exchange as counsel for Essential Edinburgh pressed for an eviction notice from the court. Sheriff Mackie demurred, ruling that the occupiers had the rest of the day to clear St Andrews of all remaining persons – namely the many homeless people who had congregated around the camp in ever greater numbers – and their belongings.
Outside the sheriff court, Jamie, a fourth year journalism student with a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ badge on his jacket, said: ‘This is global, this isn’t the end.’ Chris, a 24-year-old freelance copywriter responsible for Occupy Edinburgh’s Twitter feed, said the movement needs to regroup and refocus but will live to fight another day.
In front of a single TV camera, Black spoke of the need to protect the vulnerable in society, especially Edinburgh’s growing homeless population. ‘You can take our square but you’ll never take our freedom,’ shouted a middle-aged man with long purple hair. Another protester held up a whiteboard that said, in red marker: ‘It’s coming yet for a’ that.’