I had a horrible feeling of déjà vu in July when I saw the news reports of French farmers protesting about imports of cheap food products coming into France.
Setting up barriers, stopping lorries and spilling their cargo onto the road is not the kind of thing we do over here. Or is it?
History seemed to be repeating itself and I have to confess, it felt very uncomfortable. Predictably, it wasn’t long before the acts of civil disobedience in France sparked off action on our side of the channel.
I was reminded of the beef crisis in 1997 when I was part of a small group that were actively involved in setting up the blockades at the ports of Stranraer and Cairnryan.
We had already seen Welsh farmers set up blockades at ports in Wales. It seemed like a natural thing for us to follow their lead and do the same at the two ports within 10 miles from where I live.
Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland. He farms 365ha in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife
Things moved very quickly and within a matter of hours 800 farmers had gathered up in the football stadium in Stranraer.
After a short meeting, it was decided to lay siege to the ports of Stranraer and Cairnryan.
Eight hundred spectators would have been a good turnout to watch a Stranraer match but football supporters don’t bring items of farm machinery with them to a game.
One farmer had brought his set of chain harrows with him but he had no intention of grooming the football pitch.
He thought if they were pulled across the road they would “encourage” lorries coming off the ferries to stop.
Lorries turned back
Considering the circumstances and the numbers of farmers that were amassed at the entrance to the two ports, the police decided that the safety of the lorry drivers could not be guaranteed.
Therefore, the police advised the driver of any lorry that was carrying beef to turn back and return on the next ferry.
Every time a lorry turned back onto the ferry a loud cheer rang out from the crowd of farmers.
That all felt very good until an incident happened that changed my view of getting involved in that type of action ever again.
A driver of a lorry that was carrying beef decided to ignore the advice of the police.
Instead of turning back, he decided to make a dash for the port exit where there were hundreds of farmers standing in the road.
In that split moment it was not the safety of the driver that could not be guaranteed, it was the farmers that were now in mortal danger.
We could hear the lorry in the distance revving its head off as it was coming towards us with a driver at the wheel who was probably just as concerned about his own future as those who were standing in the road.
Yours truly was perched up high on the back of a van keeping everyone informed of what was going on with a public address system.
I advised the farmers to stand clear and let him through. That’s when I caught a disturbing glimpse of human nature that I’ll never forget.
From my vantage point I could see a handful of “brave men” at the back of the pack pushing and shouting: “Go on boys, stop him!”
Thankfully everyone just managed to get out of the road before the juggernaut roared past. It still sends shivers down my spine when I think back to what might have happened.
I won’t be getting involved in anything like that ever again. There will always be men at the back of every pack pushing and shouting, but they will be nowhere to be seen if things go horribly wrong.