Edinburgh: Scottish Defence League routed

SDL protestOn 20 February, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters joined hundreds of people in Edinburgh to protest against the racist thugs of the Scottish Defence League (SDL). The SDL is an offshoot of the English Defence League, whose latest mobilisation saw around 1,500 fascists rampage through Stoke on 23 January. There was no repeat of such scenes in Edinburgh. The day marked a victory for the hundreds of antifascists determined to confront the small numbers the SDL managed to mobilise; a victory made possible by an increasing turn away from the opportunist politics of Unite Against Fascism and its middle class allies. A massive police operation involving officers from Lothian, Strathclyde and Northumbria ensured the fascists remained protected at all points.

 

FRFI supporters joined the early morning mobilisation called by the recently formed Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Alliance (EAFA), a loose coalition of socialists, anarchists and individuals who came together in order to confront the SDL’s presence in the city. A state-sponsored event called by Scotland United – a collection of politicians, trade union bureaucrats, ‘civil society’ representatives and religious figures – was held at 12 noon in Princes Street Gardens which explicitly stated it would not confront the SDL. The event was fully supported by Unite against Fascism (UAF) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Once the SDL’s location was known, hundreds of antifascists immediately began marching towards it, mainly young people from Edinburgh and Glasgow, with internationals from Italy, Spain, Poland and Greece. FRFI supporters found themselves leading the march as police officers scrambled to keep up and desperately direct protestors to the ’official demonstration‘ beginning in Princes Street Gardens. Clearly Scotland United, UAF and the police were all happy to collaborate beforehand in attempts to avoid any confrontation on the day. Hundreds of demonstrators continued up to the Royal Mile and the pub in which the SDL had sought refuge. Large groups managed to break through the police kettles, running down back lanes to avoid the police, and almost reached the pub. At one point, around 40 antifascists broke police lines to encounter a group of twenty SDL thugs, who were hounded into Waverly train station to cries of ‘fascists off our streets’ as police struggled to keep both sides apart.

At the same time, an open confrontation arose between genuine anti-fascists and the opportunists in the main body of the march. After police lines blocked the road, demonstrators turned back to the beginning of the Royal Mile, and , the opportunists tried to seize the moment to demobilise a protest that had escalated far beyond their control. Weyman Bennett, UAF Joint National Secretary and Central Committee member of the SWP, and lawyer Aamer Anwar, the leading force behind Scotland United, used megaphones to urge people away from the SDL and towards the assembly point for the afternoon’s respectable diversion on Princes Street.  EAFA activists led the way in calling on people to find ways around the police lines and back towards to pub on the Mile. In the end, the opportunists lost the battle, and the vast majority of protestors headed back down the Royal Mile to join the other groups, determined to shut down any fascists on the streets.

Defying the UAF and its middle class allies, hundreds of antifascists surrounded the SDL pub. Hundreds of police, including full riot squads, vans, mobile police units and a helicopter, defended the SDL from any encounters. The fascists, numbering not more than fifty, remained trapped in the pub for hours. At one point, violent scuffles broke out between police and antifascists, as in an act of complete provocation, the police marched disparate football hooligans straight past protestors, through police lines and into the pub, beating back protestors trying to prevent their passage. At 4pm, the drunken thugs were herded into buses by riot police and shipped out the city past up to 800 protestors chanting ‘fascist scum out’.

The day was a great victory against the SDL: they were completely unable to march. It was also a defeat for the opportunists who were unable to contain the protesters despite their every effort. Now this must be consolidated into a movement which fight against the state racism which nurtures fascist movements such as the SDL.

 

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