Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Israel-Palestine

Stickers sympathetic to Palestine are not new, but they began to appear more frequently in Edinburgh after violence flared up in May 2021 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is an incredibly complex one that has been going on for decades. Every so often violence flares up, drawing international attention back to the region. The most recent outbreak started on 10th May 2021, sparked by the predicted eviction of four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Control of the area is contested, and more than 1000 Palestinian families are currently at risk of eviction.

Most of the protest stickers I have found in the UK are sympathetic to Palestine, it is very rare to find pro-Israeli ones. The conflict is a relatively common topic of stickers (I wrote a blog post about pro-Palestinian stickers in London back in 2017), but when the violence gets worse the frequency of stickers increases. With the outbreak of hostilities in May, the number of stickers in Edinburgh went up. Several of the designs I have seen before in other cities, but some are unique, and some are specific to Edinburgh.

Campaigns to support Palestine is nothing new. I photographed this sticker in 2020, but it is referring to an event in 2016. On 17th August 2016, the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland hosted an event as part of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe to promote Israeli cultural performers. No 2 Brand Israel organised a series of events to oppose this, as part of the BDS strategy. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and a strategy adopted by organisations around the world in 2005 to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli-made goods, a key element of the BDS strategy. The Palestinian flag, and colours of the flag, are a common feature of pro-Palestinian stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was produced by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an active group that does what it says on the tin really (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that predates the current conflict. It was produced by rs21, otherwise known as Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, which produces commentary and analysis on a broad range of issues and events. They also support BDS (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was also produced by rs21. Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, and 2009 and June 2021. This sticker appeared in the Meadowbank area of Edinburgh in May 2021, but the design dates back to 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that appeared in 2021, but was designed much earlier. I first spotted it in London in 2017. It was produced by the Socialist Worker Student Society, the student section of the Socialist Workers Party, another revolutionary socialist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Street artists and taggers have used the ‘Hello my name is…’ stickers for a long time because they are cheap and readily available. It is less common to see them used as protest stickers, but they’re effective! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The text on this handwritten sticker is faded, but it reads ‘Palestine will be free” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
This sticker doesn’t explicitly mention Palestine, but because it is the same pen and handwriting as the previous sticker, and I found them relatively close together near the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, I assume that this one is also about Palestine (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Turbulent Scots: Flora Stevenson, 1839-1905

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. Next up is Flora Stevenson, a philanthropist and education campaigner who has recently been announced as the next face on Scotland’s £50 notes.


A portrait of Flora Roche from around 1904 by Alexander Roche (Source: Scottish National Portrait Gallery).

It was recently announced that philanthropist, educational campaigner and suffragist Flora Stevenson is going to be the first woman featured on the Scottish £50 note. It is very unusual for a woman to be chosen to feature on British currency (apart from the Queen), so I wanted to find out more about the woman who has been deemed worthy of such an honour.

Flora Stevenson was born on 30th October 1839, the youngest of 11 children. Her father was a wealthy Glasgow industrialist; when he retired the family moved to Edinburgh, and Flora spent most of her adult life living at 13 Randolph Crescent in the West End with her 3 sisters. The Stevenson sisters were all active in the mid-nineteenth century Scottish women’s movement. They all supported women’s suffrage, and were founding members of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Educational Association which was founded in 1868 to campaign for higher education for women. Flora was also committed to improving education for society’s poorest children; as a child she started a class in her home to teach messenger girls basic reading, writing, and maths skills.

In 1863 Flora joined the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor as a district visitor, investigating the circumstances of charity claimants and assessing whether or not they were ‘deserving’ of support. She also joined the committee of the United Industrial Schools of Edinburgh, a voluntary body that organised schools for poor children. Flora believed that compulsory school attendance was central to improving the lives of poor children in big cities, but she was opposed to the state providing welfare support, as she believed it undermined the responsibility of parents to provide for their children. She argued that charities coordinating with school authorities was sufficient support.

