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