Getting serious about the Far Right

Last weekend thousands of anti-fascists took to the streets of Edinburgh to confront and defeat the Scottish Defence League. We won an overwhelming victory, and everyone who was part of it should be proud.

This Thursday (25th), SSY has called a national meeting to discuss what we can learn from the weekend’s success, and what role socialists can play in taking the anti-fascist movement in Scotland. It’s at 6pm in the Forest Cafe, which is on 3 Bristo Place.

There’s a lot to talk about. LydiaTeapot below has given a great report of the day, so I don’t want to repeat to much of what she’s said. I’ll just add a few points about my impressions.

Saturday was great for two main reasons: number one, our actions helped make sure that the fascists had absolutely no ability to march. The previous anti-SDL mobilisation in Glasgow last year was great, but we weren’t able to surround the Cambridge Bar, where the SDL were, throughout the day. As a result they were able to come out for a (pretty pathetic) static demo on the street.  On Saturday we very quickly found out they were in Jenny Ha’s pub, surrounded it, and as a result were able to make sure that there was absolutely no kind of street protest.

Number two, we won the argument about how to deal with the fascist presence. In both Edinburgh and Glasgow, when it was announced the SDL were coming to march, SSY members were among those who moved quickly to set up broad, grassroots and militant anti-fascist alliances, involving everyone who was committed to directly preventing them from marching on our streets by occupying them ourselves. Glasgow Anti Fascist Alliance (GAFA) and then Edinburgh Anti Fascist Alliance (EAFA) were both crucial organisations that have made sure that the SDL have now been defeated and humiliated twice.

Assembling at Princes Mall, one of the many times we were Standing Around Against Fascism

Meanwhile, the Scotland United and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) groups have organised big rallies, which are supported by all the mainstream political parties and trade unions etc. These rallies have been about getting people into a park and listening to speakers, many of whom are politicians in power that help create the conditions for the rise of far right politics, i.e. poverty, unemployment, other stuff we don’t like. They have NOT been about physically preventing the SDL from marching.

Potentially, these events could be complimentary, the rally providing a safe space for anti-fascists who for whatever reason aren’t able to confront the SDL directly. The SSP on paper has supported the rallies, while most of our work has gone into organising and participating in direct action. The problem has been that these rallies, and the people promoting them, have tried to make out that they are the only people organising against the SDL, and that their rally is the only game in town. This is after the alliances have spent months putting together a plan based on a more radical strategy. In the run up to the weekend rally organisers had tried to sabotage the EAFA events, claiming that there was no 9.30 assembly point, and telling people to only do as they were told by official stewards for their march and rally.

On Saturday, the outcome of all this is that EAFA had called for people to assemble from 9.30 at Princes Mall. Meanwhile, UAF and groups of students were meeting just down Princes Street from us at 10. Early on in the day there wasn’t much going on, so we headed along to join up with this group. Very soon afterwards we got good information on where the SDL were and headed off up towards the Royal Mile. Most people came with us.

On the way up the mound, Aamer Anwar, who’s a left wing lawyer, and one of the main figures behind the Scotland United group, was desperately shouting into a megaphone to try and get us to go back to where we’d just came from, in order to wait around for the march and rally he’d helped organise to start. At this point though he was like a man shouting at the sea as everyone just kept on marching past him.

The point when debate raged on the streets about the best way forward

When we reached the junction of the Royal Mile and North Bridge there was a serious debate about the best way forward. EAFA activists, including SSY folk, shouted to the crowd that we should keep on down the hill to confront the SDL. Some people from UAF, mainly Weyman Bennett (one of the main leaders of UAF who’d come up from England) said all kinds of things in an attempt to get us to head away, and back towards their rally. Wild claims were made, such as that the people in the pub weren’t in the SDL, they were “hibs casuals” (this wasn’t true, as everyone now realises.) Another one was that there were 150 SDL poised to attack the Scotland United/UAF rally (there weren’t even 150 SDL in the whole of Edinburgh!) This was all shown to be nonsense as the day went on.

