Glasgow Anti-Racists defiant against Far-Right attacks

Over 1,000 people attended a defiant demonstration and rally in Glasgow’s George Square [1] on World Refugee Day Saturday 20th June to protest against a far right attack on refugee right campaigners in the same square the previous Wednesday, reports Mike Picken

The demonstration was extremely militant in its support for Black Lives Matter and against far right and police violence.  Many young people attended, black and white, chanting slogans and holding homemade placards. 

The protestors attended the rally despite public calls carried on the front pages of newspapers and TV/radio news to stay away from Police Scotland and from the Scottish National Party leaderships of the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council.  The police threatened to arrest anyone “breaking the law” by demonstrating during Scotland’s current lockdown over the COVID-19 crisis.

The previous Wednesday a group of supporters of refugee rights had gathered in the square to protest about the impact of the lockdown on the denial of rights of refugees and asylum seekers living in the city.  This peaceful demonstration was attacked by supporters of a far right group, the “National Defence League” ostensibly on the grounds that they were “defending statues” in the Square following huge protests across Britain, including a massive rally on nearby Glasgow Green of over 5,000 people in support of the Black Lives Matter movement [2]. 

The police largely stood by in George Square as the right-wing thugs attacked the refugee rights’ protesters.  Later that evening the Scottish Police Federation made a terrible statement that sought to put the blame on both sides, without distinguishing that it was the far right who attacked a peaceful protest.  First Minister and SNP Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, made a public attack on the far right’s behaviour in Glasgow as “appalling”, while the Scottish Green Party spoke in the following day’s session of the Scottish Parliament to call for solidarity with the refugee and asylum seeker campaigners. 

A coalition of unions and campaign groups organised a demonstration under the umbrella “Glasgow United Against Fascism” at less than 48 hours’ notice, to challenge the far right on the following Saturday. 

“Defend the statues”

Speakers were present from the RMT rail workers and transport union and were supported by the Fire Brigades Union – both unions gave official support from their Scotland branches.  Activists from Unite the Union and the EIS main Scottish teachers’ union also addressed the demonstrators.  They were joined by speakers from anti-racist and refugee support organisations, who condemned the far-right attacks and declared solidarity with the Black Lives Matter global movement.  There was even a message of support from an SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament, though the SNP leadership itself called on people to stay away.  However, having been bypassed in recent weeks by the spontaneity of the massive protests around Black Lives Matter across Britain, the heavy hand of the Stand Up To Racism campaign [3] was also evident in attempting to assert its control over the movement.

While an appeal was made on Facebook by the “National Defence League” [4] to also turn up the Square on Saturday to “defend” statues and war memorials in the Square and oppose the “left and BLM”, the press claimed this call was repudiated and, in the event, there were only a couple of individuals wandering around the war memorials.  Despite this there was an extremely heavy and intimidating police presence in the Square and towards the end of the demonstration the police attempted to surround or “kettle” a small group of anti-racists, an act condemned in a statement by the demonstration’s organisers.

The demonstration was a great success in reasserting solidarity with Black Lives Matter and challenging the far-right backlash for control of Britain’s streets and squares.  A strong, energetic and pluralistic anti-racist movement needs to be built in the days and weeks ahead.

22 June 2020

[1] George Square is the civic square in the centre of Glasgow in front of the Glasgow City Chambers municipal building and contains a dozen historic statues.  It has long been a gathering point for working class protest, most significantly in January 1919 when, fearing a revolutionary upsurge, tanks and the army were deployed by the British government against 40,000 trade union strikers and demonstrators in the so-called “Battle of George Square”.

[2] For a report on the Glasgow Green Black Lives Matter demonstration see:

[3] The “National Defence League” is a previously relatively obscure far right “loyalist” movement.  In the West of Scotland in particular, “loyalist” means a far-right sectarian group with links to the protestant loyalist and “Orange” groups in the six counties of Northern Ireland occupied by the British state.  The flag used by NDL is a combination of the Scottish and loyalist “Ulster” flags.  The police description of the events on Wednesday 17th June included references to the perpetrators as being known “football hooligans”, and there is a long history of sectarian bigotry from some sections of football fans in the West of Scotland, though the vast majority of fans and the clubs themselves condemn such bigotry.

[4] Stand Up to Racism is an ostensibly broad based anti-racist campaign, but has been widely criticised as being used as a “front” at top level by the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) – it has no democratic structures and all key decisions about it appear to be made by the leadership of the SWP.

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2 Comments on Glasgow Anti-Racists defiant against Far-Right attacks

  1. Henry Maitles // 26th June 2020 at 5:34 pm // Reply

    I know Mike Picken and, having been on the demo, thought most of his report fair and accurate. Disappointed though to see that he couldn’t resist a sectarian para on SUTR who were instrumental in bringing the demo together. Sad to see. What is more worrying is that those kinds of comments seem to me to define a sect, keen to criticise but doing virtually nothing to build the event.

  2. Campbell McGregor // 26th June 2020 at 6:33 pm // Reply

    I would basically endorse this report, not sure there was quite as many as 1000, but certainly several hundred, quite good for something called at only a couple of days notice. Unlike some previous events this was basically an SWP-SUTR event, although some other groups had a small presence: SSP, CWI and RCG, and Jonathon Shafi was a speaker. The NDL appear to be a continuation of the Scottish Defence League and the English Defence League, doubtful if they ever were separate organisations, some internet searches will throw up some information. I notice possibly around 20 fascists next to the war memorial at the other end of the square. There was a heavy police presence, with police horses, and I noticed one line of police were wearing baseball-type caps but had riot helmets attached to their belts, ready to put on at a moment’s notice. The police had the demo surrounded, I wondered if they might try to kettle it, but I left OK at the end. Not sure of the full story, but it appears that they did kettle the demo later and force it to move to the Trongate some distance away. As for SUTR, as well as criticism for being an SWP front, in Scotland it has come under criticism from pro-Palestinian groups for including pro-Zionist groups inside its supposedly anti-racist broad church.

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