“A credit to yourselves, a credit to this city” as Scotland’s cyclists storm Parliament
Huge numbers shut down central Edinburgh as ordinary people from all walks of life demand radical change
The afternoon of April 28th saw carnage in Edinburgh as a horde of cyclists, officially estimated at two to three thousand strong, rode from the Meadows to Parliament – demanding that the Scottish government implement a raft of measures to address the challenges facing cyclists and the country.
Organisers, police and politicians alike were stunned by a turnout up to ten times as large as estimated – leaving the Tory party scrambling after they refused to send a speaker to address what turned out to be the “biggest ever demonstration on any subject to take place in the public arena outside the Scottish Parliament” .
The giant demo saw famous figures like Mark Beaumont rubbing shoulders with pensioners, parents with kids in tow, students, commuters, mountain bikers and road racers, all united by common cause – a rejection of the status quo and a desire for commitment from the political class to really tackle transport in Scotland.
Incredibly, the crowd was so large that it was still leaving the Meadows when the lead elements arrived on the grass outside Parliament!
Groundswell of support from across the nation
The first sign of the tempest to come was on the morning of the 28th as “feeder rides” began assembling as far afield as Glasgow and St Andrews, and later across the capital – larger on their own than estimates for the entire event!
Not the protest – just a feeder ride!
(Image courtesy Chris Hill)
In the Meadows, numbers grew and grew – dwarfing the nucleus around the Spokes desk at the crossroads until a sea of colour stretched from one side of the giant park to the other, and arriving cyclists were fed onto the grass, then around the perimeter as Middle Meadow Walk threatened to overflow and shut down traffic on Melville Drive.
Casual cyclists to the fore
It’s hard to describe the variety of people in attendance – every age, every stereotype of equipment and experience, but most impressive of all was the sheer number of ordinary folk turning out – the sort of people you’d never expect to be at a demo for what many try to dismiss as a fringe element of society.
Between the echelons of hi-viz suits, they were there – bareheaded, casually clothed, normal looking folk taking the opportunity of safety in numbers to make their voice heard on an issue that is now surely gaining a little mainstream traction.
Success against the odds for Lothian and Borders Police
I didn’t envy the lot of the small number of police officers chosen to cover the demonstration – they were ridiculously undermanned by anyone’s measure – but every one of the thousands who left the Meadows made it to Parliament without insult or injury.
“Polis” – image courtesy blackpuddinonnabike
Not only did they manage to shut several major city-centre junctions on a Saturday lunchtime without notice, the police also kept a lid on the tensions that surely follow when anybody in a hurry realises a parade of thousands is standing between them and their destination.
It was left to a few taxi drivers to provide the counterpoint, doing themselves small credit with bed-wetting hysterics at the roadside, tolerated with good humour but no sympathy from the keepers of law and order.
You. Shall. Not. Pass!
The police empowered ride marshals to cork side streets. That I should live to see the day.
(Image courtesy Chris Hill)
Pedal on Parliament deserved closed roads, and next year’s event * will surely have them, but for the time being Lothian & Borders Police have the well-earned thanks of everyone who rode for making the very best of a difficult position.
At Parliament, speeches were made
As the flood of riders spread from the bottom of the Royal Mile onto the Parliament forecourt, it was time to fire up the public address system.
“… the biggest ever demonstration on any subject
to take place in the public arena outside the Scottish Parliament…”
image courtesy ct5
The crowd was addressed by Alison Johnstone, Jim Eadie, and Sarah Boyack MSP (respectively Green, SNP, and Labour), along with Edinburgh Transport Convenor Cllr Gordon Mackenzie, a man whose political star is rising without trace – at least with the cycling vote – following recent actions at the council helm:
L-R: Jim Eadie MSP, Alison Johnstone MSP, Dave Brennan (aka Magnatom), Sarah Boyack MSP, Mark Beaumont (The Man who Cycled the World) and Cllr Gordon Mackenzie
(Image courtesy Dave du Feu)
Sarah Boyack exhorted the masses to make a fuss with their elected representatives – “1p out of every pound is not good enough”, while Gordon Mackenzie – who it will be remembered has recently committed Edinburgh Council to a wild increase in cycle spending – described it as “one of the proudest days of my political career”.
Everyone was struck by the bravery of Lynne McNicol (whose step-son Andrew was killed earlier this year in an incident which saw an HGV driver arrested). A timely reminder that, for all the fun of the parade, we’re talking about matters of life and death at the end of the day.
(Please support The Andrew Cyclist Charitable Trust)
It was nice to hear from Mark Beaumont – but it was left to Alison Johnstone, as enthusiastic as you’d expect a Green to be in such circumstances, to cap the day with the following (rather aspirational!) beauty:
“Cycling is not some self-indulgent minority pastime.
Cyclists are the mainstream.” – Alison Johnstone MSP
Dave Brennan should be justly proud – his years as helmet-cam-wielding, grass-roots safety-promoting YouTube artiste Magnatom have culminated in what surely must be a day of epic affirmation.
What next for cycling in Scotland?
Get out on your bike. Join Spokes even though you still can’t do it online**.
Make some noise. Use WriteToThem to make it clear to your politicians that they’re impressing nobody when they repeatedly re-announce the pathetic investments they’ve been making to date.
We have Pedalled on Parliament – is this just the beginning?
All POP graphics courtesy the legendary Andy Arthur of Magnificent Octopus
The necessary intervention for active travel requires a huge increase in spending – five to ten times what is currently on the table – and the vision, and the will to use it. (In Edinburgh, where 5% of the transport budget has already been secured by Gordon Mackenzie going forwards, the void of leadership we may face after the May election is particularly worrying).
The SNP must be made to understand that their tiny £40m spend on active travel is pissing into the wind – and their opponents must realise there are votes to be won, hammering them for it.
The momentum generated yesterday must be built upon – and I think there must be many folk like myself who are willing to take on a bit more than flyering parked bikes to help with that.
* On the specific subject of another POP next year, I think it would be madness not to – the media will be all over the message in a way they just weren’t for an assumed fringe this year, and the support, based on the volume of “wish I was there”-es, should be even better.
Of course, the team of volunteers whose heroic efforts made this incredible day possible will probably want to take a well deserved rest first!
** Spokes – the Lothian Cycle Campaign. Other campaign groups are available.