COUNCIL rules must not cost citizens the right to gather on city streets, according to the leader of the opposition in Scotland’s biggest city.
Last month The National revealed that activists planning a pro-independence march through Glasgow this summer face a five-figure security bill.
The All Under One Banner (AUOB) group was told to have professional stewards on its summer event under conditions imposed by the city council.
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The directive marks the first time the volunteer-run organisation has had to pay for security, despite holding several previous events that passed without disorder or violence.
A spokesperson for the Labour-run local authority said security had to be “strengthened” and that stewarding arrangements must be in line with standard policy.
However, they declined to name any other groups required to pay for stewarding.
Now Councillor Susan Aitken, leader of the city’s SNP group, has raised concerns about the impact such rules could have on the right to assemble.
Aitken, who volunteered at Nelson Mandela’s 1993 rally in the city and has helped out at anti-nuclear events, said it is “absolutely right” that levels of stewarding are set by officials to ensure public health and safety.
The Langside councillor said this in line with the council’s responsibilities.
However, she continued: “That doesn’t have to be provided by a professional security company.
“To have a whole professional or entirely paid-for stewarding cohort, I don’t think is necessary. That seems quite an onerous thing to ask.
“There must be other ways we can work with organisers to ensure that the right to use the city streets is not curtailed but that we still have sufficient measures in place to ensure public health and safety.”
The AUOB deal was struck after months of talks with council officials. Crowds will march from Kelvingrove Park in the west end of the city to Glasgow Green on June 3.
All similar events are required to have one steward per 10 attendees, but officials made permission for the summer procession contingent on the use of paid-for and professionally trained staff.
The arrangement will see AOUB – whose last event attracted around 5,000 and anticipates a crowd of up to 10,000 – pay for stewarding lessons with a specialist contractor for hundreds of volunteers, with another 100 security professionals also drafted in.
The high turn-out estimate on which the staffing needs are based comes after the council criticised the group for failing to anticipate the large numbers who attended the most recent event in July 2016.
Almost 9,000 people have already indicated their interest in attending through a Facebook page.
The bill comes to around £30,000 and the group is now working on a range of options to raise the amount.
In a statement, the council said it “fully recognises the fundamental rights of people to assemble and associate”, adding: “Our aim is strike a reasonable balance between protecting the rights of those who wish to march and the rights of all Glasgow’s citizens.”