After the Edinburgh date was announced the Edinburgh Anti Fascist Alliance was immediately set up to directly oppose the SDL in Edinburgh. A similar alliance had been set up in Glasgow and many of the leading organisers were present at EAFA’s debut planning meeting contributing valuable experience and advice. A few members of Unite Against Fascism also turned up and made appeals for co-operation and assured those present that both groups could work together. It was decided that the only way to effectively oppose fascism would be to organize a direct response calling on as many people as possible to mobilize to prevent the SDL from marching. This would require more public meetings and a huge leafleting and postering campaign across town. Despite EAFA having next to no funding, collections and fundraisers raised enough money to ensure that most of Edinburgh was covered with posters, and public areas and football games were flyered. On top of this EAFA gained media publicity when they wrote to pubs around town asking that the SDL be banned from congregating. All this work ensured that, on the day, 300 – 400 Anti- Fascist protesters turned up at the meeting point and were comprised not only of the organized left but also workers and youth from all over Edinburgh.
Notably Unite Against Fascism waited until just about a fortnight before the demo before doing anything. Very few of their posters appeared until a few days before the rally and when members of EAFA attended their public meeting, with under a week to go, it was clear that very little logistical planning had been made. It became apparant that UAF were planning on holding a “celebration of multiculturalism” instead of opposing the fascists. They argued we should rely on the police to stop the SDL, which given recent events with the EDL in Stoke and in Glasgow (where the SDL were allowed briefly to appear on the streets until a surge of counter demonstrators made it clear this would not be possible) seemed complacent at best.
On the Saturday, EAFA decided to meet outside Waverly train station in the town center at 9:30am so as to be well placed and ready to respond as soon as word came in from our spotters of the SDLs whereabouts. Another demonstration organised by students from Edinburgh University had gathered at 10:00am but had chosen a location deliberately near the EAFA meeting point so the two groups could join up and confront the Fascists together. The UAF demonstration was due to begin at 12.00pm where religious leaders and speakers from the Nationalists, Tories and the right wing of the Labour Party would have a platform and then was to march around town on a preplanned route.
On the day EAFA waited at the rally point until people coming from Glasgow and other areas in Scotland arrived and once a sufficient amount of time passed, marched down the main street to meet with the separate student march who had gathered. As we approached it become clear that the students had organized well and there were over 200 of them waiting to join with us. Surprisingly the UAF were leafleting right next to the students and interestingly had brought along their loudspeakers and banners, perhaps they intended to join with the Anti-Fascist groups after all! After a lot of waiting around, EAFA received information that the SDL were gathering at "Jenny Ha’s" near the bottom of the Royal Mile. Everybody set off together in good spirits marching briskly up the hill on route to the fascists. The UAF, who had been taken by surprise, chased the march and shockingly unfurled their banners at the front of the march in order to try and direct demonstrators away from the SDL and towards their own meeting point, despite the fact that they hadn’t lifted a finger in building the movement. Furthermore, their naked opportunism was personified by the UAF leadership of Weyman Bennet and Amir Anwar who used their megaphones to try to confuse people by falsely suggesting that in fact we were marching towards fellow anti fascists. This behavior shows how far the leadership of the UAF will go to dominate and restrain any form of direct antifascist activity. Despite the UAF leadership’s best efforts their cynical tactics had even less success than in Glasgow and they were simply ignored, even many people who were with the UAF ignored their leaders and kept on marching.
Despite the police’s best efforts to prevent the anti-fascist demonstrators from getting near the SDL, through sheer determination and mobility the EAFA march outmaneuvered the police lines and trapped the SDL in the pub by gathering at either side of the royal mile. Then in a repeat of Glasgow, chartered busses arrived to remove the 70 odd SDL hooligans from Edinburgh for "their own safety."
Despite winning a clear victory important lessons must be learned from the events of the 20th. Despite the best intentions of some of its members, UAF has become entrenched in popular frontism. Its leaders have become pseudo political figures trying to balance between militant working class anti-fascism and combating the far right by “mobilising civil society”. The right wing politicians and business types that they seek to use in their campaign are fully responsible for the economic crisis and are the biggest cheerleaders of capitalism. It is the poverty and despair caused by capitalism, combined with a right wing Labour government responsible for implementing cuts in public services, that has allowed the BNP to develop and provided a base for the SDL/EDL.
It is only by organising on an independent class platform and being willing to physically oppose the fascists that we can succeed as both Edinburgh and Glasgow have shown. On both occasions advanced layers of youth, but also older workers, carried the day, yet EAFA and GAFA lacked the backing of the labour movement in an organized capacity. This week, the Unison Labour Link committee in Scotland adopted a position of supporting physically opposing the BNP, this is a welcome step in the right direction and it is the duty of anti-fascists in the labour movement to connect the struggle against the thugs of the SDL/EDL and the racist poison of the BNP with the wider struggle for jobs, pay and conditions. We need to raise the argument that the bosses, alongside their political representatives, are responsible for the attacks in living standards we are currently experiencing and that all workers have an interest in fighting back together.Fascists can never be defeated by only opposing them wherever they attempt to organize. They must be tackled by removing the conditions that allow them to gain a hearing from ordinary people. Socialism is the true anti-fascism; policies, such as full employment, an £8 an hour minimum wage and full union rights for all workers alongside the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy in the interests of society as a whole and not profit would ensure that the conditions of despair that the EDL/SDL/BNP feed off would no longer exist in society. However, the scale of victory for the anti-fascists should not be played down. For the SDL the defeat was bitter and humiliating, Edinburgh was an important symbolic and strategic target and after the defeat in Glasgow their leadership was determined that their racist organization would get the kick start it needed. Despite in many ways lacking a clear political standpoint EAFA demonstrated the potential of mass working class militancy. The Scottish Defense League will struggle to regain any momentum after these significant defeats.