Edinburgh’s Stickers: Ukraine

Some ribbons in the colours of the Ukrainian flag tied around a lamppost in the Meadows (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/22).

Since the Russian Army’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022, there has been an international outpouring of condemnation of Russia’s actions, and solidarity for the people of Ukraine. People have donated goods, time, and money to help those whose lives have been turned upside down by yet another senseless war. That solidarity has also found its way onto city streets in the form of ribbons, posters, and stickers, often using the blue and gold of the Ukrainian flag.

This is the first sticker relating to Ukraine that started appearing in Edinburgh, only a week after the invasion. The QR code links to a list of resources and websites for donating to/supporting Ukraine (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 02/03/2022).
This is technically two strips of tape rather than a sticker, but it is a good illustration of how easy it can be to convey a message of support. The vibrant colours and simple design of the Ukrainian flag make it instantly recognisable and easy to replicate (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/2022).
Although you can replicate the Ukrainian flag with coloured tape, stickers of it have been popping up all over Edinburgh too (Photo: Hannah Awcock. 15/03/2022).
This design combines the Ukrainian flag with the ‘peace’ hand gesture (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/03/2022).
This sticker also utilises the Ukrainian flag. According to Google Translate, it means ‘Fuck Off Putin’ in Croatian (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 05/04/2022).
This is the Ukrainian coat of arms. It is a trident, based on the seal of Volodymyr, the first Great Prince of Kyiv, who ruled in the late 10th and early 11th centuries (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/03/2022).
This design also uses the Ukrainian coat of arms (Photo: 05/04/2022).
Other stickers choose to focus on the orchestrator of the invasion rather than Ukraine. Putin has always been a controversial figure, and I did find the occasional sticker criticising him before the invasion, but the number and variety has increased dramatically since February 2022 (Photo: Hannah Awcock: 13/03/2022).
(Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/03/2022).
This sticker doesn’t directly refer to the invasion of Ukraine, but LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine fear persecution if the Russian invasion is successful. Whilst it is legal to be gay or transgender in Russia, it is also legal to discriminate against LGBT people because of their sexuality or gender identity (Photo: Hannah Awcock: 13/03/2022).
I didn’t want to give Putin the last word in this blog post, even a dragged-up version of him! This feels like a better message to end on (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/2022).

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Transgender Rights

A ‘Queer Edinburgh for Trans Rights’ sticker near the Easter Road Stadium, home of Hibernian F.C. The sticker includes key features in Edinburgh, including the Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, the Scott Monument, and Edinburgh Castle (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/09/2021).

In a similar way to social movements more generally, there tend to be trends in the topics addressed by protest stickers. Over the last year or so, the number of protest stickers relating to Covid-19 has decreased. The number of stickers relating to transgender (trans) rights, on the other hand, has increased dramatically, perhaps in response to high-profile events and controversies in the media. I have found stickers that defend and celebrate trans people, and transphobic stickers that attack and criticise them. For this blog post, I have decided to only feature the former kind, as I do not believe that the existence and rights of trans people is a debate. It’s bad enough that transphobic stickers are on the streets in such large numbers, I am not going to use my blog to give them a platform, even if it is to criticize them.

I would like to give a platform to Trans Happiness Is Real and catboysoc_oxford on Instagram and Stickers Against Hate, Dublin Stickers Against Transphobia, N3KOcardiff , Stickers and Love, and West Queer Art on Twitter who all produce and distribute wonderful pro-trans and trans rights stickers.

