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The Pollok Free State and its Legacy

                 STARR Alliance leaflet, Spirit of Revolt Archive.


With the recent lockdown making us more aware of what we have locally, many in the Southside have a renewed gratitude for the incredible green space that is Pollok Country Park. Understanding the difference that access to a place like Pollok estate can make sheds some light on a fascinating aspect of the park’s history. In the early 1990s, local communities gained international attention for protesting against having their access to the park obstructed by a motorway.


Still from Given to the People, Yuill, 2008


During 1994 to 1996 Pollok Park was the site of an eco-camp named Pollok Free State, a space where protests against the construction of the M77 extension took many forms including, but not limited to: building and occupying treehouses in the park for almost two years; declaring an autonomous free state; local school strikes involving  around one hundred children; a land sculpture made of burnt out-cars dubbed ‘carhenge’; violent clashes with security firms and councillors; and hundreds of people marching through the city into the park.


The campsite became a meeting ground for people to engage in community through heritage, music, food, conversation, and activism. The ‘No M77’ campaign was primarily led by working class communities in the affected area, and uniquely for its time drew together social and class issues with environmental issues.


While the campaign was ultimately unable to stop the construction going ahead, the experience at Pollok Free State and the community built there left a legacy that continues to have an impact today.


“There’s going to be an outrage and we’re going to start it!” Colin MacLeod, local activist, 1993.


Still from What Do You Think You Have to Lose Here? YouTube, Macleod, 2011.


M77 proposal and Initial Opposition


In 1939 Sir John Stirling Maxwell created a conservation plan to keep the estate of Pollok open to Glaswegians, ‘that the open spaces and woodlands within the area shall remain for the enhancement of the beauty of the neighbourhood as well as the citizens of Glasgow’ (Haynes, 2016). In 1974 the National Trust for Scotland agreed to the proposed extension to the M77. It would cost £53.6m and cut through 7 miles of woodland and the south west side of Pollok park, removing direct access to the communities of Pollok, Corkerhill, and Mosspark. It is important to also remember that this campaign grew within the historical context of the M8 motorway, which saw great loss within the areas of Townhead, Cowcaddens, Charing Cross, Anderston and Kinning Park.


Opposition to the M77 plans began in 1978 with Corkerhill Community Council and other community groups, and in 1988 there was a 3-month public inquiry with multiple groups submitting opposition including Glasgow District Council and Glasgow for People. However, by 1992 preliminary construction had started. Its opponents included academics, transport consultants, politicians and environmentalists, who argued that it would increase air pollution and noise pollution, cause irreparable damage to woodland and wildlife habitats, and send 53,000 vehicles a day across the already overloaded Kingston Bridge.


The road department for the region cited a multitude of reasons in favour of the extension, including saving travel time for road users between Ayrshire and Glasgow, and improving road congestion by removing traffic from Giffnock, Thornliebank and Newton Mearns (Glasgow For People, 1994). The benefits were for neighbourhoods noted by Glasgow for People at the time as predominantly middle-class residential and shopping areas, and for car owners in general. By contrast it would not serve the communities local to the construction of the motorway, Mosspark, Corkerhill, Pollok, Nitshill, Carnwadric and Kennishead, where car ownership was significantly low, with Corkerhill being amongst the lowest percentage of car ownership in Europe, and where 1 in 5 children have asthma.


As many primary and secondary schools from these areas would see their recreational green space replaced with a motorway, the school children became heavily involved in the protests. Thanks to a lot of media documentation at the time you can watch some great videos of these kids critically engaging with the issue in an informed way. (https://archive.org/details/PollokFreeState, from 4:20)


 Still from Remembering Pollok Free State Archive Footage.


In 1994 STAR, Stop the Ayr Road Route Alliance, was launched, combining community and environmental groups. Arguments were made for relocating the resources to existing infrastructure, updating rail networks and public bus services. In the same year local man Colin MacLeod spent 9 days in a beech tree to prevent its felling by the construction company awarded the contract for the motorway. From this Pollok Free State emerged.


