Today’s Scottish Daily Mail has broken the story that the Scottish Conservatives have been forced to cancel their planned West of Scotland conference in Largs and move it to a secret location by hard left protesters.
Unfortunately the Mail’s Scottish title is not online but its political editor, Alan Roden, tweeted a picture of the story this morning.
This was not their primary annual conference, but one of a number of smaller regional events the party holds regularly around Scotland.
Yet they were unable to hire the private security the police advised would be necessary to guarantee the safety of the 75 or so local members who were due to attend.
More than 300 activists were predicted to attend an event organised on the Facebook page of the local branch of Solidarity, a hard-left separatist party founded by Tommy Sheridan, the scandal-mired former MSP and ex-leader of the Scottish Socialist Party.
This demonstrates how the style of aggressive protest which we witnessed in Manchester can, despite the protestations of the participants, have a smothering effect on our democracy.
The prospect of being besieged by hundreds, or even thousands, of masked and screaming opponents places a very high barrier to entry on political organisation.
For a large, well-organised and wealthy party, which can afford to ring its conference in steel and man those barricades with private security, it’s a tolerable problem. But it makes smaller, more regular meetings, and closer contact with the electorate, much more difficult.
It is not good for democracy that our main party conferences are now conducted in ‘secure zones’, behind rings of airport-style security. Nor is it acceptable that the privilege of organising small, local meetings should be exclusive to whichever side can shout their opponents down in the street.
As the Scottish Daily Mail said in an accompanying editorial: “It is deeply depressing that such behaviour has crept into our politics.”
But there’s another point to make here: surely it is the duty of the police, in a liberal democracy, to protect and facilitate legitimate political organisation.
Why were the Scottish Conservatives left in a position where they would have to hire private security to hold a meeting? What is the cut-off below which the police don’t consider the defence of freedom of association to be worth their time?
The party apparently do not expect this incident to become a regular problem, and are treating it as a one-off, but that’s scarcely the point.
Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives have high hopes for a strong performance in next year’s Scottish elections. It isn’t hard to understand why the ’45’ might have them in their sights.
But one of the benefits of being part of a common, British party is that we can support each other. If Police Scotland won’t uphold their right to peaceful political organisation and private security is what it takes for the Scottish Tories to campaign ahead of next May’s elections, CCHQ should pay for it.