Cameron in Glasgow: Tactical Lessons

This is a guest post written by one of the anti-Cameron protestors at the event on 31st July, who is unwilling to identify themselves fearing harassment.  It has been published with minor formatting changes.


For background to this event and other policing in Glasgow, see these two articles: ‘Cameron’s footsoldiers no shame!‘ at Glasgow Defence Campaign for a general discussion of the day  Also see ‘Glasgows Total Policing’ at Second Council House of Virgo for a great discussion of the legislation used to shut down protest:

This article will attempt to complement the other articles by focusing on the strategies that police use in policing ‘public order’ situations, specifically where they involve high-profile individuals that need to be able to travel from location to location.  We can make some observations and conclusions based on the actions of the police and other security services at the recent impromptu demonstration against David Cameron’s presence at a fundraiser at the Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow.

1.  Security services do not believe David Cameron is in physical danger

The visible non-police security detail included up to half a dozen unmarked vehicles, two pairs of motorcycle outriders, and between 10-20 non-uniformed individuals. These close protection officers are nominally Metropolitan Police S01 (Protection Command), or the UK Special Forces. Most of these individuals will have been carrying concealed weapons, and are likely to be drawn from a military background.

In public locations security service members attempted or allowed themselves to appear as senior hotel staff or members of the public. They acted as spotters and liaised with the police – though they always stepped back from involvement in policing not directly related to the safety of their charge. They attempted whenever possible to liaise with police where they could not be observed.

While it is difficult to know who is accompanying politicians in a political rather than security role, behaviour, dress and physical size can be key. Equally, it is difficult to know whether an individual is a political handler, a close protection officer, or a non-uniformed local police officer. They are unlikely to tell you when asked.

They sometimes let their guard down. After Cameron had left an individual in a brown suit approached protesters and told them to “watch themselves. just watch yourself right”. On being asked who he was, a policeman answered, pleased with himself “who? him? dunno. member of the public.” Security staff often enjoy playing their role.

The security services did not believe that David Cameron was under and specific or latent threat to life and limb while in Glasgow. Compare this (10-20 security staff) to the entourage of President Obama (100+) while abroad, or Margaret Thatcher post-Brighton Bombing. Despite the increase in activity from the IRA, it seems there it is perceived that currently there are no credible general threats to the Prime Minister.

Also, compare this to the entourage accompanying Nick Clegg when he was egged in 2011 on a visit to Glasgow. The presence there was 2 high performance vehicles, with half a dozen security and half a dozen police officers. It was a similar event (speaking to party activists/donors), at a less central location, with less than 10 protesters. Whether the difference is due to a step-up in security, or Clegg’s perceived importance compared to David Cameron, it is hard to tell.

Though they knew there would be a protest, this was an everyday event for security services.  However, the level of policing is intended to stop events that may embarrass the prime minister from occurring. and to avoid his timetable being delayed. In general, policing and security is principally aimed at avoiding a public embarrassment such as a crowd surrounding a car and delaying it or a direct confrontation between the prime minister and protesters.

2. Locations for meetings are chosen with consideration as to their available exits

The Central Hotel has at least four entrances/exits (see image).

L1) Public entrance onto Hope Street.
L2) Into the northwest corner of Glasgow Central Station
L3) an underground carpark portal on Hope Street
L4) a underground car-park portal on Union Street.

Protestors and Security Services, as positioned during the majority of the afternoon (3pm-5pm), are in blue and red respectively.Protestors were located at 1, the public entrance, Tory supporters also entered here. Cameron arrived and left through L4, the underground carpark. There was a large, brand-new, BMW 4×4 with tinted windows stationed opposite the portal.

This location was perfect for ensuring the political safety of the prime minister. It was unlikely that protestors could block all entrances, and if so, the police would be able to concentrate their resources on one location in order to clear it.

3. ‘Low profile’ and ‘high-profile’ events are policed differently.

Journalists make a distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ events.  The No 10 political team will announce beforehand what the ‘scale’ of an event is to be and attempt to manage the message as best as possible.

A) Cameron’s 3:30 event at the Central Hotel was not a photo-opportunity. The only images to come out of this event were from twitter. This was a private event for the Tory faithful  and therefore not reported on.

B) Cameron later visited Scotstoun Stadium, this was the photo opportunity. He walked around for the cameras, spoke about supporting Glasgow’s legacy from the Games, made a statement on Scottish Independence and played table-tennis (badly)

Police are aware that activists are less likely to confront Cameron at ‘good’ events (e.g. childrens sports), than ‘bad’ events (e.g. overweight Tories at junkets). They police accordingly.

4. Police are willing to waste considerable resources  to provide distraction from tactical positions

There were two key operations taking place for security services between around 3:00pm and 5:30pm on Tuesday 31st of August.

1. Moving Cameron into, and out of the, the Grand Central Hotel.
2. Managing the situation created by the protestors.

The operations relied on each other to some extent.

Location 4 (L4), though seemingly the most important point as it was required for moving Cameron, was lightly guarded. Security services at this location did not wear high-vis – high-vis is thought to alert the public to police presence and make them feel safe/policed (Donnelly and Scott, Policing Scotland, Willan 2010) and kept inside the gates of the underground carpark. As mentioned, there was a high-powered BMW 4×4 stationed across the road from this gate, unmarked with an individual stationed in it. A uniformed police officer would periodically do a walkabout of this location. This was the entirety of visible security. The movement of Cameron was the responsibility of the Close Protection unit. As this operation was carried out successfully Close Protection involved the police only when protesters threatened to come into contact with Cameron’s vehicle – even then, it was close protection who kept protestors away.

It is not known exactly when Cameron arrived. It is assumed to be around 4pm. He left (promptly) around 5:15.

In contrast, the public order operation included over 100 officers in high-vis, multiple vehicles, and large-scale movements of police and forced-movements of protesters. As seen in videos, police numbers completely overwhelmed numbers of protesters allowed in the area. Police were stationed to protect the public entrance to the Hotel (L1), but where they were kept in reserve they were either in vans able to move quickly, or stationed between the body of the protestors and L4.

When protesters moved from L1 to confront Cameron leaving from L4, officers quickly moved to block them. Cameron’s car managed to speed away.


  • Police focused all of their resources on one location to draw attention away from other more strategically important locations.
  • Security services prefer to rely on speed and secrecy to move key assets. They will not focus resources in a manner that draws attention to strategic points.
  • Police rely on numbers and high-visibility policing to contain protestors. They over-policed the demonstration to make sure it could not move to the most effective location.
  • They were willing to allow protesters to be distracted by secondary issues that arguably may have resulted in greater‘disturbance to the life of the community’ (Tory donor’s entering the hotel) at the same time as a more important operation was taking place (David Cameron entering).
  • Police have key teams of key individuals trained in public order situations. Videos show two officers from Strathclyde working together to manage the protestors.  Usefully, the ‘bad’ cop is wearing a US-style black paramilitary fleece (he has no lapel numbers or indication of rank), while the ‘good’ cop (Chief Inspector Brian Connell, 1:39 in the video above) is in a nice friendly hat. Connell is well-versed in public order legislation, has his statements pre-prepared, and attempts to liaise with protestors. He later puts on a high-vis jacket in order to better present a public face.  The other officer (unknown) is obviously concerned with strategic operations – Connell is the senior public-facing officer. In London there is a very formal use of ‘Public Liason Officers’, but even if it is an informal role, the officer who you are speaking to is not necessarily the officer who is choosing how to deal with you.
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