A pupil from Flora Stevenson Primary School with the new £50 note (Source: Royal Bank Scotland/PA Wire).

In 1873 Flora was elected to the newly formed school board for Edinburgh. School boards were the first public bodies in Scotland which were open to women. As a result of her experience she was placed on the destitute children’s committee, where she was responsible for a scheme that gave food and clothes to poor children on the condition that they attended school. She also persuaded the school board to set up a day school for truants and juvenile delinquents, which was the first of its kind under the control of a school board. Flora’s expertise in this area was well respected; she served on several committees advising the government.

Flora’s belief in women’s rights carried over into her educational philosophy. She believed that girls and boys should be treated the same in education, and argued against the school board’s policy of giving girls 5 hours less teaching than boys every week so they could practice needlework. She believed that boys should be taught household management as well as girls, and that unmarried female teachers should receive equal pay.

Flora’s dedication to Edinburgh’s education system was respected and acknowledged. In 1899 a new primary school in Craigleith was named after her, and in 1900 she was unanimously elected to the Chair of the Edinburgh school board. In 1903 she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, and two years later she was given the Freedom of the City in recognition of her service to Edinburgh’s philanthropic institutions and the school board. When she died in September 1905, thousands of schoolchildren lined the route of her funeral. She is buried with her family in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.

I may not agree with all of Flora’s politics – she was opposed to Irish Home Rule, and I find her perspectives on state welfare questionable – but there is no doubt that she was a formidable woman, who dedicated her life to public service at a time when women weren’t really supposed to do that. Hopefully her inclusion on the £50 is just the latest step in a long journey to properly acknowledge the contributions that women have made to society throughout history.

Sources and Further Reading

Corr, Helen. “Stevenson, Flora Clift.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2004, accessed 30th June 2021. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/46826 [Subscription required to access].

National Records of Scotland. “Flora Clift Stevenson (1839-1905).” No date, accessed 1st July 2021. Available at https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/hall-of-fame/hall-of-fame-a-z/stevenson-flora-clift

Wikipedia. “Flora Stevenson.” Last modified 26th June 2021, accessed 1st July 2021. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flora_Stevenson

Young, Gregor. “First Woman to be Face of New Scottish £50 Note.” The National. Last modified 26th June 2021, accessed 30th June 2021. Available at https://www.thenational.scot/news/19400827.flora-stevenson-first-woman-face-new-scottish-50-note/

Traces of Turbulent History in Holyrood Park: The Radical Road

The Radical Road is a path that runs around Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. The path sits where the gorse becomes bare rock (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A 500-year old royal park might not be the first place you look for evidence of Scotland’s turbulent history. But that is exactly what the Radical Road is, a trace of a particularly tempestuous period of history in Edinburgh’s famous Holyrood Park. The path was built in 1822 by unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland after a failed uprising two years earlier. Sadly, the path has been closed ever since a large rockfall in 2018, and it isn’t clear when, or if, it will reopen. Nevertheless, the story of the Radical Road and the events that led up to its construction is fascinating.

The Radical Road runs through Holyrood Park (highlighted in red). The name feels out of place for a royal park (Source: Google).

The American and French Revolutions in the late 1700s sparked radical movements and debates across Europe, and Scotland is no exception. I have written before on this blog about the Political Martyrs Memorial in the Old Calton Burial Ground commemorating 5 reformers that were transported to Australia for their part in a campaign for universal male suffrage and annual elections in the 1790s. This growth in radical ideas and groups was also accompanied by fierce oppression by the authorities, the 1819 Peterloo Massacre being perhaps the most famous British example. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 led to an economic depression that severely impacted living conditions in Scotland. Demands for reform grew, particularly in the west of Scotland – workers believed that the government didn’t care about their poor living and working conditions. On the 1st of April 1820 a proclamation was posted around Glasgow calling for a general strike. The strike started two days later, with tens of thousands of people across central Scotland refusing to work.

