By Sue Weaver, and with thanks to Sue Ash. Featured image shows tents at the Millstone Point Campout.
Campaign Campout is the term that the Friends of Millstone Point use to describe the presence of two tents at Millstone Point, mainly over weekends during October and November. Their idea has been to draw attention to – and object to – the planning application by the Scottish Salmon Company to install a large salmon farm just offshore here. At present this is a wild and windswept coast, a little south east of Laggan cottage, within the North Arran Scenic Area, and home to wildlife such as seals, porpoise, otters and basking sharks.
If this is a protest camp, it’s very different from those that have made headlines over the last 40 years. In Britain, the camps at Greenham Common led the way. The group of women and children who walked from Cardiff to the American base at Greenham Common in September 1981 set out on a simple long walk, much in the tradition of the Aldermaston marches, aiming to draw attention to the dangerous plan to place cruise missiles there, in the heart of leafy southern England. However, the 120 mile walk failed to provoke significant publicity and while the group were already underway, a more daring plan evolved, for some to chain themselves to the base gates.
From this act, grew, little by little, a permanent women’s camp outside the main gate, and then, gradually further camps outside all the 9 gates. Each gate became known by its own colour of the rainbow and had a distinctive identity. The permanent presence of protesting campers sent a powerful message of defiance and was maintained for 19 years, despite everything that soldiers, bailiffs, police, the media, passing motorists and the weather could throw at them, often literally – until cruise missiles were abandoned and the air base vacated.
Faslane Peace Camp was founded in the following year, in June 1982 and is still in existence, continuously occupied for 38 years. It was set up by veteran anti-nuclear protestors Margaret and Bobby Harrison, when they pitched their tent on the site of the A814. It represents Scottish, British and international opposition to the use of the waters of the Clyde by Trident submarines, armed with massive nuclear weapons, in a permanent state of readiness on Gare Loch. Without mains electricity or water, the protesters who have held onto this space so determinedly, in tents and caravans, represent a longing for peace and a revulsion against the thought of nuclear warfare that is shared by many across the land and abroad. Their presence makes vivid a vital act of objection to everything that the naval base stands for.
Other camps have come and gone in the time Faslane has been in existence. In 2011, the Occupy movement brought a first tented city to the streets of the City of London, with kitchens, cafes, meeting rooms, educational programmes, bookstalls, library and learning centre. Formed in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, the occupiers defined themselves as a movement for creating ‘alternatives to an unjust and undemocratic system’. A few camps sprang up in London from October 2011, but the main camp by St Pauls was cleared by bailiffs by the following February.
Then, in 2018, Extinction Rebellion stepped forward in Britain to declare rebellion against ‘business as usual’ being allowed to continue, as it pushes the planet into climate catastrophe and massive biodiversity loss. XR’s main tactic has been to use non-violent civil disobedience, by huge numbers of people, in very large cities across the world, in order to cause enough disruption to compel government action in the face of oncoming irreversible change.
After a winter of planning, a two week rebellion took place in London in April 2019, with occupations of five sites in the centre. Camps were set up on the streets, thereby blocking roads, and the rebels – in tents, under boats, under trucks, on top of trucks and in the open – were supplied by street kitchens with hot meals, coffees and teas. Those who chained or glued themselves in place were served as they sat or lay, often with food donated by local cafes. There was art, music, street theatre and an atmosphere of celebration – for a while. A tent village came into being in Hyde Park, where People’s Assemblies were held to decide on the next moves, including the final move to voluntarily shut down the rebellion after 2 weeks. In Parliament Square, one of the five tented sites, MPs and ministers were frequent visitors and speech makers, in a generally supportive vein.
There were regional city rebellions during the summer of 2019, followed by an October ‘uprising’ in London. Rebels attempting to camp in many locations were this time met by official hostility and the unlawful use of a law (under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986) to evict rebels from any part of London when gathered in groups larger than two. Camping in protest became impossible.
It has been with this history in mind and in personal memory – for I have slept in bivvy bags at Greenham and under boats and trucks in London – that I’ve followed the campout campaign at Millstone Point. Here is a camp set up to be as tiny as possible (only two tents) and as limited as possible (mainly at weekends). It is indeed a kind of protest, but against something that has yet to happen, and which all hope never will. Rather than being a defiant shout (‘here we are watching your weapons’) or a rebellious chorus (we’re going to get in your way and disrupt everything till you listen to us’) it seems to me to offer a kind of witnessing presence. The danger that threatens this beautiful part of Arran’s coastline is not yet here and those who attempt to sleep there, or make the long walk there and back during the day, may take its wild beauty into their hearts and be inspired to make their further protest in conventional written form.
There is a cairn – built stone by stone from each visitor and supporter, which will be taken down and restored to the beach when all is done. There has been fire on the beach below the high tide line, so visitors may keep warm in the teeth of autumn winds. The other two elements of wind and water are there in abundance – more than visitors might wish at times -in common with experience at all protest camps. But it’s the differences that resonate – like the hashtag #lovemillstonepoint, simply an affirmation of beauty, of solidarity with the land and the sea, of witness.