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Scottish Defence League in Glasgow - opposition divided against itself.
I have been trying to find out what happened in Glasgow yesterday afternoon with the Scottish Defence League rally and the counter demonstrations.
I do not have the understanding of Scotland that I do of my own country.
Until the SDL put up their own account all I have are the Scottish press reports, not all of which make even an attempt at impartial reporting, plus the left wing blogs of Socialist Worker and Worker’s Liberty. And comments left on the press report websites.
My efforts have been hampered by the reports being rewritten since last night.
The first news agency to report was that of the Press Association who reported some 5 arrests and the positions of the several groups. Overnight this report diminished into three sentences which do have the virtue of being unemotional and factual.
Skirmishes broke out as two rival demonstrations were held in Glasgow.
Members of the Scottish Defence League (SDL), which claims to oppose Islamic militancy, held a protest in the Cambridge Street area of Glasgow.
Elsewhere in the city, more than a thousand supporters of Scotland United - a group backed by politicians, trade unionists and faith groups - held a counter-demonstration to celebrate multi-culturalism and oppose the SDL demo.
The most informative report seems to be this one in the Sunday Herald.
Standing precariously on a bin as thousands of people swarmed into George Square banging drums and chanting, anti-racist campaigner Aamer Anwar yesterday proclaimed a victory for the people of Glasgow over “racism, fascism and the Scottish Defence League (SDL)”. I definitely read somewhere yesterday (it may have been in the Daily Record as their page in my ‘history’ for Saturday takes me to a new article on the days events dated today Sunday 15th) that he declared ‘We control Glasgow”.
His celebration followed a day in which the far-right group’s threat to march on Glasgow Central Mosque came to nothing, as police penned its members into a pub before bussing them to various spots on the periphery of the city, extinguishing the chances of a conflict before it had the chance to ignite. There were a few minor skirmishes in and around the city centre between the tiny SDL contingent and rival demonstrators, who were out in their thousands. Five people were arrested.
Although both sides claimed to have achieved their aims, the sheer numbers that mustered under the banner of Scotland United, a broad-spectrum alliance of political parties, trade unions and civil society groups, demonstrated that most of Glasgow has little truck with the “anti-Islamic” policies of the SDL and its English counterpart.
The SDL, announced plans to march in Glasgow several months ago after the English Defence League (EDL) attracted hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of supporters to rallies in cities including Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.
The groups formed to protest exclusively against what they view as Islamic extremism, and claim to be a new political movement which has dispensed with the racist policies of far-right parties like the British National Party (BNP).
But critics, such as Mr Anwar, claim they are nothing but “a violent wing of the British National Party”.
Yesterday, the first protest in a day of political action in Glasgow took place at St Enoch Square at 10am.
Organised independently of Scotland United, the demonstration was made up of socialists, left-wing students and anti-fascists, who gathered outside the underground station before marching up Buchanan Street, chanting “Nazi scum off our streets” and “we’re black, white, Asian and we’re Jews”.
Daniel O’Donnell, a 61-year-old member of the Scottish National Party and veteran of anti-fascist protests, said: “Far-right and fascist movements have got more publicity now than I remember them ever having before, particularly after the BNP were allowed to speak on Question Time.
“The Scottish Defence League claims to be different from the BNP, but on paper, say critics, they look the same.
“This is not about showing the SDL who’s boss,” said O’Donnell, “but showing them that they are not welcome in Glasgow. We have enough problems in this city without them stirring up hatred. They have no place here.”
So already we see two separate protests against the SDL. If you look at the various socialist, workers, activists, and Scottish websites you will see each group criticising the other. Cries of UAF= SWP, and an unflattering description of Weyman Bennett as a ‘self appointed leader’
An hour after the protest started in St Enoch Square, the SDL gave out information about its meeting point on a phone number it had advertised on internet bulletin boards. Its members had organised the demonstration in secrecy on Facebook, other social networking sites and online discussion forums, withholding their exact plans from police and the city council.
The Sunday Herald was at the meeting point, a small pub in the city centre called The Cambridge where around 150 activists gathered, although police claimed there were only 70. Some covered their faces with scarves as they chanted and waved banners in the street.
Several key members of the SDL and EDL had been stopped on their way to the pub and some claimed to have been visited by officers from Strathclyde Police and banned from the city centre for the day.
The Sunday Post says Police have also confirmed they visited a number of SDL organisers in advance to warn them of their responsibilities while taking part in protests.
Thomas “Tuck” Milligan, who helps run SDL’s Facebook page, posted a message to members on Friday saying he had decided to stay away from the march after Strathclyde Police officers had visited his home to warn him that “if any trouble was to kick off I would be arrested”.
