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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

There’s Something Wrong In The Garden - Alex Main

An Eden Festival report

It's time we stop
Hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look - what's going down?
Buffalo Springfield
The Garden of Eden was the utopian paradise of perfectly balanced coexistence.
It was literally a heaven on earth.
Until, that is, with the bite of an apple original sin was introduced.
And with those perfect teeth breaking the skin of the equally perfect fruit it was all downhill from that point onward.

Strip the theological arguments away that focus on the nitty gritty and the main lesson we can learn from this story is that we shouldn't look to fix something that isn't broken.
Perfection, or as near as damn it, is fragile, and should have a ‘do not touch sign’ attached.
And maybe that is the message that Police Scotland should be considering in the aftermath of how they decided to police Eden festival.

In many ways their disproportionate and reactionary presence at what is known as a family friendly festival could be considered as the introduction of original sin to the event.
Sniffer dogs, sweeps of camping areas, undercover officers and a plentiful supply of uniformed officers in attendance appeared to amount to little more than an overt display of power to enforce the idea that they are the wheel, and we, the attendees, the butterflies in their path.
Of course Eden festival is not heaven on earth, nothing with a human touch attached is perfect in this world.

And only a fool would advocate that policing and security is an unnecessary requirement to ensure the safe running of a festival, but the event is not known to be a magnet for antisocial behaviour, and it boggles the mind to think that anyone would tailor the policing to it as if it had a long history of issues.
Eden is quite simply not T in the Park, and does not have the associated problems that the major Scottish festival has attached to it.
To jump back to the biblical references the Eden festival is not Sodom, nor Gomorrah.
It isn’t even the Arches circa 2012.

The approach that has seemingly been applied is that there is a one size fits all template to policing festivals, a heavy handed one, and that is a ludicrous and nonsensical stance to assume.
As with all events of the size of Eden there is undoubtedly a risk assessment required to be carried out, and careful consideration would have been given to what is required to ensure the safety of the public, and within that policing would obviously have played an important part, but when considered in the light of the reality of what the festival required, and what it got, then there is little to support that the two match. 

And with that being the overarching view of many, the question on the lips of those who have attended year after year was 'what is going on?'

The answer to that specific question was more elusive though.
Everything from the opinion that it is just the way of the world now, to it being a deliberate attempt to financially hobble the future of what could be described as counter culture events was touted - with the alleged bill of £40,000 being used as evidence to support that.
However without leaning to support one or another view of the many verbalized over the weekend, it does have to be said that the common ground found by people of all backgrounds and ages was that it made for a slightly uncomfortable experience.
In general it was slightly discombobulating standing next to latex gloved officers and having sniffer dogs bound about inside your vehicle as the introduction to a festival that we know and love as our hippy dippy weekend of downtime from the pressures of life.
It’s not something that you really expect when setting off for the festival.
And while there had been information posted on the festival's social media sites highlighting that this would be happening, the point when you are standing next to a car and a sniffer dog indicates a positive hit - which then proved to be false - is not something that can be considered to be in the top ten of your positive moments in the week.
Nor would I expect the experience of my teetotal, non recreational drug using friend, who is currently waiting for the procurator fiscal to decide if the singular pill found in his vehicle (that is prescribed to his mother) will lead to a criminal charge is really thinking whoopee, that was enjoyable either.

Similarly the casual conversation had with a stranger being overshadowed by the thought that they may be an undercover officer isn’t conducive to a good time and the free flow of conversation.

Even those who have never had an issue with the law, nor indulge in anything that is criminalized, can’t help but feel uncomfortable when they are filtering every conversation that have with a random festival goer due to them entertaining the idea that every word that falls from their lips is being analysed.
It is to the credit of the organisers and those attending that there was a concentrated effort to focus on the positives and ensure that this background to the festival did not dampen the fun to be had. 

It does however have to also be said that the uniformed officers that were on the ground did their job in a courteous manner, and it would be surprising if anyone had a negative one-to-one experience with any of them, but never the less their exemplary behaviour is not the point.
Their presence in the numbers they had, the covert approach, and their apparent orders they were to follow is the issue. 

I feel as if I am being monitored/criminalized/judged was said so often from so many that it had started to take on the guise of a misanthropic mantra.
And for a festival that is not good news.
It will be interesting to see what is made public now that the tents have been packed up and the festival goers are considering their next port of call.
How many arrests were made this year in comparison to 2015?
Were they related to an increase in police being there and looking for issues, or was their an increase in actual criminality? 

How many of the arrests were for minor crimes but will still feature in any analysis?

Even if by the time they get to court they are thrown out.
Were their arrest figures/targets sought to justify future budgeting applications?
Was the money from the public purse considered well spent?
Was the bill the organizers will have been issued with justifiable?
It also has to be said that all of this is not really about Eden in itself.
Instead it is about the relationship that Police Scotland has with festivals in general.
Many, like Eden, are passionately, professionally, and expertly organized.
They provide a much needed service to rural communities by providing an economical cash injection to them.

They financially support the artistic communities.
They also increase levels of tourism.
In fact it is difficult to see a major downside to their existence.
Even when considered in the context of mental health issues that so often blight the lives of many they offer respite from the stresses of life, and by doing so allow those who attend to return to their daily lives feeling happier, and with that improved state of mind more apt not to put burdens on their communities resulting from being ground down by the treadmill.
Again the positives outweigh the negatives.
In short festivals are a positive trouble free experience for the majority and should be considered as such.

Maybe it is time the Scottish Government stepped in to look closely at these benefits, and more not mentioned, and consider how they can create a balanced approach that supports the needs of those attending the festivals - while maintaining public safety - to enable them to flourish rather than be strangled out of existence.
A festival minister might not be a bad idea.
As usual all opinion are welcomed, but balanced ones are appreciated.
(The Eden Festival review that focuses on the very many positives is currently being written.
So watch out for that too.)

Photos - Kelly Conway

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