Sectarianism lies behind the failure of the far-right Scottish Defence League to garner any public support in Scotland, its critics have claimed
Opponents of the anti-Islam group said that it was finished north of the border and cited religious bigotry as one of the main factors behind its failure. With the organisation apparently in meltdown, the Sunday Herald can reveal the group has only 25 members. Less than 100 SDL supporters attended a recent rally in Edinburgh where they were outnumbered by a coalition of more than 2,000 anti-fascists.
The rally was only the second time they had protested north of the border, and the low turn-out was in stark contrast to the English Defence League, which attracted more than 1,500 people to its last event in Stoke.
Amid allegations that some members were police informers, the SDL closed its Facebook page after the capital rally and directed supporters to a members-only website with strict instructions that anyone wishing to join must be known by at least two people in the SDL.
The SDL previously claimed it had 800 supporters but the new site lists only 25 members. One member called Mark1690 uses a picture of King William of Orange on a white horse while another uses the moniker God Save Our Queen. The site has a video of Enoch Powell giving his infamous Rivers of Blood speech in 1968. In England, the core of the English Defence League is football hooligan firms who have called an unprecedented nationwide truce to support the movement, but in Scotland this collective agreement has failed to materialise.
The Sunday Herald has learned that casuals who follow Hibernian and Celtic football clubs planned to attack the SDL in Edinburgh because it is made up mainly of protestant Rangers and Hearts football fans.
Members of the Capital City Service, a hooligan group that attaches itself to Hibernian, said Celtic fans had contacted them in advance of the SDL demo and asked to join together. “We were already making our own plans to ambush the SDL. The CCS would never support the SDL,” a CCS member said.
Luke Henderson, of Unite Against Fascism, said sectarianism had undoubtedly played a major part in denting support for the SDL. “The Scottish disease [sectarianism] meant that many football casuals refused to support a right-wing SDL comprising mainly of Rangers fans. There has also been a mass mobilisation against the SDL from the outset in Scotland and we have built a strong activist base.”
David Miller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Strathclyde and founder of the politics website Spinwatch, said that the failure of the SDL to garner support also reflected the political landscape in Scotland.
He said: “I think it is related to the more consensual approach of the political parties in Scotland. The political class in England has not been as united against the EDL. The sight of Tory Annabel Goldie addressing an anti-racist demonstration on Glasgow Green is one obvious contrast. Those associated with the David Cameron leadership in London, especially think-tanks like the Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion, have been at the forefront of Muslim baiting and have limited the chances of a common response. There is also more support for the British National Party in England.”
Spinwatch revealed recently that some SDL leaders were members of the British National Party, but this claim was denied by the group.
Casuals United, a nationwide umbrella group of football casuals that supports the English, Scottish and Welsh Defence Leagues, admitted that it had not been possible to unite hooligan “firms” north of the border.
“The Scottish football lads seem unable to forget their differences and cannot get past the sectarian divide. We are speaking to various Scottish firms, trying to unite them, and we will not give up,” said Mickey Smith, a hooligan with Cardiff City’s Soul Crew, and spokesman for Casuals United. His colleague Jeff Marsh, founder of both Casuals United and the Welsh Defence League, was sentenced last week for causing an affray and possessing an offensive weapon. Marsh pleaded guilty and was given a four-month suspended jail term, 150 hours’ community service and ordered to pay £600 costs. He was also banned from football matches for five years.
Marsh was arrested in Cardiff last summer after attacking Celtic fans who had travelled for a friendly match with Cardiff City.
What remains of the SDL remains defiant, however, and the group claimed to have held a small vigil in Lockerbie last week. The meeting had been scheduled for March 27 in response to Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi but was brought forward.
An SDL spokesman said: “The reason we changed the date was simple, we had no interest in bringing disorder and the red fascist circus to this lovely Scottish town. We wanted to remember those who were murdered [in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103] with dignity and without left-wing fascists charging around the town looking for confrontation.”
It was also claimed that EDL supporters were in discussions about visiting Northern Ireland for the annual July 12 Orange parades. The claim was made by the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, but denied by Alan Lake, an EDL leader in London, who said he had no knowledge of a Northern Ireland connection.
A spokesman for the Orange Order said anyone intent on violence should not travel to parades in Northern Ireland.
“Our parades celebrate our culture and tradition and are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people across Northern Ireland. Anyone who wishes to attend these parades for other reasons than to celebrate Orangeism is not welcome,” he said.
The Rangers Worldwide Alliance, an official global network of supporters clubs, was contacted but declined to comment.