Regular readers of this blog may be familiar with the name Jim Dowson. Originally from Lanarkshire, he is the hard-right Christian loyalist who, over the years, has made a name for himself associating with – and pumping money into – an alarming assortment of fascist fronts. From militant anti-abortion groups, the Belfast flag protests of 2012, the success of the late-2000s BNP, to the brief emergence of Britain First, Dowson has been there, quietly pulling the strings.
More recently, he has been co-ordinating armed militias in eastern Europe to “hunt down” refugees, and he was profiled in the New York Times in December as the man behind a “constellation of websites” pushing out pro-Trump “fake news” to an audience, he claimed, of millions. Long viewed as the “invisible man” of Britain’s far-right, Dowson was recently ranked as Britain’s most influential far-right figure by campaigners Hope Not Hate.
Now, it has emerged, there is one more line that Dowson can add to his ever expanding CV: campaigner for Scottish independence.
Over the weekend, Dowson was speaking at a far-right conference in Hungary, where he currently spends much of his time. Outside the event, he made the surprise revelation to journalists from Hope Not Hate that he will be “backing Scottish independence 100%” and intends to put his militant anti-immigration agenda at the heart of his campaign.
The justification for this is, apparently, that England is already “stuffed”, that independence will protect Scotland from “Muslim domination”, and that the emergence of a new country will see a huge change in its political landscape – one that, evidently, he thinks he can take advantage of.
The notion of an intolerant side to Scottish nationalism is one of that some No supporters tried desperately to make come alive ahead of the 2014 referendum. That point of discussion blew up again recently following Sadiq Khan’s misguided comments comparing Scottish nationalism to racism. It was, and remains, a largely baseless argument, although that is a mix of both accident and design.
Ever since fascism first emerged as a political force in the 1920s, its Scottish incarnation has always been deeply tied to British nationalism and loyalism. That can, in fact, partially explain the total failure of fascist organisations to gain any serious ground in Scotland over the decades; any marginal success has been on the coat-tails of loyalism, rather than in its own right.
Jim Dowson is many things, but he is not stupid. His overnight conversion to Scottish independence is not a result of a sudden disavowal of his hardline unionism, but is merely a tactic in his wider game of sowing division and furthering anti-immigrant sentiment in Scotland.
It would be easy to scoff, but it’s a move with some logic behind it. Dowson has seen a large, populist movement that has engaged hundreds of thousands of ordinary Scots. There is an embedded distrust of traditional institutions and the mainstream media within it and a celebrated dependence on social media and antagonistic bloggers. These are not necessarily negatives, but Dowson clearly sees an opportunity.
His speech to a 2015 international far-right conference in Russia now, in view of the US elections, seem prescient: “We have the ability to take a video from today and put it in half of every single household in the USA, where these people can for the first time learn the truth, because their own media tell lies, they tell lies about Russia… We have to use popular culture to reach into the living rooms of the youth of America, of Britain, France, Germany, and bring them in. said. Then we can get them the message.”
Certainly, there are plenty of Yes voters who are open to anti-immigration politics. A Panelbase poll from earlier this year showed 38% of Yes voters agreeing with a (albeit loaded) statement that there is “a problem with too much immigration in Scotland.” This rose to 56% among 2014 No voters.
A recent Herald/BMG poll showed “Yes leavers” – those who voted to leave the EU in 2016 and also supported Yes in 2014 – say that immigration is the biggest single issue facing Scotland today (at 23%, compared to 2% of Yes remainers). Does Dowson see a captive audience?
Fascism in Scotland has tied itself to unionism for decades with minimal success. There are already far more capable institutions fulfilling the role of patriotic marching organisations that put the union to the fore of their ideology. The danger is that Dowson and his ilk pour their resources into hijacking sections of a pro-independence movement that has never allowed anti-immigrant sentiment to gain any traction.
Nicola Sturgeon put standing up for migrants at the heart of her SNP conference speech on Saturday and the Yes movement has continually emphasised its inclusive vision of independence. But it would be foolish to overlook that large sections of the Scottish population are still open to racist, anti-immigrant ideas, even if they haven’t yet found an electoral outlet for them, and there is no room for complacency now that one of Europe’s leading fascists has stated his intention to capitalise on that. Many forces will be trying to shape a new Scotland post-indy, and we need to ensure Dowson is kept as far away as possible.
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Agree 100%, one of the main appeals of independence for me is we get to start afresh and redefine who we want to be as a nation-
It’s my hope that that nation aspires to be progressive, compassionate and responsible, but we should be aware, pre and post indy, that as well as watering our hopes and dreams, we need to weed out parasites and opportunists
Interesting that on the hardcore Loyalist sites he’s regarding as something of a Billy Liar.