The strike was supposed to be accompanied by an armed uprising. The government had a network of spies, informants and agent provocateurs within the reform movement, so the authorities were aware of most of the plans. The impact of this for the radicals was bigger than just losing the element of surprise, however. The agent provocateurs deliberately encouraged unrest in order to expose the radicals, and exaggerated the threat to the government. Because of this, the number of people willing to take part in armed uprising was lower than both the radicals and the government expected. Largely as a result, the uprising was over before it even began. There were several violent clashes between the authorities and strikers around central Scotland over the next few days. For example, on the 8th of April a crowd managed to free 5 prisoners as they were transported to Greenock Jail. Around 20 people were killed or injured in the fighting. The strike and uprising was crushed quite easily, and 88 people were charged with treason, with 3 men – James Wilson, Andrew Hardie, and John Baird – executed.

The defeat of the uprising pretty much put a stop to radical organising in Scotland. Hundreds of radicals emigrated to escape repression, and the reform movement was decimated. In 1822, George IV visited Scotland. It was the first time a British monarch had visited Scotland in nearly 200 years, and he proved incredibly popular. The visit increased loyalty to the monarchy and further dampened the radical movement. Sir Walter Scott had an important role in organising the visit, and helped to reinvigorate Scottish national identity in the process.

After George IV’s visit, Scott suggested that unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland could be used to build a path in Holyrood Park. As well as giving the men work, it was also designed to discourage further unrest. The work was hard and tiring, leaving the men little time to organise, and they were separated from their local communities and activist networks. A local nursery rhyme was inspired by they scheme:

Round and round the Radical Road the radical rascal ran

If you can tell me how many ‘r’s are in that you can catch me if you can.

The Radical Road in April 2021. The path has been closed since 2018 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Radical Road became a popular path in Holyrood Park, with views over central Edinburgh and towards the Pentland Hills. In September 2018, 50 tonnes of rock fell onto the path during the daytime, and it was decided the path could no longer remain open. Discussions about how to make it safe for use are ongoing, but the Park’s status as a Ancient Monument makes the situation more complicated. Hopefully it will reopen one day, but until then it remains an important trace of Scotland’s radical history, hidden in plain sight.

Sources and Further Reading

Armstrong, Murray. The Fight for Scottish Democracy: Rebellion and Reform in 1820. London: Pluto Press, 2020.

Baxter, Ian. “Radical Road, Radical Response.” Heritage Futures. Last modified 3rd November 2019, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://heritagefutures.wordpress.com/2019/11/03/radical-road-radical-response/

Dickson, Alan. Songlines: The Road to Bonnymuir – An Anthology of Late 18th/Early 19th Century Political Song. Glasgow: Rowth, 2020.

Our Edinburgh Friends. “The Radical Road.” Last modified 15th June 2018, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://ouredinburghfriends.scot/2018/06/15/the-radical-road/

MacAskill, Kenny. Radical Scotland: Uncovering Scotland’s Radical History from the French Revolutionary Era to the 1820 Rising. London: Biteback, 2020.

The Scotsman. “The Forgotten History of Edinburgh’s Radical Road.” Last modified 30th March 2016, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/forgotten-history-edinburghs-radical-road-1479781

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Climate Change and the Environment

A #ClimateCrisis message on a lamppost opposite Holyrood (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

It often feels like events like Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have forced climate change down the political priority list. Movements such as Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes for Climate have lost momentum, and they are not getting the same kind of press coverage as they were in 2019. Nevertheless, climate change continues to be an urgent issue, and it keeps cropping up in Edinburgh’s protest stickers, alongside other environmental issues. With the next UN Conference on Climate Change being held in Glasgow in November 2021, Scotland might see an increase in environmental activism.

