Since Friday parts of Glasgow have been swamped by members of an obscure cult, its devotees pouring in from all corners of the UK but thankfully easily identified by their penchant for the timeless sartorial combo of socks n’ sandals, woolly jumpers and orange conference lanyards. These people are members of an organisation called “the Liberal Democrats”, and while their dress code may be a stereotype, it’s one with a firm basis in reality if the streets and pubs around the SECC on Saturday night were anything to go by.
As anyone who has been to the city for more than about three hours can attest, having hundreds of people marching about at the weekend with orange fabric hung around their necks is one of Glasgow’s noblest traditions, and Saturday just gone was no different. So while the Orange Lanyard brigade were gathering at the SECC to defend their proud cultural traditions of sitting on the fence and breaking their manifesto promises, elsewhere the Orange Sash brigade were assembling to defend their proud cultural traditions of noising up the city’s Irish community and asserting their ethnic superiority. Not to mention the inevitable counter-demonstrations, from republicans and Celtic casuals to peace campaigners and about four separate protests against the bedroom tax. If you’re struggling to keep track you’re not alone – the council too got to the point where they just started banning everyone left, right and centre. So with nothing better to do I ventured out to try and find out what was going on.
If there was going to be a flashpoint anywhere, it was at Glasgow Cross. A hardcore loyalist fringe group going by the name of the ‘Regimental Blues’ were proposing to march up the Gallowgate, a main road through the east of the city popular with Celtic fans, to in their own words “put a burning stick into the nest”. Earlier another loyalist march by the Rutherglen Bluebell flute band had followed a route skirting the Gallowgate. The Rutherglen Bluebells are the same mob whose (attempt to) march through the Gallowgate a few years back saw a now youtube famous outbreak of violence and just about every police vehicle in Glasgow diverted to the scene, so quite why the council thought it’d be a good idea to give them permission to march close to the area an hour before a Celtic game kicked off is a bit of a mystery. It seems to have been a confusing experience for the tourist sightseeing bus that got stuck behind the walk as it headed east anyway; welcome to Glasgow: Scotland with bigots. At the edge of the Gallowgate, ensuring the flute band stuck to their specified route was a small republican presence, helpfully described on the official Bluebell facebook page as “the unwashed”. Makes U proud to 2 be a Prod.
So while that passed by without too much bother, that was far from the end of events at Glasgow Cross, with the Regimental Blues planning to venture out around lunchtime. Believed to be largely the same group behind the fleg protests in Glasgow, which mostly amounted to demands the City Chamber fly the union flag 365 days a year, they had applied for council permission for a march up the Gallowgate on Saturday. Last week their chairman Kris McGurk put their case to the council parades committee:
“It’s getting to the point places are a ‘no go area’ for people like me. This parade is aimed at IRA propaganda. At Celtic games they’re handing out paraphernalia. I go and pick it up. They hold meetings discussing their hatred of everything British. We’re saying enough is enough… We are a pressure group for the Protestant people of Scotland. I am just a common guy who speaks with a common tongue. There’s no point in dressing it up. It will cause tensions. But for them for the simple fact they support terrorists.”
Suffice to say, persuading the council of the merits of such a march turned out to be a tough job, and they denied permission for it to go ahead on an official basis. However, rather than pursuing McGurk for his blatant admission of possessing material promoting proscribed organisations, which he likes going to ‘pick up’ at Celtic games and is probably an er… criminal offence, the police then appear to have stepped in to give them “the option of parading up London Road on an alternative date”. Glasgow democracy in action!
Predictably the word on their 6000-strong facebook page over the days that followed was DEFIANCE , and so Saturday saw up to 100 counter-demonstrators gathering on the traffic island at Glasgow Cross to ensure that McGurk’s mob of keyboard bigots/conspiracy theorists/valiant defenders of Protestant culture and ra union stayed well out of the Gallowgate, home to a number of Celtic pubs, dugs in fitba taps and a busy weekend street market. It goes without saying that there was a large police presence throughout. Previous weeks have seen demonstrations from the Regimental Blues, mostly targeted at Cairde na hÉireann, the Scottish wing of Sinn Féin who have a shop on the Gallowgate, although they haven’t dared venture beyond the traffic island at the Trongate to date.
In the end no more than a handful of these great defenders of the British way of life made it along on Saturday, and in the best traditions of the Scottish far-right they spent the whole time “kettled” in Annie Millers, a total dive of a Rangers pub situated on an alley near the river. I went for a look and saw about ten of them standing outside arguing with three cops. I’m not quite sure if that constitutes a “kettle” by any normal definition of the word, but if that’s how they want to sell their embarrassing backtracking to their legions of social media followers then who I am to judge. Either way soon enough their facebook updates reverted to giving a minute by minute commentary of that afternoon’s Rangers match… it was as if the whole thing had never happened! For further reading on the Regimental Blues, I highly recommend the satirical masterpiece (surely?) that is their list of ‘current campaigns’, which includes the demand that “All Tri Colours removed in Scotland with the exception of the Irish Embassy in Edinburgh” and that they will be targeting “All Yes voting campaigns (Campaigners)”. It’s funny but it’s also not really at all – it’s emblematic of the identity crisis facing the UK, social and economic malaise, the neo-liberal destruction of our communities and the weakness of our class.
Talking of which… just down the road at Glasgow Green, the mass march against the Bedroom Tax was assembling. Or rather it should have been, but these things are never that simple when the Glasgow City Council Parades Committee is involved, Earlier that week they’d thrown a spanner in the works by banning the march from going ahead for reasons which have never become very clear but fit with a disturbing pattern of events over the past few years. So rather than the organiser’s mooted 5000 people, it ended up with a few hundred spread around opposite ends of the city at different times of the day, with about five separate assembly points called, some in direct competition with each other. Tommy Sheridan even announced his own rally outside the Lib Dem conference an hour before anyone else just so that he could be the headliner, and then he left before the main thing even started. I for one welcome Tommy’s new model of organising with open arms.
Arriving in dribs and drabs from wherever they’d originally assembled, a few hundred people were outside the conference centre by 1pm or so. It was a predictable affair, notable for a giant banner which said ‘IT’S JUST NOT LIBERAL’ (in reference to the Bedroom Tax) and some rubbish chanting of the same slogan. It’s a sad indictment of the state of the labour movement that we’re reduced to pleading with the fucking Liberal Democrats to repeal some of the worst elements of their neo-Dickensian nightmare on the basis that it’s “not liberal”. The Bedroom Tax is liberal – that’s exactly the problem.
And that was the day that was. By mid-afternoon the Orange Sash mob were (still) in the pub watching the Rangers match, the Celtic fans were in a pub watching the Celtic match, the Bedroom Tax campaigners were listening to the ubiquitous Citizen Smart reel off his acoustic campaign classics (or more than likely were in the pub) and the Orange Lanyard wearers were still doing their thing of trying to put a ‘liberal’ spin on making everything as shit as possible. So it goes…
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