The attempt by the Scottish Defence League (SDL) to stage a rally in Edinburgh on 20 February was the mother of all damp squibs, as the “patriots” were confined to a couple of pubs in the vicinity of the Royal Mile. For those who had travelled up from England in solidarity, it was, at best, a poor introduction to Scotland’s boozers. Certainly the Scottish Defence League, the little brother of the English Defence League (EDL), must be getting the message that they really aren’t welcome on the streets of Scotland.
The mobilisation against their Glasgow rally in November should have pointed them in that direction, but Edinburgh’s robust rejection of them and their pitiful turnout may have taken a certain amount of wind out of their sails.
So, in Scotland, perhaps the phenomenon of the SDL/EDL has been at least temporarily halted (but let’s not get complacent). The same cannot be said for England where the EDL seems to be on a roll, despite state surveillance and police raids.
The SDL/EDL have emerged as a grassroots mobilisation of “mainstream” opinion and a reflection of the growth of nationalism and the militarisation in society as a whole. The energetic, populist anti-politically-correct nature of the SDL/EDL has tapped a vein of real sympathy on the part of many people. A fear of the Islamicisation of Britain, however far-fetched, has been inculcated by the media, linking up with a patriotic militarism demonstrated by “supporting our boys” fighting the Taliban. The SDL/EDL seemingly came out of nowhere and has been able to mobilise fairly large numbers in a short time. But while many opposed to the SDL/EDL like to describe and dismiss them as a fascist or even “Nazi” organisation, the reality seems somewhat more complex.
Patently the organisations are (British) nationalist, militaristic, racist and Islamophobic. And certainly known fascists have been involved from the very start. However, what is also certain is that they have mobilised large numbers of mostly working class people who are not fascists and not necessarily sympathetic to the British National Party, never mind the further reaches of the far-right in Britain such as the British People’s Party and the National Front. The response to them so far has been both insufficient and in some ways wrong-headed. It has been mostly led by leftists who dismiss the activity as a simple case of fascist mobilisation which can be solved by physically stopping the SDL/EDL from being visible on the streets.
The machismo of this response discourages a deeper analysis of the political issues and the experiences of the people to whom the far right appeals. The SDL/EDL reflect a rightwards shift in British society and point to the failure of those with radical, ostensibly pro-working class politics to maintain a foothold amongst their “natural” constituency.
If this isn’t addressed, then the SDL and EDL may only be the beginning of a very reactionary popular militaristic movement.