While Edinburgh City Council may have voted last week to ban the Scottish Defence League from staging an ‘anti-refugee’ march through the capital today, this afternoon Police Scotland had other ideas.
Gathering at a back entrance to Edinburgh Waverley station at 1.30pm, around 40 supporters of the far-right SDL were allowed to meet before walking in small groups to their designated protest spot – one of the most prominent locations in the city. The area in front of the National Archives building on Princes Street was split into two by metal barriers, with anti-racist demonstrators – who gathered at the other end of Princes St – kept well apart.
Meanwhile, the SDL were given free reign to hold their protest, with little challenge coming from the public and zero from the police, who stood on as the extremist group sieg-heiled and chanted “Fuck Off Refugees” and “Allah is a paedo” to an audience of confused afternoon shoppers. If anyone did asked what was going on, the police would usually come back with “it’s the Scottish Defence League, they’re against Muslim extremists”. I saw one senior cop – with his silver trimmed hat – tell someone that the SDL are “not against all Muslims”. It was an interesting take on a crowd of 40 hardline fascists, adorned with the flags of openly Nazi groups. Because while the SDL did once, before the collapse of their sister organisation, the EDL, maintain a pretty tenuous facade of “we’re not racist, we’re just against terrorists”, that was fully thrown out the window today.
While around half of the 40 fash there were the usual SDL wannabe casuals mob (along with a few of their friends from England) – kitted out in Adidas Sambas and fake Stone Island – the other half was composed of neo-Nazis in jackboots and combats. This group, in turn, was split between an older bunch who’ve clearly had this as their Saturday afternoon hobby since the 1970s, and a younger crowd in their late teens and early 20s. As well as a few ski-mask wearing members of hardline anti-semitic group National Action (presumably up from England), there was also a few of Glasgow’s 4 Corners McDonalds kids, who I guess watched This Is England once and decided it would really cool to become Nazi boneheads. Prominent among them was one Dean Howden, who’s maybe not the brightest, given he (allegedly) left Islamophobic graffiti on an er… Sikh Gurdwara a few months ago.
One of the older NF types – who was carrying a Combat 18 flag – flipped while I was taking photos of him in front of the metal barrier, with him then frantically trying to climb over it to attack me. A police liasion officer gave him a wee tap on the back and that was the end of it. Here he is for posterity, amid a neo-Nazi/loyalist mash-up…
While Unite Against Fascism – the SWP front group who seem to be the only people that can be arsed organising counter-demos against the SDL anymore – will undoubtedly call today a huge success, because they outnumbered the fascists 10 to 1 and had a nice time chanting to themselves, it’s difficult to back that version of events up. An assortment of racists and neo-Nazis were allowed to parade through Edinburgh, shout racist slogans, with minimal police interference and hold an hour long rally in the heart of the city centre, with their white power regalia on show. The point of anti-fascism is surely to stop fascism – not to carp on the sidelines behind multiple lines of police. A wee bit of organisation from anti-fascists would’ve gone a long way today – instead, the cops just gave the fascists an easy ride, half-heartedly escorting them back to the pub after their demo finished.
It was hardly a successful day of PR outreach for the SDL, though, but then they were never really out to sway anyone. This was a morale building exercise for their own supporters and on that front, it was a success for them. “We go where we want” adorned the back of their t-shirts – a strange slogan for an anti-refugee demo – but one which Police Scotland were seemingly happy to accord them.