Inside,the leader of the SDL, who would only give his name as Don, attacked the anti-fascist protesters, claiming they were “spouting tired old rubbish” by labelling the SDL Nazis or racists.
Don said: “As soon as you say anything you’re labelled a racist, a Nazi, a fascist or a knuckle-dragging skinhead. We’re none of those things. We just want to highlight the Islamification of the country and show people that some, not all, young Muslims are having hate and militancy preached to them.
“People say that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Scotland, but it is. I bet they didn’t think someone would try to blow up Glasgow Airport. We don’t want young Muslim schoolboys to be radicalised, go away to train and then come back to blow up the city.”
One member from the Airdrie branch said: “We’re just here to protest against extremist Islam and Republican terrorists, who have tried to take over our country for 40 years and failed. We’re not racist, we’re not Nazis and we’re not the BNP. I’ve got black friends and Muslim friends – race doesn’t bother me.”
He added: “Our great-grandfathers fought and fell against the Nazis in two world wars. It’s a slur on our grand-fathers to call us Nazis.”
There was a brief stand-off as the anti-racist protesters from St Enoch Square marched near the pub, after using the SDL’s phone line to find out its location. They rallied for a few minutes before heading down to Glasgow Green to the mainstream Scotland United event to listen to the speakers.
After being penned into the bar from 11am until about 12.30pm, police briefly allowed the SDL members out to protest, giving them the opportunity to chant slogans like “no surrender to the IRA” or sing Rule Britannia.
Police tolerated their protest for barely 20 minutes before packing them off in a bus. They were dumped at the Red Lion, a pub on Paisley Road West, and warned that anyone who tried to go back into town would be arrested.
The SDL’s original plans to march on Glasgow Central Mosque were thwarted at the point of application. Glasgow’s policy on marches is “somewhere between Northern Ireland and England” said a city council source, with special legislation designed to manage Orange marches. This means that while a static demonstration requires no permission from the council or police, any moving procession needs to be given the go-ahead by the authorities.
However, the SDL’s application for a moving procession was made using only the first name, Donald. The council’s request for more information was rejected. When the SDL was warned that its members would not be allowed to use the streets to protest, it replied that they would be happy to use the pavement – something a council source said would still be illegal.
At the same time as the SDL’s brief protest, the Scotland United rally at Glasgow Green heard speakers including Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie, Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar and the Rev Ian Galloway from the Church of Scotland.
In a rousing speech, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m proud to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Scotland’s Muslim communities. . . "These people (the SDL) have no right to be heard. . . we will not have it in Glasgow and we will send you packing from every corner of Scotland”.
If you look at the website of the Daily Record you will see that not everybody was happy with this attack on free speech.
Back to the Sunday Herald
Ahead of the Scotland United event Osama Saeed, chairman of the Scottish Islamic Foundation, said that the only people missing from the coalition were Muslim elders themselves. There had been frantic wrangling behind the scenes as Mr Saeed and Mr Anwar tried to persuade mosque elders to take part.
Mr Saeed said: “The people running mosque don’t get involved in anything and tend to be very reclusive – this is another manifestation of it. A lot of them are immigrants and don’t see themselves as part of society, not the prominent actors they could and should be. It requires a huge change of mindset.”
Afterwards, Aamar Anwar claimed his coalition had inflicted a “humiliating defeat on the Nazi defence league”, but Don, the organiser of the SDL protest yesterday, gave one final warning: “He may say it’s a victory, but it’s hollow, because we’re not going nowhere. The next victory will be ours. We will stage demonstration after demonstration after demonstration. Today has gone well. We’ve had a peaceful protest, we’ve not hurt anybody. We’ve had the real victory today and won many more supporters. It’s been a big day for us.”
But not all SDL members agreed with Don. On the group’s Facebook site, even supporters were questioning the success of the Glasgow demonstration. In a post called Demo Today, one SDL member wrote: “I’m embarressed (sic).”
Scotland is complicated. Glasgow most complicated of all.
They don’t really like the English much so describing the Scottish Defence League as an ‘offshoot’ of the English Defence League meant that they had an initial handicap before their aims were ever considered.
Add to this the sectarian concerns of Protestant against Roman Catholic, support or dislike of the Orangemen, the heritage of Scottish against Irish, which still manifest itself, as can been seen in the comments, in football. The rivalry of Arsenal v Spurs, Man U v Man City is as nothing compared with the malevolence of Rangers v Celtic. Only one match will ever unite them. England v Scotland.
But if Scotland doesn’t watch itself and my unconfirmed recollection of Aamer Anwar (the human rights lawyer who was declared an unreliable witness when he accused of racism the woman whose car his wife damaged) and his cronies declaring “We control Glasgow” ultimately comes to fruition they can’t say that they were not warned.