Extinction Rebellion: A day at the Holyrood protest camp

As the 'rebel camp' entered its third day, STV News' Dan Vevers went to see what it's all about.

Net-zero: Protesters demanding a 2025 target greet MSPs and Holyrood staff. <strong>STV</strong>
Net-zero: Protesters demanding a 2025 target greet MSPs and Holyrood staff. STV

Heading into the Scottish Parliament this morning, it was quite nice to be greeted by the gauntlet of protesters lining up on both sides ahead of the private entrance.

They shouted motivational things at me like “you have the power to change things”, and “you can do it”, and “we believe in you”.

It’s day three of Extinction Rebellion’s protest camp outside Holyrood – the guerrilla climate campaigning network which has grabbed headlines around the UK – and they’ve made their presence felt.

The first campers arrived in Edinburgh on Sunday, with a host of them cycling in together from Glasgow, but action really got under way on Monday.

Eight men and five women were arrested after campaigners set up a bodily road block on Lothian Road, along with other disruptive activities throughout the capital.

It’s with direct action like this that Extinction Rebellion made its name, such as the group’s ten days of action across London in April, when more than 1100 people were arrested for various offences.

Their presence outside Scotland’s parliament comes as MSPs are scrutinising the Climate Change Bill, which seeks to enshrine the Scottish Government’s commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

Extinction Rebellion’s message is simple. As one Edinburgh-based campaigner Saul Kenrick told me, the 2045 target is “frankly genocidal”.

“I’m really scared about my future and I’m shocked by how inadequate the Scottish Government’s response to the climate crisis is,” Saul added.

“So I feel I have to come here to make some kind of difference, if I can.”

The clue is in the name: these activists say if we don’t cut our emissions far more aggressively and reach net-zero by 2025, not 2045, then we are all going to die.

‘Ecocide’: Campers lined up along Canongate to cover all parliament entrances. STV

The activists had planned to form a human chain around the parliament building but that wasn’t possible due to not having enough people.

Later in the morning, the camp held its first “People’s Assembly” – with a few of these popping up in their events programme for the week, alongside morning yoga, a knitting workshop and a session of “ecstatic dance”.

There, I spoke to two activists – a young man and woman – who didn’t want to be named or go on camera but were happy to record an audio interview on my phone.

Initially, the man considered identifying himself as “the wandering owl”, but he and his friend instead agreed to dub themselves collectively as “rebels”.

I put it to the rebels that the Scottish Government says a net-zero target of 2025 is not realistic – that it would be too disruptive for the economy.

“What we’re campaigning for and one of our main chants is that we’re looking for system change,” the female activist said.

“And yeah, it would be very, very different and probably quite difficult for the economy to do that but it’s what needs to happen.

“Frankly, the Bill they’re bringing in at the moment just won’t cause enough change.”

The man added: “We can have all of the comforts and the technologies we’re used to but we can have them without harming nature.”

He continued: “I feel there’s a desperate need for people to feel part of the community, the community of nature, and to feel love for each other.

“So I feel Extinction Rebellion is a really loving, peaceful symptom of that and it has some very specific goals towards climate change, which is the thing that’s going to kill us.

“But I think it’s a much deeper reaching-out-from-within of people trying to rebuild community from the ground-up, and the sense is of such a loving atmosphere, and the camp is so welcoming for anyone to come here and enjoy food and to camp together.

“And waking up with the bird-calls this morning, it really felt like one family of nature here at Holyrood among this beautiful natural environment.”

Rebel camp: Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie meets protesters. STV

The camp functions, they explained to me, as a self-organising “holacracy” – a system of management where the group decides collectively what to do.

Deciding an action plan for Tuesday, for example, involved proposals being put forward, and then the campers splitting into groups of four to talk them over.

“Then we had a brief discussion around that and we found unity around what we wished to do,” the man said.

“I guess it might be a modern interpretation of how the clan system worked.”

What if someone doesn’t want to go along with the rest? I wondered.

The female rebel said if there’s any block to a proposal, another is suggested, until there is a “final action that everybody can unanimously agree they are emotionally, physically and mentally comfortable with taking part in”.

“If people wish to go and have a separate action and split into a separate group and do something that fits within their principles… then that is completely possible,” the man added.

“It’s completely consent-based. For anyone who doesn’t wish to be a part of an action, they can step away.”

Nearer the road is where the tents and hammocks are set up for those staying over, while just next to parliament are the activity tents and gazebos.

Among these are a “regeneration tent”, a “wellbeing tent” and a food kitchen run entirely on donations. In this area, as well as activism, the camp runs all kind of social activities.

Recounting his day on Monday, the male rebel said: “We were on the street blocking roads all day and came back to this wonderful ceilidh with such beautiful energy.”

“What I think is most important here,” the woman explained, “is that when someone asks how are you feeling or how are you doing, they genuinely mean it and they’re giving you space to talk and absolutely open up about how you feel.”

Morning: Rebels served with breakfast by fellow campers. STV

This is all fine and well, I thought, for young idealists who can find the time to live in camps for days, and discuss alternative ways to live and organise society – but what about everybody else?

Working parents, single mothers, office workers, nurses, teachers and anyone else whose time is already full up – what can they do to help the environment?

“There’s things like growing your own herbs so you’re not buying them in a plastic packet, which leads you to be more self-sustaining,” the female rebel said.

“Not mowing your grass in springtime lets the bees pollinate better.

“And there are slightly more rebellious activities you could do.

“There’s seed bombs you can create – carry them in your pocket and then if you see an open space that doesn’t have any growth on it, throw a seed bomb of local natural wild flowers and plants and that’ll allow nature to regrow on its own with a little bit of assistance.

“Small things.”

Her fellow rebel agreed: “Simple things like going for walks, and just appreciating the life of a bird, and the bird-call in the morning.”

He added: “Everything that we do can have a harmful or a healing effect.

“A simple thing like planting a tree can have such a knock-on effect on the ecosystem, along with the mental and physical health benefits.”

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