By Dale Street
Around 80 supporters of the Scottish Defence League (SDL), including a number of English Defence League (EDL) supporters imported for the event, staged a static protest in Edinburgh last Saturday (10th September).
Politically, the SDL represents the same lumpen anti-Muslim racist bigotry, leavened by the presence of a number of outright fascists in its ranks, as its English counterpart.
Organisationally, the SDL has always been a much weaker force than the EDL – it has never been able to stage a demonstration (as opposed to a static protest), and it has never been able to exceed the number of supporters it mobilised last Saturday.
The SDL’s first attempt to organise a public event dates back to November 2009 in Glasgow. Around 50 of them ended up stuck in a pub on the edge of the city centre and had to be bussed out by the police.
In February 2010 the SDL attempted to stage an event in Edinburgh, with the same result: around 50 of them were trapped in a pub on the Royal Mile and had to be bussed out of town by the police.
Since then the SDL has staged a series of static protests away from the big cities – in Kilmarnock, Paisley, East Kilbride, Stirling, Irvine and Berwick. Plans to hold such a protest in Lockerbie were abandoned in the face of overwhelming local opposition.
Last Saturday therefore represented the first attempt by the SDL to organise an event in a major Scottish city in eighteen months. The City Council refused the SDL permission for a demonstration, leaving the SDL forced to hold a static protest on the edge of the city centre.
Over the past two years opposition to the SDL – in the sense of mobilising forces on the day – has come from two main sources.
The SDL event in Glasgow was opposed by an ad hoc Glasgow Anti-Fascist Alliance (GAFA) while the 2010 SDL event in Edinburgh was opposed by an ad hoc Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Alliance (EAFA).
GAFA and EAFA both sought, with some degree of success, to confront the SDL. Although GAFA and EAFA both mobilised to oppose SDL events in the smaller Scottish towns, they remained essentially ‘reactive’ organisations, with nothing to hold them together between counter-protests.
The SDL has also been opposed by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which merged into a broader “Scotland United” initiative to oppose SDL events in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2009/2010.
On both occasions the leading forces in the UAF and “Scotland United” organised demonstrations which headed away from where the SDL was gathering, and did everything possible to dissuade activists from confronting the SDL. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in particular, backed such an approach.
Last Saturday’s anti-SDL mobilisation began with a UAF rally in the city centre. Last year around 2,000 had turned up for the UAF/”Scotland United” event. This time the mobilisation numbered around 300.
The rally was opened by a speech from Simon Assaf (an SWPer wearing his UAF hat), who gave the UAF/SWP ‘line’ for the day:
The SDL had already been defeated; they had been unable to march through the city centre; their protest was being held on the outskirts of the centre; they had had to bus in supporters from England; the UAF, on the other hand, was gathering in the city centre; it was staging a demonstration; and the UAF, unlike the SDL, had won support from the people of Edinburgh.
Assaf’s speech was followed by a succession of speakers of varying quality. Worst of all, of course, was Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).
Napier used his speech as an opportunity to equate the SDL/EDL with Israel: the Defence Leagues wave the Israeli flag because both believe in ghettoising minorities and discriminating against them (whites and Muslims here, Jews and Arabs in Israel).
(SPSC members were busy distributing a leaflet at the rally calling for support for one of their members recently found guilty of racially motivated conduct. Headed “Criticising Israel is not Racist!”, the leaflet explained: “It is clear to most people that criticising Israel is not a crime but a duty.”
The “guilty” verdict imposed on one of their members, the leaflet explained, was no mere decision by a Sheriff in Cupar but involved the hidden hand of Israel: “What is behind the case? As pressure mounts on Israel ... Israel resorts to its last line of defence and claims criticism of its actions is racist.”)
After the rally a UAF demonstration marched a couple of hundred yards along Princes Street and then came to a halt. It remained there for the next hour and a half while the SDL, vaguely visible in the distance, staged their static protest.
This was clearly the agreement which UAF had reached with the police: We, the police, let you march a couple of hundred yards; in exchange, you stand still and do nothing. As one SWP steward put it: “On the demonstration, discipline will prevail.”
Small groups of activists broke away from the UAF demonstration to try to get closer to the SDL. But, reflecting the lack of ongoing organisation by GAFA and EAFA, they were too small to make an impact. The police quickly moved in to push them back down towards the UAF demonstration.
When the SDL finally concluded their static protest – it lasted for about an hour – Assaf again proclaimed a victory for the UAF: the SDL had been prevented from marching through the city centre, and the slogan of the moment was “Victory! Victory! Edinburgh is Nazi-free!”
Last Saturday’s events in Edinburgh appear to have been pretty much a re-run of the previous week’s events in Tower Hamlets: numerically heavy policing, static protests by the SDL and the UAF, and the UAF/SWP hyping up the day’s events into a major victory for anti-fascism.