This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

The thorny issue of policing protests is back in the spotlight after three men and a woman were arrested and charged following a protest at the Thales factory in Govan, Glasgow, as they called for an end to arms sales to Israel.

As well as the arrests, a stooshie was caused by an interaction between a constable on duty and Xander Elliards, a reporter for The National, who was threatened with arrest in what the National Union of Journalists called an “astonishing and shocking confrontation”.

Read more:

Police Scotland conduct 'astonishing and shocking' at Glasgow protest

Perhaps the most shocking part was the attitude and, indeed, ignorance on display from Scotland’s finest. Let’s break it down briefly.

The officer in question begins by saying: “I don’t want to be recorded, I have rights as well”.

While it is true that police officers have rights too, it is not illegal to take photographs or video footage in a public place unless for criminal or terrorist purposes. It is perfectly legal to film both incidents and police personnel.

“Just because you’re a press officer, doesn’t give you free roam to go about protest sites”.

Mr Elliards is not a press officer he is a reporter. Furthermore, being a journalist does entitle one to “unfettered access… provided they are there as an observer planning to report the event and not a participant or activist”.

“Stop being obstructive to the police or you will be arrested because press can be arrested for being obstructive”

It’s true that the press can be arrested for being obstructive. However, Mr Elliards was clearly not being disruptive, and could only have been were he to have prevented the officers from carrying out their duties.

“Just leave then. Stop obstructing me, and I’ll take your phone as evidence”.

The police only have the power to take a person’s phone if there is a “reasonable belief that they may contain evidence or information relating to a police investigation or incident” and doing so “must be necessary, proportionate, and reasonable in the circumstances”.

“Under section 20 of the Police and Fire Reform Act, I’m carrying out my duty as a constable, you’re now being obstructive to the police, you may be arrested”.

Quoting laws is a common tactic employed by police when looking to intimidate, and often just drivel. The quoted law and section simply lays out the duties of a constable, namely: to prevent and detect crime; to maintain order; to take lawful measures to bring offenders to justice; to serve and execute a warrant; and to attend court to give evidence.

In short the officer was quoting a section of the law which just says what his job is. Perhaps he should have familiarised himself with section 32 which states “the main purpose of policing is to improve the safety and well-being of persons, localities and communities in Scotland”.

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Without being too worthy about it, there’s a reason that journalists are free to cover protests, demonstrations and other such events. No-one is suggesting that we’re on a slippery slope to becoming North Korea, and the UK remains near the top of the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. However, media oversight of police and institutions is of vital importance.

Police Scotland is institutionally racist, sexist and discriminatory. Those aren’t my words, those are the words of outgoing chief constable Iain Livingstone last year. Having eyes – and cameras – on their behaviour is a positive thing, particularly in cases where they may be dealing with marginalised communities. “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”, isn’t that what we often hear?

Some of the protestors at Thales yesterday have, as reported by The Herald, alleged heavy-handed tactics on the part of Police Scotland and accused the force of creating “fear and panic” as they broke up the picket line. For their part the police say six officers were injured in scuffles.

The Herald:

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The police have a difficult job, with a record low number of full-time officers facing long hours in difficult and often dangerous conditions. That doesn’t give them licence to harass people who are also doing their job.

By the way, that Press Freedom Index? In place 157 of 180 you’ll find Palestine, where internal media is subject to censure by Hamas or accusations of propaganda by Israel. The blockade of the Gaza Strip means outside media hasn’t been allowed in to report on the situation, and more than 100 reporters have been killed by the IDF since war broke out following the October 7 attacks.

Something to think about.