Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Monday, 4 July 2005 17:53 UK

Picnicking for peace at Faslane

By Graeme Esson
BBC Scotland's news website

Canapes collective
Ian Ruffell (left) dished out canapés at the base's entrance

Many people would consider the banks of the Gare Loch, surrounded by breathtaking Scottish scenery, as an ideal place for a picnic.

Ian Ruffell and a handful of his dinner suited friends certainly thought so - even if their view of the water was obscured by a line of police and a security fence topped with razor wire.

However, the Cocktails and Canapés Collective were undeterred as they sat down with dozens of other anti-nuclear protesters and unfurled their rug at the north gate of the Faslane base.

Their banners urged people to Make Lunch not War, while stressing that they were in favour of nibbles rather than nukes and snacks instead of slaughter.

Trumpet player
A trumpet player sounded a mournful note as the blockade began

These self-styled Aesthetes Against the Atom came equipped with alcohol-free cocktails, fresh strawberries and cream and a range of nibbles including tapanades, olives and blinis, which they were happy to hand round to those who arrived at Faslane with the aim of blockading the home of the UK's Trident nuclear submarine fleet.

"Our theme is picnicking for peace and that nuclear weapons are a luxury we cannot afford," said Ian, a Green Party activist from the south side of Glasgow.

"The billions that are spent on Trident and its support systems is money that could go on things that might actually improve people's lives, which is where the snacks and nibbles come in."

They were among the first to set out their stall as the demonstration got under way at the base's main gate shortly after 0700 BST on Monday.

Activism reawakened

They were joined by Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan, the Green Party's Chris Ballance and Caroline Lucas and people who had come from across Europe to make a stand - or rather take a seat.

They included 14-year-old Anna Reid, from Aberdeen, whose determination to make her voice heard reawakened her mother's own activism.

Christine last attended a protest march about 20 years ago, but said that her daughter had helped stir her conscience.

Christine and Anna Reid
Christine and Anna Reid travelled from Aberdeen to protest

For her part, Anna said: "These weapons are immoral, they are against international laws and they are just sick.

"I don't know if the protest will make any difference to the military, but if people see us on the news and more and more people know about it then we can make a difference."

The protest got under way to the mournful strains of a trumpet before the drummers kicked in and attempted to create more of a carnival atmosphere.

The numbers swelled as more and more coaches arrived, then dissipated as people strode off to protest outside the different entrances to the base.

There were cheers when it was announced that one protester had managed to breach security and that another was sitting on top of the fence near the fuel depot.

The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army was on manoeuvres

The 33-year-old care worker, from Banff, quickly became a bit of a celebrity as he held court from his vantage point - which he promised was free of midges.

He maintained that position despite the calls of fellow protesters who suggested that he tried his hand at a piece of very risky crowd surfing.

The demonstrators who had accompanied him to the gate also succeeded in blocking road into nearby Garelochhead.

Police were prepared to let people make their protest without moving them on - but there was little sympathy for the action in the village itself.

The streets were deserted, and business was suffering in the minimarket at the Faslane end of Garelochhead.

Road closed sign
There was anger at the protest in nearby Garelochhead

Behind the counter Akram Mohammad admitted that the place was like a ghost town, and one of his customers could barely contain his contempt for the protesters.

"They should be locked up for the vandalism that they cause," fumed the man, who declined to give his name.

"They cause disruption, local shops lose business and nobody wants them here. They are just a bunch of jokes."

Raising a smile was certainly the intention of some of the protesters, with slogans such as Newts not Nukes, Brunch not Bombs and Custard Creams not Cluster Bombs.

Laughter was also the goal of the troops from the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (Circa).

Mass distraction

Their arrival at the west gate provided a much-needed boost of energy for protesters who appeared to be flagging after their early start.

The clowns' communiqué pointed out that Faslane was in the heart of a beauty spot - and brought a sense of panto to proceedings as the traditional "it's behind you" cry was wheeled out for the base's "weapons of mass destruction".

They also took on the role of weapons of mass distraction, diverting attention from what they saw as the real issues which should be getting tackled by the G8 leaders when they meet in Gleneagles.

Retired church minister George Charlton
Retired minister George Charlton said it was an important event

Retired church minister George Charlton has attended protests at Faslane in the past - but said the impending G8 summit made Monday's event the most important so far.

"It is a time when we can really confront the politicians," he said after travelling from Inverness for what he said would be "probably the most important thing I do all year".

Kate Hudson, the chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said the issue was linked to those of debt and poverty, which have been prominent in recent days.

"Poverty and war are in close relation to each other," she said.

"Money spent on the arms trade fuels poverty and fuels war, and nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapons of terror."

A spokeswoman for CND said the blockade, which was organised in tandem with Trident Ploughshares, had achieved its objective.

Diverse group

She said the protest was the largest ever at the base, with about 2,000 people spread across the various gates - although police put the figure at between 600 and 700.

"We have got a big contingent from the Basque country and people from New Zealand, America and Italy," said the CND spokeswoman.

"It has been really peaceful and the fact that we have got MEP and MSPs underlines that the movement is representing a really diverse group of people."

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