Following its failure to organise protests in Glasgow (in November last year) and Edinburgh (in February this year) the Scottish Defence League (SDL) announced that it would be holding a “respectful vigil” in Lockerbie on 27 March. The SDL’s decision to opt for a “vigil” in Lockerbie was a confession of weakness: lacking the confidence to try to organise an event in an urban centre, it chose instead to try to stage a stunt in a town of just over 4,000 inhabitants in the Scottish Borders.
(The pretext for a protest in Lockerbie was Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill’s decision — taken in August last year — to release from prison Abdelbaset al Megrahi, convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, on health grounds.)
But now it seems that even Lockerbie is out-of-bounds for any SDL protest.
The SDL’s announcement triggered a wave of protest not just from all political parties in Scotland but also from local groups in Lockerbie itself.
The SDL’s “respectful vigil” was dismissed by a relative of one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, for example, as a “base attempt to trade on this terrible disaster for extremist political ends”, and one which should attract “nothing but contempt for the base philosophy which lies behind it”.
The SDL appears to have realised that not only did no-one in Lockerbie want their “respectful vigil” but that staging such an event would also see them being trashed in the media for failing to respect the wishes of the relatives of the bombing.
In yet another retreat, the SDL is now claiming that it held a “moving vigil” in Lockerbie a week last Saturday (6 March):
“We did not take SDL banners or flags, we stood in silence and respect, and a floral tribute was left as a mark of our great sorrow for those murdered in Lockerbie.”
The reason given by the SDL for bringing forward the date of its protest, and staging it in such a way — without SDL banners or flags — that it could not even be identified as an SDL event, is:
“We had no interest in bringing disorder and the red fascist circus to this lovely Scottish town. We wanted to remember those who were murdered with dignity and without left wing fascists charging around the town looking for confrontation... (and without) the state-funded UAF thugs and the rest of the left-wing fascist thugs bringing disorder to Lockerbie.”
Whether the SDL actually staged even this anonymised “vigil” in Lockerbie is open to question: if it did take place, then it was so low-key that no-one in Lockerbie, including the local press and police, even noticed that it was taking place.
The SDL’s claim that it “brought forward” the date of its “vigil” from 27 March to 6 March would suggest that it is no longer planning any event in Lockerbie on 27 March (although it is impossible, at the time of writing, to be absolutely sure about this).
Dumfries and Galloway Trades Council, which had intended to call an anti-SDL demonstration in Lockerbie on 27 March, has said that it will “review the situation leading up to 27 March” and will “neither mobilise nor demobilise but be ready”.
“Scotland United” — a kind of Scottish version of Unite Against Fascism — is continuing to argue what it has argued from the moment when the SDL first announced its plans for a “vigil”: that opponents of the SDL should stay away from Lockerbie.
As one of their spokepersons put it at a Scotland United press conference: “I’ve been speaking to various organisations who understandably want to demonstrate against these extremists and urging them not to go to Lockerbie.”
If the SDL were to attempt to stage an event in Lockerbie on 27 March, then, given the local opposition to both the event itself and also to any counter-demonstration, there is a discussion to be had about how best to respond.
But such a discussion is something quite different from the stance taken by Scotland United: that the SDL, as a matter of principle, and in order not to frighten away support from the likes of the Tories, should never be confronted head-on.
Although there is no room for complacency, it certainly does look more likely than not that the SDL has abandoned plans for a “vigil” in Lockerbie on 27 March. If so, this would show up the SDL to be such a busted flush that even an isolated token gesture is beyond its abilities, never mind a proper demonstration.