The far-right Scottish Defence League (SDL) organised a “march against immigration” on Saturday in reaction to the escalating European refugee crisis, prompting a counter-demonstration from SDL’s long-standing ideological opponent, Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
Edinburgh’s UAF branch organised a rally to denounce bigotry, racism and fascism on 3 October, the same date as the SDL’s anti-immigration march.
While UAF’s first aim is not refugee support, they insist that the issues of immigration and racism are closely linked. “AYE to Refugees – NAE to Nazis”, the counter-rally’s Facebook event declared: “Edinburgh is a city that welcomes the world.”
Speaking to The Student, Luke, a member of UAF, explained the motivations behind UAF’s counter-demonstration: “We believe that racist and fascist groups should not be unopposed on our streets. We want to demonstrate that their views are the minority and at the fringes of society.”
UAF’s initiative was backed by a wide range of civic organisations and politicians from Edinburgh and beyond, such as ‘UNITE Scotland’, ‘Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees’, Labour MP Ian Murray, and Green MSP Patrick Harvie.
Edinburgh Council had previously banned the SDL’s 3 October 3 anti-immigration march because two other marches had already been planned for the same day. Fears of significant disruptions also contributed to the decision to move against the SDL. The SDL, however, decided to hold a static demonstration instead.
The anti-SDL rally, meanwhile, gathered at the Mound early in the afternoon. A few short speeches were given while people continued to gather. Following the speeches, the counter-demonstration’s planned marching route took the crowd from the Mound down Princes Street Gardens, past the Scott Monument, and stopped in front of the Balmoral Hotel.
A number of policemen were deployed to oversee the event and the traffic was disrupted on Princes Street during the first half of the afternoon.
Despite some provocation from a few SDL demonstrators, no significant clashes were observed over the course of the afternoon.
The crowd chanted various slogans in support of refugees: “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” was called, and the crowd also moved on to mock the SDL: “How do you spell pathetic? S.D.L.”.
Several speeches of solidarity for the refugees were given. One demonstrator reminded those present of Britain’s role during the Second World War in taking in refugees: “Britain has a proud tradition of welcoming those who seek sanctuary on our shores.”
Charlotte, a member of the UAF committee Scotland, was interviewed by The Student. She said: “When something goes badly in our country, it has always been easy to blame the immigrants. Think of the recession, or the housing crisis. The refugee crisis has just added fuel to the argument. So it’s up to people like us to put the arguments against them and to organise.”
Towards the end of the rally, before the crowd dispersed, another anonymous demonstrator gave a speech, heard by The Student: “We want to make sure that they know that they are loved and welcomed, that we do all we can to address the trauma and suffering they’ve gone through. Scotland can do that, we will do it. We will stand together, united and we will let every refugee know that our streets are their streets.”
Image: Joshua Brown