The Camp


Pollok campsite from Routledge, 1997.

Located in the Barrhead woods of Pollok estate which the proposed motorway would soon replace, the camp was a space for people to build together, share meals, skills, music and discussions, and physically stop the construction. An information board in the camp stated the intent to ‘create a positive alternative to the road by drawing upon the skills of the local community and by building an inspirational focal point for resistance and non-violent direct action should the democratic channels fails’ (Routledge, 1997).


The camp was made up of artists, scaffolders, tree surgeons, carpenters, musicians, cooks and people from the surrounding housing estates, who would visit and participate in ongoing work and meals. The number of people living in the camp would vary from 5 to 20, but during events like talks and workshops, numbers would rise. There were protest marches from George Square to the site at Pollok, on one occasion drawing around 300 people. The camp was well equipped, with substantial treehouses and even a wind-powered generator for a TV with a communal phone stationed above. In August 1994, they even declared independence from the UK and issued passports to over 1000 ‘citizens’.


 Colin MacLeod, Nicolson, 2008. 


Imagery and symbols used around the site referenced Australian aboriginal land rights and native American culture. Colin MacLeod had spent time in South Dakota in the late 1980s and met people of the Sioux tribes, where he was inspired by initiatives in the reservations working with problems of alcohol abuse in young people by ‘re-introducing them to their cultural roots’, and engaging them with their cultural heritage. Flags hung from trees stated, ‘Save our dear green place’. Residents taught traditional wood carving, and young kids from the surrounding estates were introduced to Gaelic poetry, story-telling and music about Scottish history. Some members remembering it as ‘an education’, there was even the proposal of the Pollok Free State University where a prospectus was drawn up.


 Still from What Do You Think You Have to Lose Here?


Political actions involved ‘holding public meetings, lobbying members of the Strathclyde Regional Council, leafleting communities around Pollok estate, conducting community centre meetings, and holding legal demonstrations and rallies’ (Routledge, 1997). Beyond this, protesters also disrupted the construction process by chaining themselves to equipment and trees.


On Valentine’s day in 1995 there was an attempt to evict people from the camp. It was surrounded by security; occupants were to be forcibly removed and treehouses cut down. However, the children of a nearby school who had been involved in the school strikes and protests heard of the attempt and marched through the police roadblocks stopping the eviction and saving much of the camp. This was followed by over 20 of the security staff quitting to take a stand alongside the protestors.


‘At the Pollok camp yesterday, one of the former guards, William Lang, 26, said he had changed sides because until last week he had not realised that most of the objectors were locals. “Before I went up there that morning I thought that the demonstrators were environmental nutters from Europe. But they are not. Most of them are from this part of the city – schoolchildren, young people, old people. I listened to what they were saying and saw the extent of what was proposed, and I just thought ‘Wait a minute. This is wrong” (Arlidge, 1995a).




Carhenge Routledge, 1997


Similarities with other anti-road protests and camps in east London against the M11 brought interest and support from other cities. Prompted by the Valentine’s day raid, a convoy of activists from England and Wales drove up in cars to perform ‘To Pollok with love’ a stunt designed to gain media attention. They created the large sculptural work ‘Carhenge’; half buried burnt out cars formed a circular Stonehenge-like formation on the site of the proposed motorway. Activists involved in the stunt claimed the burnt-out cars were intended to be symbolic of the decrease of the car’s use in modern society, as environmentalists argued for a future with more public transport and less individual car ownership. With the failing government at the time having pursued Thatcher’s brand of individualism that prioritised private transport, activists accused the local council of being ‘roads-obsessed’ and asked the motorway budget to be spent on public transport.