A similar situation had developed before on the Glasgow march, when conflicting ideas about what to do had sowed a great deal of confusion, mistakes were made, and ultimately the SDL got their 20 seconds on the street. But what was crucially different this time is that those of us who wanted to take a radical approach were ready, and made our arguments on the street. Huge numbers of anti-fascists, most of them young people and at least some of whom didn’t come with any group but had just seen posters or leaflets, were the ones to judge who was right. They voted with their feet and moved down the Royal Mile.

SSY and SSP people were among those speaking out for heading down the hill, and the SSP’s bright and eye catching banner also helped prove a rallying point in pulling people in the right direction. This then gave us the numbers to effectively confront the SDL and win a key victory. There were people from all different kinds of political groups and none, including (credit where credit is due) many of the younger supporters of UAF. Many of these people expressed a lot of frustration with the actions of their own leadership, and it’s to be hoped that in the future they will continue to take part in and plan for direct action.

We rapidly took up positions on both side of Jenny Ha’s pub, separated from the SDL by police lines. The SDL were unable to leave the pub, and after many hours of singing and chanting, we got the satisfaction of giving them the finger as they were bussed out of Edinburgh past thousands of anti-fascists. The approach and arguments of EAFA were completely vindicated-we had the right strategy for the day and it worked, despite real attempts to undermine it from people who are supposed to be on the same side.

Smaller groups of anti-fascists encountered the SDL out and about the city and helped drive them out. For example, a group of 50 found about 10 SDL and escorted them to the train station, seen in the video at the top, with only about 2 police present.

Let’s be clear-it was never the EAFA strategy to go and pick a fight with a bunch of thugs who were hoping for just that. What we set out to do was mobilise as many as people as possible to outnumber and surround the fascists. Although it was the police that eventually removed the SDL from Edinburgh, it was the presence of thousands of anti-fascists surrounding their location that prevented them from being able to have a march. Some people have tried to claim that EAFA were just a bunch of people who like to imagine they are hard when they are safe behind police lines. But the truth is we didn’t aim for violence, we aimed for peacefully occupying the streets with mass numbers so the fascists couldn’t take to them. The same approach defeated fascists in Dresden last week as well, and it worked in Edinburgh.

The development of GAFA and EAFA is a key factor that makes the difference between Edinburgh and Glasgow, where the SDL has been completely routed, and some English towns, where the EDL have run riot with little opposition. Broad groups of people, including socialists, anarchists and people who just want to take radical action to stop the far right, have managed to pull big numbers into actively confronting the SDL. We’ve done it in a way that wasn’t top-down, and we didn’t need Tory politicians’ endorsement. What’s important now is that crucial advantage isn’t lost.

That’s why SSY wants to bring together young socialists from across Scotland on Thursday to talk about what we do next. My own personal opinion is that we must try and keep the groups together, keep them meeting and active. We shouldn’t let the momentum we’ve gained drift.

Another idea is to get a joint meeting between GAFA and EAFA. This could even take the form of a weekend event to allow us to have a day talking, educating each other and developing a strategy for the way forward. We’ve already heard about anti-fascists from other parts of Europe who’ve been watching what’s been going on in Scotland who might be interested in traveling to take part in such an event and share their experience as well.

Anti-fascists surrounding the SDL's location, by the Scottish Parliament

Ultimately, the long term plan has to be try and find a way to build up more groups like GAFA and EAFA, groups that are radical, open and committed to confronting fascists when they try to march. The next couple of events to consider are the National Front’s proposed “Kriss Donald memorial event” and the news that the SDL plan a “Lockerbie bombing memorial” in Lockerbie on 27th March. But ultimately, we also have the thorny issue of the BNP’s participation in the general election and the Scottish election next year. The BNP are the respectable face of the far right, and generally don’t want to be caught out street fighting (which doesn’t mean that many of their members aren’t crazy thugs.) How we respond to them is a little more complex than stopping the SDL from being able to come out of the pub.

With regards to the UAF and Scotland United, it’s to be hoped that after Edinburgh they might behave a little more respectfully to their fellow anti-fascists, instead of trying to undo a lot of our hard work. Ultimately in many cases there might be a good argument for having a “safe” rally for people who for whatever reason aren’t able to confront the SDL, but still want to show opposition. The problem is when the organisers of this rally try and actively prevent people from taking direct action. In future anti-fascists as a whole need to be more united and collective, and that means that the UAF needs to start talking with us and acting a bit more openly. If they don’t they may well find themselves undercut by the groups who are committed to direct action. But the actions of some UAF supporters on the day do give me hope.

