After much anticipation and preparation, Saturday was the day of the English Scottish Defence League’s second outing. They had first appeared in Glasgow last November, with a generous estimate of 80 turning up to find themselves outnumbered by about 50 to 1, consequently finding themselves kettled in a pub by the police for their own safety.
There were two main lessons that people came away with from that encounter. First, that it had been a great victory for the anti-fascist movement, providing the confidence necessary to organise in future. And second, that there was a split in the movement over tactics. Broadly there appeared two groups: one led by the UAF/SWP under the banner of Scotland United, which favoured a parallel rally, hosting speakers from the Tories, SNP, Church of Scotland and others, and to that end actively opposed any idea of direct confrontation with the SDL. And one led by a range of activists from the SSP, anarchist groups, student groups and others (including, it must be said, individuals from UAF/SWP), which favoured direct confrontation via a march on the SDL position wherever it may turn out to be.
Fortunately and unfortunately respectively, these will once again be the two main lessons that people come away with from today’s encounter.
Preparation and March
Almost immediately after Glasgow there were rumours that Edinburgh would be the next destination, and so the Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Alliance (EAFA) was established to organise those preferring the tactic of confrontation.
Needless to say that plenty of anti-fascist/anti-racist posters went up around the city from both the EAFA and the UAF, as well as many city-centre shops carrying leaflets on their counters. Indeed, such was the saturation that it led a Conservative councillor to complain that anti-fascism has become a “polarising influence” — Tories on the ball as always!
Each group, of course, was advertising its own event. The UAF/SWP rally was to occur at 11.30am and march through the city centre, while the EAFA organised to meet at 9.30am before heading wherever the SDL turned up. Coincidentally, the UAF/SWP decided to start advertising for students to gather at 10am instead, just down the road from where the EAFA were meeting.
This proved to be a mistake on their part, as the EAFA decided to join up with this group at around 10.20am while they waited for news on the SDL’s arrival. This turned, consciously or otherwise, into an entryist manoeuvre, as they soon got news of the SDL’s location and marched off with the entire group in tow.
This is where the UAF/SWP’s role became a damaging rather than a building one. Having failed to stop the entire group marching off, they set themselves up further down the road with a loud-speaker to try and convince as many people as possible into staying with them. While this first attempt failed entirely to halt the enthusiastic crowd it did succeed in sowing the seeds of confusion in the majority who were not there with a group, but rather as a response to the posters, media coverage and word of mouth.
Having heard (accurately) that the bulk of SDL members seemed to be having a morning drink near Holyrood Parliament, the march entered the Royal Mile, where the police quickly mobilised to prevent any advance.
This is where the battle of the two groups commenced, as the UAF/SWP sought to take advantage of the police lines and confusion to peel people back to their rally, while the EAFA and others sought to find a side-street past the police lines. Throw into this a sighting of SDL members in the Bank Hotel — a pub right in the centre of the march (the building in the above photo) — and misinformation being introduced about where the SDL were and what was happening by prominent UAF members, and it isn’t difficult to imagine that things were getting a little chaotic. Eventually the sizeable EAFA group found their side street — barging past a single hapless police officer, who must have been unfamiliar with the story of King Canute — and took the bulk of the protesters with them. However, it was noticeable that with two factions competing for loyalty, many unaligned protesters simply gave up and drifted off, weakening both.
Kettling the SDL
Despite the commotion a significant group moved forward with the EAFA and eventually reached the pub hosting the SDL — about 80 of them in total [update: The Scotsman is reporting 40]. At this point, echoing the scenes of Glasgow, the counter-protesters trapped the SDL in their pub. Now it just became a question of the police holding their ground until buses arrived to remove the SDL from the area. This took some hours, with increasing numbers of police flooding into the area and drones flying overhead, but eventually it happened and the SDL piled onto their buses — though not before they had all their details and photos taken.
There can be little doubt that the day was a success for the EAFA. Their spotters found the SDL early and the EAFA led a significant group to trap them in a relatively out-of-the-way pub before they could meet up or hold their rally. Other SDL members found themselves confronted by break-away groups of protesters and escorted or kettled by police — reports of which arrived from both the train station and 20 minutes away at the Grassmarket. This will hopefully set the SDL back and discourage any future rallies in Scotland, as well as establish the organisation necessary in Edinburgh to engage in future events.
It is only a shame that a rather grotesque public factional fight cost some of the momentum along the way. It must surely be seen as imperative to sort this situation out beforehand if the SDL return, with an acceptance that while the UAF’s passive rally is a good way to involve those who wouldn’t want to be involved in an EAFA-type strategy, it shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of those who are willing to carry out the important work of direct confrontation — and certainly not at the expense of a march which is already on its way.
This article first sppeared at http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/02/20/sdl-world-pub-tour-continues/