This sticker combines the most recent iteration of the Rainbow Pride with the Trans Pride Flag. The hashtag #LGBwiththeT is a way of showing solidarity between different elements of the LGBT+ community (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 18/04/2021).
The Pokemon-Trans Rights crossover you never knew you needed! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/07/2021).
Who doesn’t love a good pun? Cisgender people are those whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. The Trans Pride flag and its colours are a common feature of pro-trans stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 20/07/2021).
This sticker also uses a pun. BogOff is a campaign started in 2021 in response to an open consultation launched by the British government about ‘toilet provision for men and women’. They are campaigning for equal access to toilets for all people, including workers, unsheltered people, and disabled people as well as trans and gender-nonconforming people. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 15/03/2021).
This sticker subverts a popular transphobic sticker design. The design is exactly the same, but a definition of ‘woman’ has been replaced with a definition of ‘transphobia’. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/09/2021).
This sticker also plays with stereotypical transphobic designs. Recently, transphobic stickers and social media accounts have adopted the colour scheme of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the best-known of the suffragette organisations. I guess I wasn’t the only one extremely uncomfortable with feminist history being used in this way (although I am not pretending that the WSPU was a perfect organisation, far from it!), as this sticker is claiming the purple, white, and green colours for trans-inclusive feminism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 23/08/2021).
This sticker is also using the WSPU colours for a pro-trans message. I appreciate the sentiment, but for me the wording of this sticker misses the mark a bit. Saying that trans people are welcome still implies that they are outsiders in some way. Transgender people don’t need to be welcomed, because they have as much right to be ‘here’ as anyone else. It’s a bit like telling someone they are welcome in their own home (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/09/2021).
I think this sticker puts it much better! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 29/06/2021).
Many of the accusations made against transgender people are similar to those that have been made against gay people. The way this sticker is placed over another suggests that the one underneath carries a transphobic message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 19/11/2021).
Solidarity is an important element of any social movement, and who doesn’t want punks on their side? (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 24/07/2021).
This sticker was made by a charity based in Kirkcaldy called Pink Saltire to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility on 31st March 2021. I walk past this lamppost often, and a few days before I took this photo there was a transphobic sticker on this spot. You can see the outline of it, as some paint came off with it when it was removed (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/06/21).
Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh was set up during the pandemic to provide support by and for trans and queer people in the city. The group went on hiatus in October 2021, but there is still a list of resources available on their website (Photo: Hannah Awcock,12/01/2021).
With all the hate and discrimination that trans people face, it can be easy to forget that trans lives are not only characterised by hardship. This sticker, and the Instagram account TransHappinessIsReal, act as a reminder that this is not the case (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 19/11/2021).
TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It first appeared in 2008, to refer to transphobic feminists. It is considered an insult by many of the people it applies to, who prefer the term ‘gender critical’. This sticker felt like an appropriate note to end this blog post on! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 28/11/2021).

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Israel-Palestine

Stickers sympathetic to Palestine are not new, but they began to appear more frequently in Edinburgh after violence flared up in May 2021 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is an incredibly complex one that has been going on for decades. Every so often violence flares up, drawing international attention back to the region. The most recent outbreak started on 10th May 2021, sparked by the predicted eviction of four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Control of the area is contested, and more than 1000 Palestinian families are currently at risk of eviction.

Most of the protest stickers I have found in the UK are sympathetic to Palestine, it is very rare to find pro-Israeli ones. The conflict is a relatively common topic of stickers (I wrote a blog post about pro-Palestinian stickers in London back in 2017), but when the violence gets worse the frequency of stickers increases. With the outbreak of hostilities in May, the number of stickers in Edinburgh went up. Several of the designs I have seen before in other cities, but some are unique, and some are specific to Edinburgh.

Campaigns to support Palestine is nothing new. I photographed this sticker in 2020, but it is referring to an event in 2016. On 17th August 2016, the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland hosted an event as part of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe to promote Israeli cultural performers. No 2 Brand Israel organised a series of events to oppose this, as part of the BDS strategy. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and a strategy adopted by organisations around the world in 2005 to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli-made goods, a key element of the BDS strategy. The Palestinian flag, and colours of the flag, are a common feature of pro-Palestinian stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was produced by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an active group that does what it says on the tin really (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that predates the current conflict. It was produced by rs21, otherwise known as Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, which produces commentary and analysis on a broad range of issues and events. They also support BDS (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was also produced by rs21. Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, and 2009 and June 2021. This sticker appeared in the Meadowbank area of Edinburgh in May 2021, but the design dates back to 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that appeared in 2021, but was designed much earlier. I first spotted it in London in 2017. It was produced by the Socialist Worker Student Society, the student section of the Socialist Workers Party, another revolutionary socialist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Street artists and taggers have used the ‘Hello my name is…’ stickers for a long time because they are cheap and readily available. It is less common to see them used as protest stickers, but they’re effective! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The text on this handwritten sticker is faded, but it reads ‘Palestine will be free” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
This sticker doesn’t explicitly mention Palestine, but because it is the same pen and handwriting as the previous sticker, and I found them relatively close together near the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, I assume that this one is also about Palestine (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Traces of Turbulent History in Holyrood Park: The Radical Road