Founded in 2018, Extinction Rebellion quickly became one of the most well-known environmental direct action groups. They are quite active in Edinburgh (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The Socialist Workers Party is a revolutionary socialist party. Many groups believe that climate change cannot be halted without widespread change to our economic and political systems (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The Green Anti-Capitalist Front (GAF) argues that capitalism is responsible for the environmental crisis, and the impacts of climate change are disproportionately affecting the most poor and powerless. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There are 3 branches of the GAF in Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the Borders. Whoever designs their stickers has a knack for it! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is a reference to the 1997 song by Aqua ‘Barbie Girl’. One of the lines from the chorus is “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.” The sticker is clever, but looking back at the song lyrics I’m a little disturbed at the image of a 6-year-old me singing along to it! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Straight to the point (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The words on this sticker have faded, but they read: “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction.”(Photo: Hannah Awcock).
rs21’s full name is Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (you can see why they shortened it!) They aim to create a space where socialist ideas are discussed, reinterpreted for the modern era, and acted on. This sticker demonstrates how climate changes is only one of the issues that concerns them. In fact, climate change and the environment is one of 10 key themes that rs21 organise around (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker also links climate change and capitalism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Of course I had to give Mr T the last word! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Cramond Island’s Political Graffiti

The World War Two fortifications that remain on Cramond Island are a popular canvas for graffiti artists (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Cramond Island sits about a mile off the coast on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The Island can be reached on foot via a concrete causeway at low tide, and it is a popular spot for Edinburgers to visit. There is a long history of human use of the Island, but the most prominent human-made features date from the Second World War. The Island was part of a string of defenses designed to protect the Firth of Forth, and many of the concrete structures used to house searchlights, guns, stores, and generators remain. This uninhabited coastal environment is not the kind of place that you would expect to find graffiti, but it seems the smooth grey concrete is an irresistible canvas, with tags ranging from basic scrawls to elaborate designs covering every available surface. I was even more surprised to discover that quite a lot of the graffiti is political, turning this little island into a radical outpost.

“Housing is Healthcare.” Edinburgh is the second most expensive city to live in in the UK after London, and house prices have continued to rise during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Healthcare is a human right.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Anti-sexist action.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Feminist Antifa.” Antifa is short for anti-fascism. Despite Trump’s attempts to classify it as a ‘terrorist organisation’, antifa is a loose network of activists rather than a single group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Men are fuckin trash. Grrrl style revolution now.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
“Fuck TERFS.” Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists are those who hold and promote transphobic views. The term was used in 2008, but seems to have gained more popular traction in recent years, as debates about the rights of people who are transgender rumble on (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
“Bi Pride.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Queer as in fuck u.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Fuck the Tories.” The Conservative Party isn’t exactly popular in Scotland, although this sentiment isn’t unique to this part of the UK! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“ACAB.” A popular acronym amongst left-wing radicals, ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Fuck Duda.” Andrzej Duda is the President of Poland. He promotes ‘traditional’ values and is actively opposed to LGBT rights. Underneath the “Fuck Duda” it is just possible to make out “Fuck Boris”, creating a palimpsest of controversial European leaders (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Anarchy is the mother of order.” This is an adaptation of a quote by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, one of anarchism’s most influential philosophers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Coronavirus

A stereotypically Scottish public health message on Leith Walk (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Protest stickers tend to reflect the issues that people care about. It should come as no surprise then that the coronavirus pandemic has emerged as a popular topic of stickers over the last 12 months. I have written about coronavirus protest stickers in Brighton, where I spent the first lockdown, but since I moved to Edinburgh I have found a whole new set of stickers, which have evolved as the pandemic has. From criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic, workers rights, and complaints from the city’s student population, through to questioning the efficacy of lockdowns and masks and even rejecting the existence of Covid-19, the stickers I have found over the last few months represent a range of conflicting views.