Of course, all these ideas at the moment are just my own, developed while chatting to folk in the many hours of standing around in Edinburgh. Everything needs to be discussed to get our collective wisdom, and hopefully the meeting on Thursday can start that process. And of course, SSY members are far from the only people in the alliances, and we wouldn’t want to impose our ideas on the broader groups without the agreement of others taking part.

Although it’s an SSY meeeting, it’s open to all young people interested in stopping fascism. We just want a chance to share ideas and chat about what we do next. Hopefully soon afterwards GAFA and EAFA can meet as well to formulate a plan. But until then, hopefully as many people reading this can make it along as possible and we can begin to consolidate our victory and drive the far right out of Scotland.

SSY National Meeting on the way forward for anti-fascism in Scotland

Thursday 25th February, 6pm

Forest Cafe, 3 Bristo Place, Edinburgh


  1. Liam says:

    good article, but just a wee point.. the above video shows us chasing them to the back of waverley station, not a police station! they were walked up the steps at some wee back entrace to waverley by the cops.. they then stood around for a bit jeering at us.. one guy threw a smoke bomb at them, which as lydia teapot says, the police didn’t do anything about!

  2. Neil B says:

    Also it wasn’t really later on from the bit described in the previous paragraph. Otherwise an excellent article though – see you Thursday

  3. Jack says:

    Fixed those two things. I actually never meant to put police station, I did mean Waverley. I think it was because my mind was on mentioning the police later in the sentence I just had some kind of Freudian slip, oops! The point in that paragraph is to refute this idea that’s doing the rounds that somehow we hid behind the police displaying fake bravado, when in fact anti-fascists still confronted the SDL even when there were only a couple of cops about.

  4. Sarah says:

    I’d just like to make it clear to any TROLLS that may be lurking around here, that ‘giving the finger to the SDL’ was a poetic climax to a long day and was worth hanging around for. But it was not our purpose – our purpose was to be there to stop them being allowed to have a march or a static demonstration, which our presence completely suceeded in securing. Giving the buswankers the finger was just the cherry on the cake

  5. alibi says:

    with a bit of reluctance i attended the EAFA protest on Saturday. i would describe myself as a non-aligned socialist.

    on balance, Saturday must be viewed as a success: the EDL were kept in the pub, and the bit captured on tape above was top drawer and fair play those who pulled that off.

    but EAFA/GAFA have made some big strategic mistakes in my opinion. I say that as someone outside of the lefty bubble who maybe sees these things a bit clearer as a result. I also say it with regret.

    Firstly, the EAFA statement to the press a month or so before Saturday was a total clusterfuck. surely people have read the responces to it on the EEN website, and on different messageboards about the place? It made three major but basic mistakes in my view:

    - the rhetoric was action/ aggro rather than self-defence – you gave away the moral highground of decency, citizenship etc in one artice. yes we’re in the right politically but only about 1% of population want politics played out physically on the street (and thats not just in Scotland, just look at the vote De Gaulle got after May 68). a position of self-defence, of being out in the street to prevent these hooligan scum threatening the peace of Edinburgh is a militant message that doesn’t alienate but actually stands a better chance of gaining mainstream support.

    - ignoring the message of the EDL (which we all know is wildly contradicted by their actually events, but has successfully distorted their public perception). most people including myself can’t really argue with opposing suicide bombing and extreme islamism. its time those opposing them realised that this can’t be ignored and instead tackled this gaping hole in the left’s position against the EDL (more on this later).

    - calling them the SDL, why bother? just call them the EDL. its factually more accurate and won’t do any harm tactically.

    i suspect some of this may have come about due to a fixation by those on the Left with the “other half”, and maybe trying to mark territory. i have to say, nobody outside of the lefty bubble gives a flying fuck about the Left’s split in Scotland (other than those like myself totally depressed by it). things are not in a great way in the UK right now politically, not how we may have imagined things only a few years ago. its time for some of yous to get your heads out your arses and see the bigger picture.

    in particular its now time for the anti-fascist movement to grow up, and mature. Saturday was a success, but so much more could be achieved with a little more attention on presentation and strategy.

    first of all you need to stop worrying about your interactions with the rest of the Scottish left, and start focussing on the general public and in particular, Scotland’s Working Class.

    right now there is a perception of events from conversations i’ve had and a cursory glance of Edinburgh (football etc) forums of Saturday’s events and I have to tell you that we’re getting fuck all credit for what was achieved.

    it needs to be spelt out what happened on Saturday (probably via a well crafted, nuanced statement to the press) with a particular focus on the following:

    - that the EAFA presence meant that the EDL hooligans were kept off the street on Saturday.