The Radical Road is a path that runs around Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. The path sits where the gorse becomes bare rock (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A 500-year old royal park might not be the first place you look for evidence of Scotland’s turbulent history. But that is exactly what the Radical Road is, a trace of a particularly tempestuous period of history in Edinburgh’s famous Holyrood Park. The path was built in 1822 by unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland after a failed uprising two years earlier. Sadly, the path has been closed ever since a large rockfall in 2018, and it isn’t clear when, or if, it will reopen. Nevertheless, the story of the Radical Road and the events that led up to its construction is fascinating.

The Radical Road runs through Holyrood Park (highlighted in red). The name feels out of place for a royal park (Source: Google).

The American and French Revolutions in the late 1700s sparked radical movements and debates across Europe, and Scotland is no exception. I have written before on this blog about the Political Martyrs Memorial in the Old Calton Burial Ground commemorating 5 reformers that were transported to Australia for their part in a campaign for universal male suffrage and annual elections in the 1790s. This growth in radical ideas and groups was also accompanied by fierce oppression by the authorities, the 1819 Peterloo Massacre being perhaps the most famous British example. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 led to an economic depression that severely impacted living conditions in Scotland. Demands for reform grew, particularly in the west of Scotland – workers believed that the government didn’t care about their poor living and working conditions. On the 1st of April 1820 a proclamation was posted around Glasgow calling for a general strike. The strike started two days later, with tens of thousands of people across central Scotland refusing to work.

The strike was supposed to be accompanied by an armed uprising. The government had a network of spies, informants and agent provocateurs within the reform movement, so the authorities were aware of most of the plans. The impact of this for the radicals was bigger than just losing the element of surprise, however. The agent provocateurs deliberately encouraged unrest in order to expose the radicals, and exaggerated the threat to the government. Because of this, the number of people willing to take part in armed uprising was lower than both the radicals and the government expected. Largely as a result, the uprising was over before it even began. There were several violent clashes between the authorities and strikers around central Scotland over the next few days. For example, on the 8th of April a crowd managed to free 5 prisoners as they were transported to Greenock Jail. Around 20 people were killed or injured in the fighting. The strike and uprising was crushed quite easily, and 88 people were charged with treason, with 3 men – James Wilson, Andrew Hardie, and John Baird – executed.

The defeat of the uprising pretty much put a stop to radical organising in Scotland. Hundreds of radicals emigrated to escape repression, and the reform movement was decimated. In 1822, George IV visited Scotland. It was the first time a British monarch had visited Scotland in nearly 200 years, and he proved incredibly popular. The visit increased loyalty to the monarchy and further dampened the radical movement. Sir Walter Scott had an important role in organising the visit, and helped to reinvigorate Scottish national identity in the process.

After George IV’s visit, Scott suggested that unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland could be used to build a path in Holyrood Park. As well as giving the men work, it was also designed to discourage further unrest. The work was hard and tiring, leaving the men little time to organise, and they were separated from their local communities and activist networks. A local nursery rhyme was inspired by they scheme:

Round and round the Radical Road the radical rascal ran

If you can tell me how many ‘r’s are in that you can catch me if you can.

The Radical Road in April 2021. The path has been closed since 2018 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Radical Road became a popular path in Holyrood Park, with views over central Edinburgh and towards the Pentland Hills. In September 2018, 50 tonnes of rock fell onto the path during the daytime, and it was decided the path could no longer remain open. Discussions about how to make it safe for use are ongoing, but the Park’s status as a Ancient Monument makes the situation more complicated. Hopefully it will reopen one day, but until then it remains an important trace of Scotland’s radical history, hidden in plain sight.

Sources and Further Reading

Armstrong, Murray. The Fight for Scottish Democracy: Rebellion and Reform in 1820. London: Pluto Press, 2020.

Baxter, Ian. “Radical Road, Radical Response.” Heritage Futures. Last modified 3rd November 2019, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://heritagefutures.wordpress.com/2019/11/03/radical-road-radical-response/

Dickson, Alan. Songlines: The Road to Bonnymuir – An Anthology of Late 18th/Early 19th Century Political Song. Glasgow: Rowth, 2020.

