Over the past fortnight Glasgow has become a flash point in the fight against the far right. What follows is a brief recap of the protests and counter-protests, followed by an even briefer attempt at interpreting them.
07/06 – Black Lives Matter protest at Glasgow Green
While social distancing measures made it difficult to ascertain the numbers with any certainty, around 3000 people attended the static rally. Easily the youngest, least white and most radical protest in the city for a very long time. Black activists took leadership of the movement and raised the increasingly popular slogan ‘Scotland’s Not Innocent’.
07/06 – Scottish Trades Union Congress hosted an online Black Lives Matter rally
That evening, almost ten thousand people joined a virtual protest calling for justice for Sheku Bayoh, a black man murdered by the police in Kirkcaldy five years ago. None of the nine killer cops involved have faced any prosecution.
13/06 – As the DFLA rioted in London, 50-100 supporters assembled in Glasgow’s George Square under the guise of ‘protecting the statues’
Without any planned BLM demonstration in the city that day, the group stood about for hours and intermittently sang Rule Britannia.
14/06 – Peel Must Fall protest cancelled after far-right mobilised
In a victory for the far right, a scheduled demonstration by the Glasgow Youth Art Collective calling for the removal of a statue honouring Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police, was cancelled. The protest’s intended location, George Square, had been occupied all morning by up to 300 fascists, who celebrated this ‘victory’ by racially assaulting a photographer, harassing and attacking passersby and waving Ulster Volunteer Force flags.
Reports and videos online depict a day of violence and bigotry against Irish, Chinese, Pakistani, LGBTQ and of course, Black people. One member of the press describes seeing the group charge down a side street, thinking they had found people who had come to join the original demonstration. A few moments later she overhears, ‘Everyone get back to George Square, it’s only two fucking n*****.’ Both she and her friend were later beaten against a wall. The police made zero arrests.
17/06 – End Hotel Detention demonstration attacked by the NDL and SPAD in George Square
A protest called by asylum seekers in Glasgow and supported by the No Evictions Network went ahead. They demanded humane accommodation for refugees who have lost financial support and been detained in hotels, made to suffer ‘a lack of adequate food, restricted access to healthcare, and an inability to socially distance in the midst of a viral pandemic.’ Hundreds joined the demonstration despite a far-right presence in the square. The fascists inevitably attempted to attack the demonstration, with little success. Both the National Defence League (effectively the rebranded Scottish Defence League) and Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination (more on them later) claim credit for this.
A statement from the No Evictions Network outlines the role of the cops in this confrontation: ‘The police allowed a group of far right protestors to assemble and made no attempt to disband their protest […] Instead, the police contained the End Hotel Detention demonstration in a tight space, where it was impossible to practice physical distancing, whilst allowing the fascist demonstration the rest of George Square to be in.’ The Scottish Police Federation later released their own statement, claiming each ‘side is as guilty as the other’, ‘There is no moral high ground to be claimed’, and ‘there are too many opposing factions who need no excuse to use a protest as an opportunity to cause disorder.’
SAY IT LOUD. SAY IT CLEAR. REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE. https://t.co/SzKAbvjeYt
— No Evictions Glasgow (@no_evictions) June 17, 2020
20/06 – Anti-racists reclaimed George Square on World Refugee Day
Hundreds of anti-racists occupied the square and linked the struggles for asylum seekers’ rights and against structuralism racism. Speakers from Black Lives Matter, trade unions and refugee groups connected their struggles. It was disappointing to see that Stand Up To Racism’s speakers were disproportionately white and male; there’s no shortage of Black radicals leading the fight against racism today, and the left needs to genuinely engage with them.
An extremely heavy police presence protected around 20 silent fascist counter-protestors. As the demonstration ended the cops kettled anti-racists for a short period of time before letting them disperse, needlessly forcing a total abandonment of social distancing measures.
Besides what the police’s actions say about the role of the bourgeois state, perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from these conflicts is the inherent link between British Unionism and white supremacy. On the weekend of the 13th and 14th, as the far right occupied the city’s centre, Glasgow was also stained by new graffiti reading ‘White Pride Worldwide’ with accompanying white supremacist symbols and the name of a Rangers Football Club ultras group, the Union Bears.
A similar link is present in the rambling conspiracies of Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination, a group seemingly formed to protect the rights of the Orange Order to march past Catholic churches, regardless of how many priests are assaulted and spat on along the way. They recently described the decoration of a statue of King Billy with ‘Fuck the Police’ and ‘IRA’ as evidence that ‘the Black Lives Matter “cover” is just that’, i.e. a cover to hide the movement’s real intentions in the UK: ‘Irish Republicanism under the guise of Scottish Nationalism.’ Attempting to justify attacking the demonstration on the 17th, SPAD wrote: ‘the Asylum Seekers protest was infiltrated by 10-15 people who were intent on inciting trouble by unveiling an “Antifa” flag’. Evidently for some, defending Scottish protestants from ‘discrimination’ is inseparable from being anti-anti-fascist.
While the temptation to dismiss these rants as the incoherent blubbering of conspiracy theorists is strong, they indicate an important point: the Loyalism and Unionism of the Orange Order and its fellow travellers is imbued with white supremacy. When thousands in Ibrox fantasise about being ‘up to their knees in Fenian blood’ every matchday, they could just as well be singing of Syrian, Pakistani, West Indian or Nigerian blood. This violent bigotry goes beyond football stadiums of course, and is even present amongst those who claim to be on the left. Socialists inside the Labour Party ought to be questioning just how Ian McNeil, who last year was appointed executive officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, continues to represent them as a councillor in Airdrie.
Saturday’s demonstration was a significant victory that banished fascists from Glasgow’s city centre. Our next step must be to further the links across all those fighting fascism and racism in the UK. Trade unions and campaigns such as Call It Out, which opposes anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry, need to throw their full unconditional support behind Black Lives Matter. We must follow the direction of the thousands of young, Black radicals who have reshaped the UK’s political landscape in the past month.