    - that this was achieved without a moment of violence from those on the EAFA demonstration.

    - that on one occasion EAFA successfully assisted outnumbered police in sheparding of EDL hooligans to Waverly Station and out of the city, again without resorting to violence.

    - that EAFA recognise that Saturday will have disturbed many fellow citizens who chose not to attend the demonstration and thank them for their patience.

    its not your typical lefty posturing, but its what will get us respect. its also true. please stop lying about chasing the EDL off the streets, you lose all credibility with such total fantasyland shite. the truth is good enough. in fact the truth is fucking better PR than that delusionary shite because it doesn’t concede the moral highground in the eyes of 99% of the population.

    as i said above there is a gaping hole in the EAFA/GAFA position that the UAF are too politically immature to confront: and that is Islam4UK and their stone age vision for the world.

    they represent the same menace to society as the EDL and shouldn’t be ignored.

    a statement to the effect of the following would cover this strategic hole and highlight the fact that the prowhite far right & Islam4UK are two sides of the same coin of hate and division:

    - EAFA will return to the streets to prevent any future mobilisations of the EDL, the BNP, the National Front, Al-Muhajiroun or Islam4UK, or any other extreme right wing grouping who preach hate and seek to divide with the objective of destroying the freedoms we currently enjoy.

    that’s getting serious about the far-right.

  6. Jack says:

    Hi alibi,

    i actually agree with some of the points you’ve made, especially the need to make a statement to the press and to thank Edinburgh residents for their patience. Unfortunately I think it may be too late to make much headway with it now as the media will have largely move on. But it’s a point well taken that the new anti-fascist groups need to get a media relations strategy, and I will make this point at the meeting on Thurs.

    I don’t think that we’ve lied about what we did on Saturday, my report above makes it pretty clear that the physical removal of the bulk of the SDL was done by the police, although as the video shows there was other stuff going on as well, which we’ve described as “escorting” rather than “chasing”.

    I think what we say about radical Islam has to be pretty carefully thought out. The likes of Islam4UK etc. simply do not pose the same threat to society as the SDL/EDL. Islamist groups are a tiny minority within a minority of the British population. They cannot put mass numbers on the street and only meet with success due to publicity stunts like the abortive Islam4UK demo. That’s been exposed as nonsense on this site and their politics attacked while doing it. I thought the bit on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe sums it up as well-it only gained any traction because a racist media wanted to trumpet the idea we were surrounded by dangerous muslims.

    If we start to give the idea that muslims are a threat credence, I think we’re giving political ground to the racists. The EDL/SDL aren’t anti-Islamist, they’re using that as a semi acceptable cloak for their racism. The difference between them and the likes of Islam4UK is that they can mobilise mass numbers and cause havoc. More importantly, their ideas have a mass resonance with much of the population, in a way that Islamism just doesn’t in the Muslim community.

  7. alibi says:

    hi Jack, thanks for the reply.

    firstly let me apologise if it came across that i was calling you a liar (which reading that back i appear to). what i said was aimed at other comments i’ve come across on the web, although i accept thats not clear the way i’ve stated it. apologies.

    i agree that the mass media have probably moved on from Saturday’s events, but a statement on the EAFA/SSY etc website for the public record would still be a worthwhile exercise imo, and i know that i would be quite glad to post it up on other places on the web that i frequent – a well crafted statement would kill stone dead some of the shite being said about the demonstration (by those outwith the lefty bubble who have a squewed perception of it). to date the word “confront” seems to get bandied about a lot, a word which lays the onus of aggression on ourselves. as i say i think a public position of defence is more helpful.