Our Edinburgh Friends. “The Radical Road.” Last modified 15th June 2018, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://ouredinburghfriends.scot/2018/06/15/the-radical-road/

MacAskill, Kenny. Radical Scotland: Uncovering Scotland’s Radical History from the French Revolutionary Era to the 1820 Rising. London: Biteback, 2020.

The Scotsman. “The Forgotten History of Edinburgh’s Radical Road.” Last modified 30th March 2016, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/forgotten-history-edinburghs-radical-road-1479781

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Climate Change and the Environment

A #ClimateCrisis message on a lamppost opposite Holyrood (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

It often feels like events like Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have forced climate change down the political priority list. Movements such as Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes for Climate have lost momentum, and they are not getting the same kind of press coverage as they were in 2019. Nevertheless, climate change continues to be an urgent issue, and it keeps cropping up in Edinburgh’s protest stickers, alongside other environmental issues. With the next UN Conference on Climate Change being held in Glasgow in November 2021, Scotland might see an increase in environmental activism.

Founded in 2018, Extinction Rebellion quickly became one of the most well-known environmental direct action groups. They are quite active in Edinburgh (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The Socialist Workers Party is a revolutionary socialist party. Many groups believe that climate change cannot be halted without widespread change to our economic and political systems (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The Green Anti-Capitalist Front (GAF) argues that capitalism is responsible for the environmental crisis, and the impacts of climate change are disproportionately affecting the most poor and powerless. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There are 3 branches of the GAF in Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the Borders. Whoever designs their stickers has a knack for it! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is a reference to the 1997 song by Aqua ‘Barbie Girl’. One of the lines from the chorus is “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.” The sticker is clever, but looking back at the song lyrics I’m a little disturbed at the image of a 6-year-old me singing along to it! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Straight to the point (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The words on this sticker have faded, but they read: “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction.”(Photo: Hannah Awcock).
rs21’s full name is Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (you can see why they shortened it!) They aim to create a space where socialist ideas are discussed, reinterpreted for the modern era, and acted on. This sticker demonstrates how climate changes is only one of the issues that concerns them. In fact, climate change and the environment is one of 10 key themes that rs21 organise around (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker also links climate change and capitalism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Of course I had to give Mr T the last word! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Cramond Island’s Political Graffiti

The World War Two fortifications that remain on Cramond Island are a popular canvas for graffiti artists (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Cramond Island sits about a mile off the coast on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The Island can be reached on foot via a concrete causeway at low tide, and it is a popular spot for Edinburgers to visit. There is a long history of human use of the Island, but the most prominent human-made features date from the Second World War. The Island was part of a string of defenses designed to protect the Firth of Forth, and many of the concrete structures used to house searchlights, guns, stores, and generators remain. This uninhabited coastal environment is not the kind of place that you would expect to find graffiti, but it seems the smooth grey concrete is an irresistible canvas, with tags ranging from basic scrawls to elaborate designs covering every available surface. I was even more surprised to discover that quite a lot of the graffiti is political, turning this little island into a radical outpost.

“Housing is Healthcare.” Edinburgh is the second most expensive city to live in in the UK after London, and house prices have continued to rise during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Healthcare is a human right.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Anti-sexist action.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Feminist Antifa.” Antifa is short for anti-fascism. Despite Trump’s attempts to classify it as a ‘terrorist organisation’, antifa is a loose network of activists rather than a single group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Men are fuckin trash. Grrrl style revolution now.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
“Fuck TERFS.” Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists are those who hold and promote transphobic views. The term was used in 2008, but seems to have gained more popular traction in recent years, as debates about the rights of people who are transgender rumble on (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
“Bi Pride.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Queer as in fuck u.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Fuck the Tories.” The Conservative Party isn’t exactly popular in Scotland, although this sentiment isn’t unique to this part of the UK! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“ACAB.” A popular acronym amongst left-wing radicals, ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Fuck Duda.” Andrzej Duda is the President of Poland. He promotes ‘traditional’ values and is actively opposed to LGBT rights. Underneath the “Fuck Duda” it is just possible to make out “Fuck Boris”, creating a palimpsest of controversial European leaders (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Anarchy is the mother of order.” This is an adaptation of a quote by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, one of anarchism’s most influential philosophers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Coronavirus

