Council’s overreaction to Gathering Place protest reveals a state of near paranoia

by Colin Campbell

HIGHLAND Council’s absurd overreaction to a protest sign attached to fencing surrounding the Gathering Place site reveals them to be in a state of near paranoia over criticism of the waste, folly and environmental vandalism surrounding their much reviled pet vanity project.

Council called in the police after a protest sign was attached to fencing surrounding the building site demise of the former riverside beauty spot.

The sign, which said  “VANDALISM IN PROGRESS“, was a snappy but inoffensive protest, no more and no less.

If it was deemed unacceptable, it should have been removed and disposed of, with the matter ending there.

But almost unbelievably someone at the council – presumably at a senior level – saw fit to call in the police.

Since when has the council considered it a police matter if someone hangs up a protest sign?

A council spokesman said: “An unauthorised notice bearing the logos of Highland Council – used without permission – was removed from the safety fencing at the Gathering Place works.

“The illegal posting of these posters is being treated as anti-social behaviour, littering and vandalism and the matter has been reported to the police.”

This quite frankly is pathetic and defies all common sense.

Putting up a protest sign on a fence around a building site would be defined by absolutely no-one – outwith Highland Council apparently – as “anti-social behaviour”.

It is not “littering”.

And who in their most fevered imagination could consider it “vandalism”?

A police spokesman said: “Inquiries are ongoing.”

Let’s hope the police show a lot more common sense than the council and file this under other frivolous or nonsensical complaints they’ve received, at the bottom of the pile underneath a complaint from a member of the public about a seagull crapping on his head.

If someone had attached an irate placard to blocked off fencing complaining about neglect and inconvenience when the Infirmary Bridge was closed recently would the council have called in the police about that too?

Would that have been deemed “anti-social behaviour” and “vandalism” also with the boys in blue being urged to hunt down the villain responsible? Just because the council didn’t like being criticised?

And what about the Sunday last year when the entire Ness Bridge was covered with Black Lives Matter protest placards, some scrawled with content that some people would have found highly objectionable, including one depicting a police officer as a pig.

Did the council summon the forces of law and order to track down those responsible for these signs also? No, as I recall, when they made a move to remove them the following day they acceded to demands from BLM protesters that they should be left up a bit longer. And then they were allocated a month-long exhibition at Eden Court.

So are their “good” protest signs and “bad” protest signs on matters of public controversy, with the council getting to decide which is which?

It’s difficult to know whether the council’s actions in calling in the police over an innocuous protest attached to a fence was a one-off act of purblind folly or was something more sinister.

I tend towards believing it was just sheer idiocy, which is the benevolent view.

Thousands of people vehemently opposed to the ongoing Gathering Place debacle will understand if some at Highland Council resent criticism of this appallingly wasteful and destructive vanity project.

But they will not understand their actions in calling in the police over this.

Because it’s not only heavy-handed, it is inexplicable and utterly senseless.

Councillors from convener Margaret Davidson down who are supposed to be in charge at Glenurquhart Road should be highly embarrassed by it. The same applies to chief executive Donna Manson and her senior officials. Talk about trying to “engage” with council taxpayers. Hang a sign we don’t agree with on a bit of fencing and we’ll set the police on you. That’s some way of seeking to “engage” with those who help pay their fat salaries.

The fact is that very many people will fully agree with the “VANDALISM IN PROGRESS” content of the sign, with countless numbers having complained about the environmental vandalism being inflicted on a former riverside beauty spot now turned into a concrete, rubble and dirt strewn building site, at a cost of £300,000 in public money, and for no credible purpose other than to stoke up the egos of those behind.

We might have thought this Gathering Place saga just couldn’t get any more ridiculous and absurd.

Yesterday, thanks to the paranoid council, it just did.

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