AS the sun rose yesterday over the western edges of the river Clyde, the barren buildings of the Faslane Naval Base were surrounded by an unusual colour and clamour.
Hundreds of protesters, from mermaids to chickens and from babies to 84-year-olds, gathered outside the Ministry of Defence base which houses the Trident Nuclear Submarine Fleet.
Some demonstrators highlighted the costs of the weapons, while others pointed to the inhumanity of their existence, but one message prevailed – they have to go.
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At the North Gate end of the site around 150 were gathered.Some sat while others lay down as the sound of tambourines, guitars and singing filled the air.
For Isabelle Smith, who celebrated her 84th birthday at the blockade, yesterday seemed the perfect time to embark on her first protest.
While joking there were enough “young ones” at the march to take her place in the cells, Smith said she had completed the training and was fully willing to get arrested for the cause.
“It is so inspirational to be with people who feel so strongly but protest in such a peaceful way,” she said.
“What has happened over the years is that people have kind of accepted that nuclear weapons keep the peace, but people do not see pictures of Hiroshima anymore.
“There are people here today from all different backgrounds, all shapes and sizes.
“When you see that you realise this is important.”
While Smith managed to avoid a trip to the cells on her birthday night, many on the South Gate contingent did not have the same luck.
The carnival atmosphere at the southern protest could not have been much more of a contrast to the calm of the north.
Samba bands battled with the noise of police metal cutters while others danced as the sirens wailed in the background.
Although the tension was undeniably evident, the protest remained good natured.
Amid a rather rowdy drum beat from the Rhythms of Resistance samba band, a woman dressed in a blue Lycra suit produced cartons filled with red-dyed custard, sending the paint-like substance splattering over those nearby.
With the music in full flow, the dancers rubbed up against the unsuspecting policemen, giving their bright yellow jackets a slightly more colourful appearance. Their artistic endeavours did not, however, seem to be best appreciated by the on-duty officers.
But the light-hearted humour embued the celebratory mood.
By 10am, around five protesters had been cut free and as each individual was taken away by police, cries and applause rang out from the crowd in appreciation of the commitment the blockaders had shown.
Throughout the rest of the site, the harmonious atmosphere was unfaltering. Dominic O’Hagan organised a minibus from Aberdeen, setting up base at one of the smaller side gates.
“This is one of the rare times when you get a real cross section of society coming together,” O’Hagan said. “You have the church groups, the trade unions, students, the unemployed, all standing here today.
“In a time of austerity, spending £100 billion on weapons which can only cause genocide is not only disgraceful, it is probably the most immoral thing you could ever think of,” he added.
As the clock struck one o’clock, loud cheers echoed around the crowd when a Scrap Trident official announced on his megaphone that the workers had been sent home.
Radical Independence co-founder Jonathon Shafi said the result was a great end to what is one of the most significant protests the base has ever seen.
“Right now there is an opportunity for the anti-Trident movement to make an impact like never before,” he said. “If we get rid of these weapons it would start a hugely significant process of disarmament. We have to lead by example when it comes to issues like this.”
Just as the protest started to come to a halt, the heavens began to open on those who had braved the eight-hour stint. The songs did not stop, though, and the spirits did not fade. Of all of those who made it down to the base, there will be very few who left viewing yesterday’s blockade as anything other than a resounding success.
34 arrests after human chain blocks base
THIRTY-FOUR people were arrested as hundreds of anti-Trident protesters successfully blockaded the Faslane naval base on the river Clyde.
More than 250 demonstrators from all over the country flooded to the base near Helensburgh for a 7am start and blockaded all four entrances to the site, resulting in the workers being sent home. Stewards at the event described it as the most important demonstration at the Faslane base in many years, with the current political debate surrounding the weapons adding to the gravity of the occasion.
The protesters, who linked their arms together using sealed metal tubes, lay down in the road to create a human blockade. It meant officers arresting the protesters had to use specialist equipment to cut them loose.
But this was by no means a speedy process, with police taking well over an hour to cut some of the protesters free.
Most of the arrests took place at the South Gate into the Naval Base, where the majority of the police presence was concentrated.
While protesters chained themselves together at the South Gate, at the North Gate, no real trouble ensued, with police and protesters respectfully keeping their distance.
The other two gates, in place for the transportation of oil to the site, were guarded by smaller numbers of protesters, who also lay in the road to block access.
A spokesperson from the Scrap Trident coalition who organised the Bairns Not Bombs blockade said: “We are delighted that in spite of a big police presence people have been able to peacefully and imaginatively shut down the WMD base, putting their bodies on the line in their utter rejection of what Trident represents.”
Bosses at the base planned to ferry workers in from Greenock in order to avoid the blockade, but the workers refused and were sent home at about 1pm.
Cat Boyd, of the Radical Independence Campaign, said events such as this were crucial to “highlight the difference between public opinion and the Government’s continued commitment to trident”.
She said: “I think people are starting to see it is not just about getting rid of Trident itself, it is about austerity, economic priorities, the UK’s role on the world stage … It is about democracy. How warped does a democracy have to be to have world leaders plough billions of pounds into nuclear weapons and at the same time cut child benefit? That is warped.”
Scottish Greens co-convenor Patrick Harvie was also in attendance, sitting with a group of fellow Greens at the weapons base’s North Gate. Although Harvie said he was willing to be arrested, no police advance was made to clear that particular area.
Harvie said: “It’s hard to think about a really meaningful political change which has been brought about with only one form of activism.
“It takes arguments in parliament, it takes academic studies, it takes campaigns in the media, it takes voting, it takes marching and it takes direct action as well.
“It’s important to demonstrate to people to whom Trident is an abstract thing in many ways, who don’t really relate to it on a daily basis.
“To do this in front of the base shows people what is actually at stake here ... that there is a weapons system based in this otherwise beautiful part of the country. It is crucial to be here to physically mark the fact that we don’t consent to its operation,” he said.
SNP MSP Bill Kidd was among the dozens of SNP party members in attendance at the blockade, but there were complaints from several that there were not more SNP politicians at the site.
Writer, broadcaster and journalist Lesley Riddoch was also part of the crowd, which dispersed from the gates just before 3pm as both the lanes on the passing road reopened.