The Scottish Defence League (SDL) — an offshoot of the English Defence League (EDL) — is planning to demonstrate in Glasgow on Saturday 14 November.
The EDL has been able to mobilise several hundreds for protests which it claims are against political Islam (but not ordinary Muslims) and the government’s alleged “softness” on Islamist movements. It has also publicly distanced itself from the BNP (just as the BNP has distanced itself from the EDL).
As elsewhere in the UK, these people mean different things to different people. In practice, the EDL functions as a pole of attraction for racists, anti-Muslim bigots, right-wing extremists and, in some areas, BNP members and supporters.
What attracts these people to the EDL is not some profound political philosophy or theological critique of Islam. What attracts them is the chance to take to the streets in a show of force designed to intimidate local Muslims (irrespective of their politics), with the threat (or reality) of violence never far beneath the surface.
Like the EDL, the SDL puts on a moderate face in public. In a recently issued statement it rejected allegations that the SDL were “right-wing racists” and stressed that “we do not promote violence or racism.”
The SDL, again following in the footsteps of the EDL, presents itself as the real voice of the British working class. In an interview with the Sunday Herald the SDL’s leader, going under the pseudonym of “Don”, explained:
“We are against fragmented communities living side by side, divided by hatred and distrust. It’s time to take action because there will be bloodshed if we do nothing.… We will protest outside every council building, police station and school that tries to erode the voice of the working class majority in Britain.”
But the SDL’s “anti-racist” public statement also argued that “the Islamic faith (is) an aggressive movement, a religion that is being forced on others in the UK”. It refers to “the decimation of cities in parts of England where the indigenous population have been marginalised and left to their fate of being pushed from their areas by Muslim demographics and the creation of Muslim areas.”
And Searchlight has reported, albeit without identifying the actual SDL leaders in question, that “the newly formed Scottish Defence League has known fascists at its core.”
The SDL claims to have 180 members, with another 500 people having contacted the organisation to express an interest in joining.
This is almost certainly a gross inflation of the SDL’s current level of support. The “official” SDL Facebook group is reported to have fewer than 150 members.
After its recent demonstration in Manchester the EDL boasted that “Football rivalries were long forgotten as [demonstrators] stood shoulder to shoulder for their country.”
The SDL has rather less chance of overcoming “football rivalries” in attempting to mobilise support.
The SDL polo-shirt — available on eBay at £20 — carries the slogan “No Surrender to Al Qaeda.” The choice of “No Surrender” as a slogan is unlikely to encourage “football rivalries” to be put aside. The same goes for the SDL’s public statement, which condemns Irish Republicanism but not Loyalist paramilitaries:
“We will make a stand against those who wish to destroy this nation from within or without. This goes for any organisation or movement that would promote violence and terrorism within Great Britain and Northern Ireland, whether they be violent Muslims or murderous Irish Republicans.”
Contrary to any attempt to overcome “football rivalries”, an SDL Facebook page was recently set up specifically for Rangers supporters, with a “casualsunited” e-mail address as the contact address.
It attracted just 28 members before it was closed down, after Rangers had protested to Facebook about its emblems being used by the SDL.
In fact, within what now terms itself “the PUL community” (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist), the SDL is receiving a very mixed reception.
The planned SDL march comes just at a time when Strathclyde police and politicians are highlighting the amount of money spent policing Orange Lodge processions — £1.7 million last year, to cover around a thousand parades. In that context, the SDL protest is not being welcomed by some of the more thoughtful members of the “PUL community”:
“You can bet your bottom dollar that if this (demonstration) gets the go-ahead, the usual scum will come out and dream up amazing stories to tie the Rangers supporters, Loyal Orders, and Loyalists in general in with this mob…
“As we all know, Glasgow City Council, the media, etc., don’t need an excuse to have a go at the PUL community. But if this passes (i.e. public disorder) much the same as the rest (of the protests organised by the EDL), Christmas is coming early for our enemies!”
Although it remains unclear what the SDL is planning on 14 November, the most widely held assumption is that its supporters will meet up somewhere on the city centre side of the Clyde and then take a demonstration to the Glasgow Central Mosque on the other side of the river.
Alternatively, the SDL may go for a stationary protest in the vicinity of the Mosque.
14 November appears to have been chosen as the date for the SDL protest as there are no football games in Scotland that day — if the SDL is modelled on the EDL, then it will be relying heavily on football casuals for a turnout.
In addition, and probably more by coincidence than by design, 14 November coincides with a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Edinburgh, meaning that some of those who would have been likely to protest against the SDL will be demonstrating on the other side of Scotland.
The limited numbers who have signed up to the SDL Facebook page and the limited support in general which the SDL seems to have generated to date are no reason for complacency. As the director of the Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance has put it:
“The planned SDL protest could finally shake Scotland from its complacency about the threat of organised racists operating in the country. It never has been an English-only problem, but for too long too many people in Scotland have been in denial.
“In June (in the Euro-elections), 27,174 Scottish individuals voted for the BNP — representing one person out of every 40 who voted. Whilst the actual membership of the so-called Scottish Defence League may be very small… these people are only out to provoke violence.”
The focus of campaigning against the SDL protest should not be calls on the police and Glasgow City Council to ban an SDL demonstration.
Even if the demonstration were to be banned, the SDL would still be able to organise a stationary rally.
Ideally, a local Trades Council would take the lead in launching a trade-union-based campaign against local SDL activity. But Glasgow Trades Council meets only quarterly and will not be meeting again until after 14 November. In any case, its moribund state rules out any meaningful initiative from that quarter.
The only organised initiative to date against the SDL is “Scotland United”, launched at a press conference on 19 October. “Scotland United” describes itself as “bringing together faith groups, trade unions, community organisations and politicians to celebrate Scotland’s multiculturalism.”
Initial signatories to its founding statement include the Scottish TUC, the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, the Scottish Interfaith Council, Sikhs for Scotland, the FBU, the Scottish Labour Party, the SNP, Unite Against Fascism, Hope not Hate (Searchlight), Glasgow Ant-Racist Alliance, Show Racism the Red Card, and the Stop the War Coalition.
According to the statement on the website of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation website, “the move (to launch ‘Scotland United’) comes after the stated intention of the far-right Scottish Defence League to protest outside Glasgow Central Mosque on 14 November. ‘Scotland United’ have said that they will be organising a rally elsewhere in the city at the same time.”
It is still unclear whether the SDL will be protesting outside the Central Mosque on 14 November. But if the SDL is going to be doing that then it is ludicrous to “organise a rally elsewhere in the city at the same time.”
In fact, wherever the SDL ends up protesting, it makes no sense to stage a counter-protest somewhere else. The approach of “Scotland United”, however, is to do exactly that: by getting more people to their “celebration” of a “multicultural Glasgow and a multicultural Scotland”, they want to show that they are more representative than the SDL.
Different people will demonstrate their opposition to the SDL in different ways. For some, this will take the form of participating in a “celebration” of multiculturalism. They are perfectly entitled to do so.
But the SDL’s planned activities for 14 November are not just about attitudes to multiculturalism. They will be an organised exercise in racist intimidation, a physical manifestation of the idea that the streets belong to the SDL and that Muslims (and any dark-skinned person) is not welcome on them.
That is why the SDL need to be confronted and challenged directly, and why trade union, anti-racist, and anti-fascist activists will need to organise their own counter-protest for 14 November.