Although this sticker doesn’t explicitly mention Covid, it is in the same style as other stickers I found nearby that did directly mention the virus, so I am fairly confident that this sticker is refering to Covid rather any of the other things Boris Johnson has been criticised for over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is one of the other stickers in the same style. The text is faded, and it looks like someone tried to scratch it off at some point, but it says “Clapping isn’t enough.” The weekly Clap for Carers started out as a very popular gesture during the first Lockdown, but later was criticised for being just that, an empty gesture (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Many employees felt compelled to go back to work after the first lockdown, even if they were worried about their health. The No Safety No Work campaign is a new campaign to protect worker safety during Covid-19 run by the Anarchist Communist Group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Another sticker promoting the No Safety No Work campaign. Again, there is no direct reference to Covid (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Another sticker produced by the Anarchist Communist Group calling for the redistribution of wealth. Many of those classified as key workers during the pandemic are poorly paid, and it has highlighted inequality in wages and income (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
As the pandemic has progressed the number of protests against Lockdowns and masks has increased. There is also a significant proportion of people who do not trust the vaccine. The Saving Scotland Party seems to have been set up to campaign against coronavirus restrictions (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
UK Column is an alternative news website and newspaper founded in 2006. Judging from the cartoon on this sticker, they also disapprove of coronavirus restrictions. Someone has responded by writing on the sticker (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is a modified version of a well-known image created by the street artist Shepard Fairey (the mask has been added). Although it isn’t explicitly anti-mask, that is how I interpret it. Many people opposed to coronavirus restrictions have complained that they are authoritarian, and I think this sticker is making a point along those lines. I suppose it could be an honest attempt to encourage people to wear masks, but it doesn’t feel like that! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
It is not uncommon to see the coronavirus restrictions linked to the dystopic world of George Orwell’s 1984. This sticker is suggesting that Covid-19 is an excuse for cracking down on civil liberties. ‘False flag’ is a phrase popular with conspiracy theorists (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
I wanted to end on a slightly more positive note, and this sticker made me smile. Once I figured out what it means, that is! ‘Jambo’ is a nickname for a supporter of the Heart of Midlothian football team, based in Edinburgh. Apparently they have a healthy rivalry with the other Edinburgh team, Hibernian. Something tells me this sticker was made by a Hibs fan! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

‘False Idols’ on Leith Walk, Edinburgh

The fate of the building at 106-154 Leith Walk has been hotly contested over the last few years (Source: North Edinburgh News).

Towards the Leith end of Leith Walk is a long red sandstone building. 106-154 Leith Walk is currently the focus of a bitter struggle between developers who want to demolish the building to build student housing and the grassroots campaign group Save Leith Walk. In January 2019 planning permission for the new development was denied, a significant victory for the community group. New plans have been submitted that propose to keep the building intact and reopen it as commercial spaces, but in the meantime the shop fronts remain boarded up. The dark gray wooden boards have come to serve a purpose of their own however, as a sort of community pin board. Slogans, street art, and other miscellanea appears, disappears, and reappears often. One of the most recent installations is called False Idols, by Creative Electric.

False Idols, an installation on Leith Walk, Edinburgh in November 2020 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The death of actor Sean Connery on the 31st October 2020 sparked a predictable outpouring of grief and admiration, particularly in his home city of Edinburgh. Not everyone mourned his loss, however. It was well known that Connery physically abused women. On several occasions he explained how he felt entitled to hit women who ‘deserved’ it, and his first wife Diane Cliento accused him of sustained physical and mental abuse during their marriage. Many people, myself included, didn’t know about this until after Connery’s death, and False Idols questions how such a man could be celebrated as a national hero.

