Scottish Anti-Fascism in 2023

Emma Òr attended the counter-demo to a rally at a hotel in Erskine.

‘Refugees are welcome here’ and ‘Nazi scum off our streets’ were the chants outside the Muthu Glasgow River Hotel in Erskine on Sunday 5th February to drown out Patriotic Alternative’s (PA) anti-refugee rally. Members of PA, currently the largest far-right movement in the UK, gathered to capitalise on community frustrations and oppose the housing of 200 asylum seekers in the hotel. Attendees included several notorious fascist organisers: incredibly dangerous people who have been known to use online forums to recruit neo-Nazis posing with weapons, share bomb-making manuals, quote mass murderers and encourage members to ‘kill for the greater good’, by which they mean fascism. PA’s website describes the denigration of ‘indigenous British people’ using the kind of rhetoric which justifies genocide. Using a classic fascist strategy of ‘punching down’ by blaming society’s most marginalised for problems caused by the rich and powerful, PA aimed to exploit the housing crisis to turn different parts of the working class against each other, claiming that refugees living in poor conditions were depriving Scottish people of homes. Members of various leftist groups including SWP-aligned Stand up to Racism and Scottish Anti-Fascists mobilised in response to this disgraceful event, holding a banner which read ‘gays against Nazis’.

The Scottish far-right had been relatively subdued prior to PA’s recent rise to prominence. Up until 2020 fascist mobilisation in Scotland largely took the form of rowdy public rallies inspired by leader of English Defence League (EDL) Tommy Robinson. On multiple occasions, he attended the chaotic and loosely organised SDL rallies in Scotland which gained public attention but were resolutely seen off by anti-fascists time and again. With the SDL having collapsed in a morass of scandals and infighting, PA are building a support base using a more vitriolic racist politic, mobilising those radicalised online, in the community, and former members of the BNP and National Front. They are more organised, extreme and dangerous than many of their predecessor groups. The Scottish far-right is changing and poses a threat which must be taken seriously by the left.

It is not just the active members of PA, however, who are suffocating the freedom of migrants housed in the hotel, but the British state itself. Many of the anti-fascists who turned up to oppose the demo were at pains to point out that in order to stop fascism, we must begin to understand and tackle its root cause. Erskine is a small and economically challenged community on the outskirts of Glasgow. Services in the area have been decimated following decades of austerity. The government have taken advantage of the depressed local economy by using it to house refugees, knowing that hotel prices in the area will be much lower than better off districts. Mears, the Home Office’s private provider of choice, profit from this contract by providing the cheapest available, and therefore substandard, accommodation in Erskine. Refugees in hotels across the country have reported damp, dirty and vermin-infested accommodation. Their living conditions are unsafe, inhumane and isolating. Since Mears is only accountable to the Home Office, however, and not the local authorities or communities in which they operate, they are continuing to accumulate wealth at the expense of the wellbeing of some of the most marginalised people in Scotland.

Following years of concerted effort by Westminster and the billionaire-controlled media to demonise those fleeing war and brutality, literally making a ‘hostile environment’ for them, it is, sadly, no surprise that some working class people would be open to the hate-filled rhetoric of groups like PA. Fascism, as always, is useful for the ruling class because it divides the working class and distracts people from directing resistance towards real enemies associated with capitalism and the state. The corporate media use anti-asylum seeker rhetoric. The word ‘invasion’ is chosen to describe migrants arriving by hugely dangerous small boat crossings (a phenomenon itself directly resulting from the state having closed legal entry routes). There is symmetry between far-right sentiment, government policy and media rhetoric. Opposing fascists on our streets and building anti-capitalist projects are simultaneous. We must explain tirelessly to friends, family, neighbours and co-workers that the reason for worsening material conditions is not poor, dispossessed people from abroad, but the system that guarantees wealth and power for a few and social exclusion, poverty and precarity for the many.

The majority of attendees at PA’s demo were white working class men, a cohort all too readily targeted for recruitment by fascists. Dispossessed members of the working class have more than enough legitimate reasons to be angry with the system. Nonetheless, they make a fatal, disastrous mistake in blaming those that are even worse off than them for their woes. The cost of living has shot up recently, making life harder and more precarious for almost everyone except the rich and powerful. The last time we faced such a crisis was the 2008 recession and then, as now, the government forced the costs onto the poorest in society whilst bailing out the banks.

PA’s banner read ‘house the homeless before migrants’. This is a false equivalence and an example of mistaken division. The reason there is a homelessness problem in Scotland is because the government prioritises other interests. During the Covid pandemic, for example, Scottish councils, given the mandate and funding, had the means to end the vast majority of homelessness. Instead of directing their anger towards the government, PA direct it towards asylum seekers who are demonised by the state and media establishment.

In a move that might anger many supporters of independence, PA were seen to be waving the saltire at the demo. They are attempting to co-opt the Scottish flag from an independence movement which is overwhelmingly based on an inclusive sense of civic nationalism and opposition to Westminster’s austerity. PA, by contrast, have appropriated the flag to promote ethnonationalism which is explicitly imperialist, colonialist and regressive. As opposed to seeing independence as a way to rid Scotland of the racist imperialism of Westminster, they want independence as a means to exclude anyone from Scotland who isn’t ‘pure’ white and Scottish.

The rise of fascism must, of course, be addressed by all who are part of the Scottish Left. Across the environmental movement, it is a growing concern. Not only are fascists already increasingly trying to use environmental issues as an excuse to militarise borders and control populations, but the disastrous planetary future we face offers the potential seeds for an escalation of this trend. The world saw the rise of the far-right in Europe in response to the migrant crisis emerging between 2015-2018. Scotland, like other countries, will receive far more migrants as a result of the rapidly escalating ecological collapse than it did as a result of the conflicts in places such as Syria and Libya. If allowed to grow, fascism leads inexorably to racist violence and genocide. As has long been noted, it doesn’t begin with death camps, but ends there – having begun in places like Erskine with mobs of nazi thugs pretending to represent the needs of the poor. Fascism is an existential threat of the gravest kind to all that is good and progressive. All of us on the left must organise to resist it through a multi-pronged offensive rooted in anti-capitalist politics. Nae Pasaran!

Emma Òr is an antifascist activist based in Edinburgh.