The Scottish far-right suffered their biggest defeat on the streets in seven years in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon, as anti-fascists continually impeded their movements and refused to obey police instructions. This culminated in dramatic scenes as the 30 or so ‘White Pride’ marchers were forced into a humiliating climb down – quite literally – as police held them within the Scotsman steps while waiting for reinforements to arrive at the ground floor and clear their exit. As horses charged anti-fascists on North Bridge, other groups on Market Street began pelting the Nazis with eggs, as they cowered behind police within the Edwardian walkway.
Having attended and reported on dozens of far-right demonstrations since the first emergence of the Scottish Defence League in 2009, they can often be depressing affairs, following a predictable script where the authorities facilitate a penned in shouting match between the two sides, before allowing the fascists to disperse of their own accord into nearby pubs. As we noted after the SDL showed up in Alloa two weeks ago, while it’s important for anti-fascists to show up on these occasions, it is a strategy that clearly has its limits in its failure to prevent the fascists from organising.
Saturday’s demonstration in Edinburgh marked an important change in tactics from anti-fascists. Things started rather differently, however. Early on, a Unite Against Fascism demo gathered outside Waverley Station, where it was mooted that the White Pride demo would also be assembling. However, having heard from the great and good of Edinburgh politics (MPs Ian Murray and Tommy Sheppard), it then proceeded up to the Royal Mile. Other autonomous groups were already gathered there, and intentionally remained outside of the carefully positioned barriers and fencing.
The police had other ideas, and quickly moved in, taking most protestors unaware.
Smoke flares were set off and a minor scuffle ensued as some tried to break the police lines, but this was quickly subdued. The inane chanting of the SWP quickly took over as the “singing kettle” reverted to type. With no sign of the fascists yet – or even any idea when, where or if they were going to emerge – an opportunity presented itself for anti-fascists who did not want to stand behind police lines all day to regroup, sneaking out from behind the kettle.
This was a turning point – not just for yesterday’s victory, but for overall anti-fascist strategy in Scotland, after years of tepid demonstrations behind cop lines. The police were not prepared for this scenario. Some cat and mouse runarounds on the Royal Mile, as the police tried to re-kettle anti-fascists, would end up with them simply giving up – they did not have the resources to have officers penning in small, dispersed groups of anti-fascists. This did come at a cost: a small number of anti-fascists were arrested.
But it meant that when the ‘white pride’ demonstrators did finally appear close to 2pm, anti-fascists could surround them on all sides. As a result, their movements were far mor tightly controlled by the police than would usually be the case. Two Nazis were arrested – it is believed that this was for doing straight armed salutes.
When time was up for the Nazis, the police faced an enormous challenge in how to get rid of them. Dozens of officers were drafted in, forming a tight kettle around the 30 or so fascists. They were marched from Hunter Square on to the Royal Mile, and then on to North Bridge. Anti-fascists ran down the street, taunting them as they went, as police horses were brought in to try and maintain control.
Funnelling the fash into the Scotsman Steps, which span four storeys between Market St and North Bridge, the police found themselves with nowhere to take them. Another group of anti-fascists had assembled at the foot of the steps, pelting the Nazis with eggs as they were marched down the Lord of the Rings-eqsue tower.
From there, the police began threatening anyone with arrest if they followed the fash kettle along Market Street. Eventually, they were dispersed in small groups into Waverley Station and taken out of the city.
Unfortunately, the price of humiliating the assorted fascist groups who showed up in Edinburgh yesterday – which was only achieved by continually breaching police instructions – was that a number of people were arrested. If you were lifted or know someone who was, support with the court process and financial assistance is available – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org in the first instance.
The challenge for anti-fascists is now to ensure that the networks which successfully confronted the white pride demo yesterday are consolidated and built upon. The tactics of UAF – which put the notion of outnumbering the fascists above all else – have, over many years, made only a minor impact on the ability of fascists to organise on our streets. What was shown in Edinburgh on Saturday was that even small numbers operating autonomously can be far more effective. We need to learn the lessons of the Battle of Scotsman Steps.
SDL drowned out as Leith marches against racism
SDL outnumbered in Glasgow before being dumped on pub on High Street
The SDL went to England and anti-fascists nicked their banner
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‘The Battle of Scotsmans Steps’? I am a reader of A Thousand Flowers, and obviously support demonstrations against fascism, but I am wondering why ATF is adopting the militaristic language of fascism? Does ATF believe in the ‘culture war’? I was under the impression this sort of American mythology, though powerful, made things worse.
GOOD ON YOU EDINBURGH! No Pasaran! They Shall Not PASS!
This type of action only justifies their “Poor, Hard-Done-To Me” attitude.
We should be doing what others in Europe are doing and sponsoring their walks for charities and organisations they hate.
Let them walk … but let’s make money out of them for the very stuff they are against.
No, giving them the freedom of protest is a very bad idea. Relying on the police is a failed strategy when it comes to combating the far right. They are actively setting out to intimidate and harass refugee families and minority groups. If we allow them to grow and expand, it’s only a matter of time before they start marching on folks’ houses (as they threatened in Alloa recently, but were unable to follow through on). Try telling them that letting Nazis walk down their street is actually okay cause it’s raising money for Red Nose Day or whatever.
The far right are not going to be defeated by fundraisers or sarcastic twitter hashtags, but my direct action to stop them on the streets – that’s what will demoralise them.
“The inane chanting of the SWP…”
So the Socialist Workers Party are back and unchanged!
As one of the “good anti-violent lets-all-be-friends okay?” liberals, I always find myself uneasy when I see violence employed in protest- there’s always the feeling of “might makes right is not OK”;
But- when I see what the Fascists stand for, ethnic cleansing, racial and christian superiority, they can’t be allowed to think that this is ever acceptable. These aren’t some ninnies flogging overpriced cereal, these people, and their philosophies are dangerous. If they feel ‘put apon’ for their hatred, then good.
Saturday was a great day, making it very clear that these people and their message of racist hate is not welcome here. As shown by the banners, the diversity of speakers and the diversity of the people willing to turn out and wait for the pathetic numbers of White Supremacists to eventually turn up, this was an act of solidarity which was effective in making sure only the hard core racists turned up. The years of counter-demos, with contributions in terms of organisation and people connected to UAF and Antifa, against all from BNP to SDL to the Infidels and now these White Supremacists have been crucial in stopping them recruiting from the anti-immigration/Islamophobia in the media. It does not help that solidarity to inaccurately describe those people who, for whatever reason, whether age or principle, were not interested in violence, as either inane or SWP. The whole counter-demo was inclusive, with different people making their own choices. Solidarity against racism is more important than picking out favoured or unfavoured workers against racism.
1. Taking direct action against fascists is not “violence”.
2. The direct links between the SWP and UAF are impossible to ignore.
3. Going back to the very first apperances of the SDL in Scotland in 2009/10, UAF have consistently undermined attempts to directly oppose the far-right.
4. There have been dozens of demonstrations against the SDL and other far-right orgs over the last 7 years or so, largely static UAF-organised affairs where stewards have marched protesters into police pens. Despite this, UAF were quick to claim credit for Saturday’s success – I’ve read their press release – which is utterly laughable, given its clear what the decisive factor/difference from past demos was.
I’ve always found it hard to work out which ones were the fascists. The most interesting thing about these periodical stand-offs is that the Council and Police are bringing them more and more into public view. Traditionally demos like these in Edinburgh were huddled away in East Market Street. Groups like the James Connolly Society still are I understand.