A stereotypically Scottish public health message on Leith Walk (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Protest stickers tend to reflect the issues that people care about. It should come as no surprise then that the coronavirus pandemic has emerged as a popular topic of stickers over the last 12 months. I have written about coronavirus protest stickers in Brighton, where I spent the first lockdown, but since I moved to Edinburgh I have found a whole new set of stickers, which have evolved as the pandemic has. From criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic, workers rights, and complaints from the city’s student population, through to questioning the efficacy of lockdowns and masks and even rejecting the existence of Covid-19, the stickers I have found over the last few months represent a range of conflicting views.

Although this sticker doesn’t explicitly mention Covid, it is in the same style as other stickers I found nearby that did directly mention the virus, so I am fairly confident that this sticker is refering to Covid rather any of the other things Boris Johnson has been criticised for over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is one of the other stickers in the same style. The text is faded, and it looks like someone tried to scratch it off at some point, but it says “Clapping isn’t enough.” The weekly Clap for Carers started out as a very popular gesture during the first Lockdown, but later was criticised for being just that, an empty gesture (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Many employees felt compelled to go back to work after the first lockdown, even if they were worried about their health. The No Safety No Work campaign is a new campaign to protect worker safety during Covid-19 run by the Anarchist Communist Group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Another sticker promoting the No Safety No Work campaign. Again, there is no direct reference to Covid (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Another sticker produced by the Anarchist Communist Group calling for the redistribution of wealth. Many of those classified as key workers during the pandemic are poorly paid, and it has highlighted inequality in wages and income (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
As the pandemic has progressed the number of protests against Lockdowns and masks has increased. There is also a significant proportion of people who do not trust the vaccine. The Saving Scotland Party seems to have been set up to campaign against coronavirus restrictions (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
UK Column is an alternative news website and newspaper founded in 2006. Judging from the cartoon on this sticker, they also disapprove of coronavirus restrictions. Someone has responded by writing on the sticker (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is a modified version of a well-known image created by the street artist Shepard Fairey (the mask has been added). Although it isn’t explicitly anti-mask, that is how I interpret it. Many people opposed to coronavirus restrictions have complained that they are authoritarian, and I think this sticker is making a point along those lines. I suppose it could be an honest attempt to encourage people to wear masks, but it doesn’t feel like that! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
It is not uncommon to see the coronavirus restrictions linked to the dystopic world of George Orwell’s 1984. This sticker is suggesting that Covid-19 is an excuse for cracking down on civil liberties. ‘False flag’ is a phrase popular with conspiracy theorists (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
I wanted to end on a slightly more positive note, and this sticker made me smile. Once I figured out what it means, that is! ‘Jambo’ is a nickname for a supporter of the Heart of Midlothian football team, based in Edinburgh. Apparently they have a healthy rivalry with the other Edinburgh team, Hibernian. Something tells me this sticker was made by a Hibs fan! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

‘False Idols’ on Leith Walk, Edinburgh

The fate of the building at 106-154 Leith Walk has been hotly contested over the last few years (Source: North Edinburgh News).

Towards the Leith end of Leith Walk is a long red sandstone building. 106-154 Leith Walk is currently the focus of a bitter struggle between developers who want to demolish the building to build student housing and the grassroots campaign group Save Leith Walk. In January 2019 planning permission for the new development was denied, a significant victory for the community group. New plans have been submitted that propose to keep the building intact and reopen it as commercial spaces, but in the meantime the shop fronts remain boarded up. The dark gray wooden boards have come to serve a purpose of their own however, as a sort of community pin board. Slogans, street art, and other miscellanea appears, disappears, and reappears often. One of the most recent installations is called False Idols, by Creative Electric.

False Idols, an installation on Leith Walk, Edinburgh in November 2020 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The death of actor Sean Connery on the 31st October 2020 sparked a predictable outpouring of grief and admiration, particularly in his home city of Edinburgh. Not everyone mourned his loss, however. It was well known that Connery physically abused women. On several occasions he explained how he felt entitled to hit women who ‘deserved’ it, and his first wife Diane Cliento accused him of sustained physical and mental abuse during their marriage. Many people, myself included, didn’t know about this until after Connery’s death, and False Idols questions how such a man could be celebrated as a national hero.