False Idols demands that society stops celebrating abusive men (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

False Idols is described as a community art project, and in some ways it is the literal embodiment of this term. It is made up of comments posted on the I Love Leith Facebook group in the wake of Connery’s death. It must have been installed quickly, because it was destroyed on the 4th of November, just four days after Connery died. It was replaced on the 13th of November, and I took these photos two weeks later, on the 22nd. It was still largely intact when I passed by again on the 29th. You can never be sure how long street art is going to last, and the more controversial something is, the more likely it is to upset someone enough that they will try to obscure or destroy it. This is part of what makes political street art so special; it gives people an opportunity to express their opinion in public space, a privilege normally reserved for those who are rich or famous enough to attract media coverage or buy advertising.

Some of the comments included in False Idols (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Some of the included comments defend Connery, but they were clearly selected to make us question how such a person could be so revered (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

It is generally accepted that people say things on social media that they wouldn’t be willing to say in ‘real life’. So it is interesting to see the language of social media transposed onto the public space of Leith Walk. The comments have been anonymised, but I wonder how the commenters would react if they suddenly saw their own words as they walked past. Would they regret their choice of words, or their tone? Or would they stand by them? Would they be upset, angry, or proud that their opinions have been plastered onto the physical fabric of Leith? Would they even recognise their own words in this strange context?

Both political street art and social media provide ‘ordinary’ people with a platform to express their opinions. False Idols brings these two platforms together, with thought-provoking results.

Ecological Depletion is Scary: Halloween Extinction Rebellion Protests on the Royal Mile

An Extinction Rebellion protester with a Halloween themed placard in West Parliament Square (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last weekend I was out on the Royal Mile preparing for a Geographies of Protest walking tour for the third year students. It just so happened that I witnessed a protest organised by Extinction Rebellion whilst I was out and about. The protest was in two parts: the first was an animal die-in in West Parliament Square, and the second was a march down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Scottish Parliament. It is always interesting to witness a protest first hand, and this was no exception.

A die-in is a type of protest where activists simulate pretend to be dead. It is a tactic that Extinction Rebellion have used before. This die-in was designed to highlight the decline of wildlife in Scotland (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The protesters wore hats that represented different British and Scottish species (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
They also displayed facts about the decline of each species (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
After an ominous drum-beat, each activist read out the fact about their species, then lay down on the ground (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
It wasn’t a large protest, there were maybe 20 activists involved, but they chose an effective way to get their point across (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This banner faced out onto the Royal Mile to convey the main message of the protest action to passersby (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
After the die-in, another group of activists started to march down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. Again, it was a relatively small group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Once the march reached the Scottish Parliament the activists arranged their banners for photographers and observers. There was one or two speeches, but I got the impression that these were more for the activists themselves than any observers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This was the first protest I have attended since social distancing and face masks became necessary. It felt like a more muted experience, but that could also have been because the numbers were relatively small. I am impressed with the way that activists are adapting their strategies and tactics to this new normal though (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There was a visible police presence throughout the protest, and there were several police vans parked nearby that presumably contained more officers. It felt over the top, but wasn’t too intimidating (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Founded in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has experienced a renaissance since the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May 2020. From protests to art, the resurgence of BLM over the Summer of 2020 has been dramatic. Racism has been a topic of protest stickers for as long as I have been studying them, but the recent BLM revival has resulted in a corresponding surge in stickers that use the language and symbolism of BLM. Since my recent move to Edinburgh, I have found a lot of protest stickers on a whole range of topics, but racism and BLM have been some of the most common.

