“Give me the directions. There’s loads of people here”, the kilted figure said into his mobile phone, turning to us to make an announcement: “They’ve taken the site and need as many people there as quickly as possible. I’ll take you.” At 10pm it was still 14 hours before activists were scheduled to take the site for the 2010 Climate Camp, but after a gruelling 12-hour journey on the Megabus we had finally made it to Edinburgh’s Forest Café.
Unfortunately, our guide had overestimated our numbers: there may have been over 100 people in the bar, but only eight of us were there for the camp. Nonetheless, our small party soon found itself on the No. 38 bus to the HQ of the Royal Bank of Scotland (a massive complex, with over 3,000 employees) in Gogarburn, four miles outside the city centre.
As the UK bank most heavily involved in financing fossil fuels, RBS had been well chosen. In the last four years alone the bank has underwritten over $7.5bn in loans to ConocoPhilips, one of the biggest players in Canadian tar sands, a source of “unconventional oil” that poses an almost unparalleled risk to the climate.
What’s more, following a massive bailout during the financial crisis, RBS is now 84% publicly-owned, though its disastrous lending policies have continued unchecked. Once off the bus, it took 10 minutes of stumbling along pitch-black country lanes trying to avoid the police before we finally found the camp, almost literally on the back doorstep of RBS’s headquarters. With the stars overhead, wild grass underfoot, and RBS HQ lit up like a Christmas tree, it was a breathtaking sight.
And despite our tiny numbers, we seemed to have doubled the number of people on site: apart from the big vehicles, we appeared to be among the first to arrive. For the next three hours we helped wheelbarrow sawdust, water and cucumbers about the site, before finally collapsing into our tent around 3am.
The following days saw the usual mix of workshops, vegan food and direct action, but, in truth, but none of it could top those first few heady hours.