False Idols demands that society stops celebrating abusive men (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

False Idols is described as a community art project, and in some ways it is the literal embodiment of this term. It is made up of comments posted on the I Love Leith Facebook group in the wake of Connery’s death. It must have been installed quickly, because it was destroyed on the 4th of November, just four days after Connery died. It was replaced on the 13th of November, and I took these photos two weeks later, on the 22nd. It was still largely intact when I passed by again on the 29th. You can never be sure how long street art is going to last, and the more controversial something is, the more likely it is to upset someone enough that they will try to obscure or destroy it. This is part of what makes political street art so special; it gives people an opportunity to express their opinion in public space, a privilege normally reserved for those who are rich or famous enough to attract media coverage or buy advertising.

Some of the comments included in False Idols (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Some of the included comments defend Connery, but they were clearly selected to make us question how such a person could be so revered (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

It is generally accepted that people say things on social media that they wouldn’t be willing to say in ‘real life’. So it is interesting to see the language of social media transposed onto the public space of Leith Walk. The comments have been anonymised, but I wonder how the commenters would react if they suddenly saw their own words as they walked past. Would they regret their choice of words, or their tone? Or would they stand by them? Would they be upset, angry, or proud that their opinions have been plastered onto the physical fabric of Leith? Would they even recognise their own words in this strange context?

Both political street art and social media provide ‘ordinary’ people with a platform to express their opinions. False Idols brings these two platforms together, with thought-provoking results.

Turbulent Scots: Margo Macdonald, 1943-2014

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. Last time I looked at Wendy Wood, artist and campaigner. This time it is the turn of Margo MacDonald, a charismatic politician and broadcaster.


Margo Macdonald in 1978
(Source: ODNB).

The movement for independence in Scotland has been building momentum since the mid-twentieth century, and has made some significant gains over the last 50 years. Central to those gains have been the efforts of some charismatic and driven women, including Wendy Wood, who was the first Turbulent Scot I featured on this blog, and Margo MacDonald, the focus of this post. Like Wendy, Margo was passionate and likeable, although both women struggled with the constraints of membership in a political party.

Margo Aitken was born on the 19th of April 1943, one of 3 children. She grew up in East Kilbride, and trained as a PE teacher when she left school. In 1965 she married her first husband Peter MacDonald, they had 2 children. The couple ran a pub, and Margo’s experiences talking to customers and getting to know the regulars seems to have been influential on her later political beliefs.

Margo embarked on a political career in the early 1970s, winning the Glasgow Govan by-election in 1973 as an SNP candidate. She won by 571 votes. This was a remarkable achievement; the SNP wasn’t considered a serious political force at that point, and it was widely believed that they couldn’t win an election under a Conservative government. Margo proved all the doubters wrong. She wasn’t an MP for long though, as she lost her seat in the 1974 General Election. She lost further elections in 1978 and 1979, but her 1973 victory helped establish the SNP as a serious political force.

Margo with her daughters outside the House of Parliament after her election in 1973 (Source: The Conversation).

In 1974 Margo became Deputy Leader of the SNP. She was critical of the Party’s poor performance in the General Election that year, particularly the failure to convert more Labour voters. She was a prominent member of the 79 Group, which tried to persuade the SNP to move further left to appeal to the working classes. The Group was banned by the SNP in 1982, and many of its members left the Party. However, they were later readmitted to the party and several had successful careers, including Margo and Alex Salmond.

Margo’s membership of the 79 Group meant that she wasn’t re-elected as Deputy Leader of the SNP in 1979, and she was one of those who left the Party in 1982. She established herself as a successful radio presenter, and wrote for several Scottish newspapers. She remarried in 1981, to politician and columnist Jim Sillars. As devolution became more likely in the mid-1990s, Margo rejoined the SNP as she believed it was the only way to achieve Scottish independence. She was elected as an MSP for Lothian in 1999. Margo was popular, but was outspoken on lots of contentious issues such as sex worker’s rights and MSP’s salaries. She struggled with the restrictions of being part of a political party, and was disciplined in 2000 for not toeing the party line.