    turning to Islam4UK, i have to say that although i agree a position on islamism has to be “pretty carefully thought out” (definitely) i believe the position above that you’ve outlined lacks credibility. i agree that their activity is disproportionately amplified by our idiotic media, but regardless, as the political wing of a movement which has caused more death on our streets than the EDL ever will, they cannot so simply be dismissed/ ignored. nor can the concerns and fears of much of the population: in truth its fairly rational to be scared of being blown apart on a bus or subway train, no matter how unlikely we may consider it. those in and around the predessessor to Islam4UK, Al-Muhajiroun, have been guilty of carrying out a number of suicide bombings. these are all well established facts.

    by facing up to this we wouldn’t be giving ground to the EDL to address the hate of Islam4UK, we’d be taking it away from them. and our position would simply be consistent.

    finally, i note that there’s talk of the EDL marching on Lockerbie as their next activity in Scotland. this is a trap. no doubt about it, they will be desperate to lure us into hitting the streets of Lockerbie and causing minor havoc and upset. EAFA/GAFA would do much better to oppose the EDL at Waverly and Central Stations than venturing anywhere near Lockerbie. the media will give them a hammering for going anywhere near the town; the state may ban them on the request of residents and victim’s families; we don’t need to rise to the bait and give them a PR victory (sitting in a pub out of view would leave us on the news and in the papers, not theirs). i am sure the people of Lockerbie will come out and ask for their peace and quiet not to be disturbed and we should respect that, and if the EDL chose not to, lets give them that PR disaster.


  8. Jack says:

    Hi alibi,

    First on the lying thing-no worries, easy to see how it was a misunderstanding.

    Of course I agree that political Islam is a wholely reactionary, and dangerous ideology. It’s not even necessarily anti-imperialist. I definitely condemn suicide bombings etc. However, I just think it’s the wrong emphasis when Muslims are under attack as a group to give any ground to the idea that we face a significant threat from Islamism that is worth protesting about. The truth is we don’t really. Of course there are a tiny number of nutters willing to kill for Islamism, but it’s nothing compared to even the IRA bombings in the past. The reason there is so much attention on the issue in society is to allow the state to construct Muslims as an enemy and deflect attention from their own failings.

    Simply put I don’t think we should give any credence to the idea that Islamism poses enough of a threat to the people of the UK to warrant a protest about it, because I don’t believe it does. If I was asked about it I would say first of all that I condemn terrorism, and am opposed to Sharia law. However, I would also add that the UK can virtually eliminate the terrorist overnight if we stop participating in imperialist oppression of Muslim (and non-Muslim) countries, and begin to change the alienating, racist society that drives people into the hands of a crazy ideology.

    I actually agree that it’s important for us to state openly we’re not looking to give violence obsessed hooligans what they want. EAFA is meeting tonight, I’m in Glasgow so I don’t know what will come out of it. I did try and convey the idea of what we were trying to do in my piece here though: mobilise mass numbers to outnumber the SDL and occupy the streets so they can’t.

  9. Jack says:

    Also, I’m also hopeful that significant public pressure can be brought to bear about this proposed thing in Lockerbie. I’m going to do a few things tonight to try and help start the ball rolling. Hopefully as a result it will end up not happening. If they do end up going I think it’s absolutely essential that anti-fascists are in touch at the earliest possible opportunity with any socialists/trade unionists/people who don’t want the SDL in their town who live in Lockerbie.

    If you’re reading this and you’re in Lockerbie, get in touch!

  10. alibi says:

    hi again Jack

    “mobilise mass numbers to outnumber the SDL and occupy the streets so they can’t”, that’s a good way of putting it: the right tone.

    regarding Islam4UK, what you’re saying sounds dangerously close (to paraphrase) to “we want the EDL off the streets because we’re scared they’ll win support, but don’t think the Islamists will, so leave them to it”. maybe that is actually your position, but its not one that can credibly explain things to non-supporters – you’d not be comfortable telling them that, and on that basis it cannot be a good enough justification between ourselves. honesty and credibility are our greatest weapons in the long run. what we’re looking at otherwise is censorship for the EDL, but for Islam4UK we censor ourselves through a fear that people get the wrong message? its just not credible.

    people are already seeing the double standards here, just a wee look around the different forums on the web and there’s decent neutrals, and those who don’t following these things in detail picking up on it. it makes us look hypocritical and it ignores the festering sore that continues to breed support for the far-right. we’re not kidding anyone by ignoring the Islamist far-right.