Love [insert place or thing], hate Racism is a fairly common formula for protest stickers. Racism was a common topic of protest stickers long before BLM experienced a revival this summer (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker combines two of the hot topics of 2020! Stand up to Racism has been prominent in anti-racism campaigns in Britain over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The raised clenched fist has been a symbol of resistance for decades, but at the moment it is particularly synonymous with Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Simple but striking black and white designs is also fairly typical of Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Graffiti artists and taggers often use ‘Hello, my name is…” stickers to make their mark on urban space. I don’t think I have seen an Italian version before, but it is still instantly recognisable (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Repeating the names of black people killed by police is a common practice of BLM at meetings and protests. The next few photos are sticker versions of this practice. Michael Brown was 18 years old when he was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
BLM is very much a social movement for the social media age. Hashtags are common, and are used very effectively to attract attention to causes and events. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by a white civilian whilst out jogging in Georgia on 23rd February 2020 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Yvette Smith was shot and killed by a police officer in Texas in 2014 when she opened the door of a friend’s house. Yvette was unarmed, and had called the police because of a dispute between two men (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Sandra Bland committed suicide in her jail cell in Texas in 2015 after being arrested for assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop. Both her arrest and her treatment in prison have been heavily criticised (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The next set of stickers are also part of a series that I assume are produced by the same person(s). When Britain ended slavery in the 1830s the government borrowed a huge sum of money to pay compensation–not to the slaves, but to their former owners for the loss of their ‘property’. The British public only finished paying off that debt in 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There seems to be a general sense in Scotland that it is not as racist as the rest of Britain. This sticker is disputing that narrative. Sheku Bayoh died whilst being arrested by police in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in May 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is also disrupting the narrative that Scotland does not have a problem with racism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Henry Dundas was the most powerful man in Scotland in the late 18th century. He became Home Secretary in 1791, and he has been accused of using his influence to delay the abolition of the slave trade by 10 years (he supported a gradual rather than immediate abolition). A statue of Dundas stands on top of a 150ft pillar in St. Andrews Square in Edinburgh, and it has been just one of the statues targeted in a campaign to decolonise British statues in recent months. Dundas is a popular figure in Scotland, and the debate about his legacy has been fierce. It is difficult to make out, but someone has written on this sticker: “Dundas abolished slavery in Scotland 1793.” His legacy in relation to the slave trade is complicated, and certainly cannot be resolved by a single protest sticker. It does demonstrate how strongly people feel on this issue, however, on both sides of the debate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The BLM Mural Trail in Edinburgh

Photographs by Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun on the railings on Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

On the first day that I arrived in Edinburgh in August I went for a walk up the Royal Mile. As I walked towards the castle, my eye was caught by a set of pictures and yellow ribbons attached to the railings of the Tolbooth Kirk. On further investigation, it turned out to be an installation of photos called ‘I can’t breathe’ by British born Nigerian photographer Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun. The ribbons are expressions of solidarity with Black Lives Matter Scotland.

Ribbons tied to the railings of Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The installation at Tolbooth Kirk is just one part of the Black Lives Matter Mural Trail, a series of artworks in towns and cities across Scotland led by creative producer Wezi Mhura. Scottish Black and Asian artists have created new artworks in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The formats range from stereotypical street art murals, to less conventional photography and digital artworks. The project is “a call out to the people of Scotland to challenge racism wherever you see it – in the streets, in institutions, at work and at school.” As I have continued to explore Edinburgh over the last few months, I have come across more examples from the mural trail (of course I could just look them up on the map, but I think it’s more fun to stumble across them!)

A piece by Rudy Kanhye at The Queen’s Hall, exploring the meaning of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ and its controversial counter ‘All Lives Matter’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013, but the movement has experienced a resurgence since the death of George Floyd in May 2020. I am interested in the ways that protest movements make their mark on public spaces, and I have recently written about the traces that BLM protests left on the streets of Brighton, my home city. The BLM mural trail is more formal than the traces I found in Brighton, but it has a similar effect; it brings the debate into public space, and reaches out to those who might not otherwise have become involved in the conversation.

Street art by Shona Hardie at Dance Base in the Grassmarket (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There seems to be a perception amongst many Scots that racism isn’t really a problem here. Interventions such as the mural trail help to undermine this narrative, and draw attention to the very real examples of racism in Scotland, as well as how broader systematic discrimination affects ethnic minorities here. The first step to achieving change is to start a conversation, and the BLM Mural Trail is an innovative and effective way to do this.

The large mural by Abz Mills at Usher Hall commemorates Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody in Kirkcaldy in 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).