When the SNP chose its candidates for the Scottish elections in 2003, Margo was 5th on the list, almost guaranteeing that she would not get re-elected. She stood as an independent candidate in protest, and was kicked out of the SNP. Margo had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1996; in the run up to the 2003 election this became public knowledge. Margo believed someone in the SNP had leaked the information in an attempt to hamper her chances of getting re-elected, which they denied. However her diagnosis got out, it didn’t prevent her getting elected. She went on to be reelected as an independent candidate in 2007 and 2011. Margo used her platform to continue to fight for what she believed in. She became a fierce advocate for assisted suicide; this was a particularly personal issue because of her illness.

Margo Macdonald was a popular figure in the Scottish Parliament from her election in 1999 to her death in 2014 (Source: The Edinburgh Reporter).

Throughout her career, Margo was suspicious that the British Security Services were interfering in Scottish politics. She believed that MI5 infiltrated the SNP in the 1970s, and in the run up to the 2014 Independence Referendum she asked the Security Services to guarantee that they would not interfere. Throughout her career she supported the causes that mattered to her; she once joined an Anti-Trident protest outside the Scottish Parliament, and she campaigned to ban vuvuzelas in Scottish football grounds.

Known as firebrand and rebel, Margo remained a popular and well-known politician until her death on the 4th of April 2014. She was respected, if not always liked, by allies and opponents alike. Although she never had a smooth relationship with the SNP, she helped to establish the party as a serious political actor. I’m sure that many Scots remember her fondly.

Sources and Further Reading

Black, Andrew. “Margo MacDonald: The Life and Times of a Political ‘Blonde Bombshell.” BBC News. Last modified 4th April 2014, accessed 27th October 2020. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26854930

Gander, Kashmira. “Margo MacDonald Dies: Tributes Pour in for ‘Britghtest Light’ Veteran Scottish Politician. The Independent. Last modified 5th April 2014, accessed 27th October 2020. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/margo-macdonald-dies-tributes-pour-veteran-scottish-politician-9239694.html

Mitchell, James. “Margo MacDonald, Independent Scot, 1943-2014.” The Conversation. Last modified 4th April 2014, accessed 6th November 2020. Available at https://theconversation.com/margo-macdonald-independent-scot-1943-2014-25299

Torrance, David. “Margo MacDonald.” The Glasgow Herald. Last modified 5th April 2014, accessed 27th October 2020. Available at https://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/13154083.margo-macdonald/

Torrance, David. “MacDonald [nee Aitken], Margo Symington Jack.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 15th February 2018, accessed 27th October 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.108517 [Subscription required to access]

Wikipedia, “Margo MacDonald.” Last modified 21st September 2020, accessed 27th October 2020. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margo_MacDonald

Ecological Depletion is Scary: Halloween Extinction Rebellion Protests on the Royal Mile

An Extinction Rebellion protester with a Halloween themed placard in West Parliament Square (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last weekend I was out on the Royal Mile preparing for a Geographies of Protest walking tour for the third year students. It just so happened that I witnessed a protest organised by Extinction Rebellion whilst I was out and about. The protest was in two parts: the first was an animal die-in in West Parliament Square, and the second was a march down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Scottish Parliament. It is always interesting to witness a protest first hand, and this was no exception.

A die-in is a type of protest where activists simulate pretend to be dead. It is a tactic that Extinction Rebellion have used before. This die-in was designed to highlight the decline of wildlife in Scotland (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The protesters wore hats that represented different British and Scottish species (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
They also displayed facts about the decline of each species (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
After an ominous drum-beat, each activist read out the fact about their species, then lay down on the ground (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
It wasn’t a large protest, there were maybe 20 activists involved, but they chose an effective way to get their point across (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This banner faced out onto the Royal Mile to convey the main message of the protest action to passersby (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
After the die-in, another group of activists started to march down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. Again, it was a relatively small group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Once the march reached the Scottish Parliament the activists arranged their banners for photographers and observers. There was one or two speeches, but I got the impression that these were more for the activists themselves than any observers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This was the first protest I have attended since social distancing and face masks became necessary. It felt like a more muted experience, but that could also have been because the numbers were relatively small. I am impressed with the way that activists are adapting their strategies and tactics to this new normal though (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There was a visible police presence throughout the protest, and there were several police vans parked nearby that presumably contained more officers. It felt over the top, but wasn’t too intimidating (Photo: Hannah Awcock).