    we don’t have to actively protest against Islam4UK (who will probably never come to Scotland). merely by lumping them in with the BNP or EDL (as i believe is justifiable on an ideological basis, certainly in the case of the former) helps us cover this massive shortfall in our current position.

    i would also add that Islam4UK are actually imperialists themselves: “Islam will conquer Rome” (placard at their Danish cartoons demo), a cursory glance of their old website will show their plans for the UK when they have taken over – all for the benefit of the Sun mind, who lap up their wind-up shite. these scum feed off each other.

    regarding Lockerbie, i think we’ve got to be realistic and recognise that a few individual socialists etc in the town saying they’d welcome our presence will never be conveyed to a wider audience, and frankly the support of a select number of individuals is no mandate for our attendence. really we’d (imo) be needing the vocal support of a victims/ relatives group for such a mandate which, i suspect, is not going to come. they want peace and we should respect that.

    we have to give greater recognition to the wider narrative and the affect our actions and events have on that narrative. turning up in Lockerbie and running around the town shouting and screaming (as happens with such events) would not be beneficial, regardless of a few locals being amongst our number.

  11. alibi says:

    i’d qualify “the festering sore that continues to breed support for the far-right.”

    most support for the far-right is economics-based not islamism. but the silence of the decent left on islamism is a factor in their support today too.

    (is what i was trying to say)

  12. Jack says:

    SSY has actually written about Islam4UK before, I don’t know if you’ve seen the article here:

    It’s humorous and I think strikes the right tone, mocking them as a ridiculous and marginal group completely unrepresentative of Muslims in the UK. What I’m trying to say is that I obviously we should condemn reactionary Islamism, but I think saying “Griffin and Choudary two sides of the same coin” is just not true, because Nick Griffin and chums pose a significant threat to our society, Islam4UK don’t. Just as I think Scientology is a very unpleasant con, but I’m not going to devote my political time to Anonymous.

    The most important message that anti-racists have to put out there is that the SDL is deluded in thinking there is some kind of Jihadist threat to Britain, and 96% of Muslims according to polls cited in the article above oppose killing in the name of Islam. And on top of that, Muslims make up about 3% of the UK population! We should be exposing the focus of the media and government and Muslims for what it is-a divide and rule strategy being deployed by the ruling class. I think making one of our main thrusts attacking Islamism doesn’t help get that message across, although I do condemn it and would say so if asked. But it’s not just constructing Islam4UK et al as a major threat plays into the SDL’s agenda-it also plays into the agenda of the ruling class imo.

  13. [...] Lowkey, who’s also a political activist on top of being a great MC. After a weekend spent chasing after the racist, anti-Muslim “Scottish” Defence League in Edinburgh, seems a good time to post [...]

  14. Roddy says:

    Hey, did the meeting happen in the end? I wandered along about 20 minutes late and couldn’t find it. I wouldn’t put it past me to just have walked past it, though!

  15. Jack says:

    Hi Roddy,

    Yeah, we had a good meeting last night, we were up in the “action room” which is away up the stairs unfortunately, so that’s probably how you missed us. Might be worth exchanging numbers with some of the Edinburgh folk for future things so you can give someone a ring or a text to find us.

    Really positive, productive meeting. Discussed EAFA’s plan to send an open letter to UAF calling for greater honesty and co-operation; some extensive discussion of the threat posed by the BNP at the general election; talked a bit about the SDL’s proposed Lockerbie (agreed to be guided by local folk-the Dumfries and Galloway trades unions council have called for a demo on the day); and we also talked about the idea of getting involved in community organising and local activism in order to provide concrete alternatives to the far right.

    This was the first Edinburgh SSY meeting in a good while, and we agreed to get them going. We’re going to be meeting again on Mon 8th March, in the Forest again, and the topic is going to be practical community organising, following on from the discussion last night. Would be great to see you there!

  16. Andy Bowden says:

    Hey Roddy if you sign up on the SSY site, on the top right of the banner there should be a part where you can join SSY and we can send you emails of whats going on etc :)

  17. [...] have been a lot of discussions over tactics in the past few year. While I agree that it is important that multicultural rallies are held to [...]

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