The Legacy of Pollok Free State


Leaflet from Spirit of Revolt Archive


Although the campaign did not prevent the development of the M77, the communities surrounding Pollok park continue to take initiative and interest in the use of the park and its spaces, with the Save Pollok Park Group campaign against the construction of an adventure park by Go Ape in 2008. The plan was given the go ahead by Glasgow city councillors, despite large opposition against it including the National Trust for Scotland and five community councils. Eventually Go Ape dropped the adventure park plans with the council expressing regret over the decision.


Simon Yuill who later made the film Given to the People which documents and remembers Pollok Free State said of it, “It was always about more than just the motorway. It was about public land that had been gifted to the people of Glasgow, who had not been given a say in what was to be done with it. That is something that still resonated very strongly with Glaswegians” (Nicolson, 2008).


“The M77 campaign not only showed that there was a diverse range of social groups opposed to road building schemes, it also articulated various counter-cultural, eco-political practices, of which Pollok Free State was the most dramatic” (Routledge, 1997).


It seems that when people talk of Pollok Free State they do not dwell on the campaign’s loss and the motorway. Rather, they focus on the sense of connectedness and participatory citizenship, the lessons learned from taking action and being engaged in your environment. It articulated an alternative approach, and created space for different inputs, rethinking how city space is structured, who for, and how to have a voice in the process.


Interviews with residents involved in the camp speak of the value of the experience personally, stating that time spent living and working together in the camp was more important than whether they stopped the road or not. For many just taking direct action within their surroundings toward issues that they cared about brought a sense of fulfilment (Routledge, 1997).


Many of those involved in Pollok Free State went on to be involved in similar initiatives, some members started a radical bookshop called Fahrenheit 451, and some started the Land Redemption Fund, an initiative to acquire land in Scotland to create sustainable communities. The influence of the camp and its community-building activities can also be seen in other Glasgow movements surrounding threatened spaces like the Kinning Park Complex and Govanhill Baths’ Save Our Pool campaigns.


The late Colin MacLeod who was such a central figure to Pollok Free State, has since been the subject of BBC documentary The Birdman of Pollok, which explores his involvement in the creation of the camp and his subsequent work creating GalGael, a Govan organisation that teaches carpentry and traditional ship building skills. GalGael said of Pollok Free State, “We lost the campaign but learned many things about how to make community in a difficult space; how to take responsibility, articulate our concerns and find common purpose.”


Do you remember the protests against the M77? Do you have any of your own memories of the campsite or Pollok Free State? We would love for you to share them with us. We are looking for material for our Community Archive, if you have any flyers, images, or a memory to share with us please get in touch. Extra points if anyone has a Pollok Free State Passport!

Contact info@sghet.com or message us @SGHETorg


Still from archive footage Remembering Pollok Free State.


By Romy Galloway

Published: 25th August 2020

Read the follow-up article: Pollok Free State: Archive Selections and Reflections





3 replies added

  1. WALLACE MCNEISH October 7, 2020 Reply

    Dear SGHET,
    During the mid 1990s I spent considerable time down at the Pollok Free State and in the surrounding communities researching opposition to the M77 extension. This research was written up as part of my PhD in the Sociology Department at Glasgow University. If you look at my PhD – available in digital form from GU library – you will find a lot of extra useful information in chapters 4 and 5 in particular, as well as copies (in the appendix) of the Pollok Free State’s Declaration of Independence and degree certificates from the Peoples Free University of Pollok. You might include My PhD in your bibliography. regards, Wallace McNeish.

    • jen October 9, 2020 Reply

      Brilliant, thank you Wallace! We shall have a look for it.

  2. Scouse Martin February 13, 2022 Reply

    I stayed at the free state for some time, we’d come down from the site in invergarry (dengin) to do a workshop on bough tent building, and I ended up staying til the barrheid rd site was evicted. I went on to stanworth valley protest, Newbury, A30 trollheim, Huntingdon life sciences blockade and even a short stint with Jeff colhoun in pressmenan woods, later at the Doon of may ( with Jeff) many happy memories of the free state I’d love to share.

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