By Stevie McAloise
Friday 19th September, 2014, was an interesting day in Glasgow. It was, of course, the day that followed the massive 45% vote in favour of independence, more than double the previous figures in favour of Scotland breaking from the UK. Despite losing the referendum, the momentum was with the YES campaign and the optimism of the last few months continued on the streets of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, which voted in favour of independence
Loyalist thugs took to George Square to ‘celebrate’ the victory of the NO campaign, which achieved 55% of the vote. This was a strategic decision made by persons unknown in loyalist circles and the tactic involved taking the Square by force. It was a strategic move, a show of force by loyalism, to take over George Square due to it having become an informal gathering point for YES activists during the campaign. Police Scotland would have known through their intelligence sources within loyalism that a takeover of George Square was planned for the Friday afternoon. Social media indicated the involvement of the fascist organisation Britain First in collaboration with extreme elements of loyalism and the Orange Order. The tactic was to reclaim the centre of Glasgow (a city that voted for independence) from the SNP and the left. George Square had acquired the nickname ‘Freedom Square’ during the campaign because it become a gathering point for YES campaigners. The loyalists were putting down a marker for the future, their claim that ‘Glasgow is our city’ flew in the face of the democratically expressed sentiments of Glasgwegians for independence. It was a show of force based on the fascistic notion that ‘he who controls the streets, controls the city.’
A crew from Russia Today (RT) filmed throughout the day from a vantage point overlooking George Square. I watched the video feed from outside of Scotland as the fascists and loyalists gathered at the Cenotaph end of the Square. I sent texts to friends in Glasgow to let them know my concerns that there was a gradual increase in numbers of loyalists on the square and predicted that they would, once they had gathered sufficient numbers, move to clear the square of YES supporters. At around 4pm the loyalists made their move, facilitated by the police in the square who appeared to be initially happy to let them approach the mainly young people at the other end of the square to intimidate and threaten them. When a group of loyalists broke off to chase people out of the square the police appeared to wake up and put a line of officers between the two groups. However, the loyalist crowd continued to grow and by dusk had turned into an angry mob intent on attacking anyone who carried a Saltire or wore a YES badge, or who looked suitably ‘Fenian’ enough to justify a pasting. Channel 4’s “award winning” journalist, Alex Thomson described this baying mob as ‘good natured’ in his live report. In the next couple of hours they rampaged around the city centre completely out of control ‘good naturedly’ administering slaps, punches and kicks to anyone that looked like they might be on the other side of the debate. This is ‘good natured’ discussion, loyalist style. Nothing to seehere, move along please.
What happened in George Square the day after the referendum is an indication of how far some unionists will go to preserve the link with the British state. Theirs is not the politics of reason and debate, theirs is the politics of violence and intimidation. Those who oppose independence can see the line of this march, they already know where this will end and they are preparing the ground for the reaction against it… And the reaction is likely to be a violent one.
In spite of the violent opposition of loyalists, the YES supporters remained upbeat, enthusiastic and optimistic about the future. It was only a matter of time and, with the general election ahead in a few months, Scots would have the perfect opportunity to deliver a bloody nose to unionism and the political parties who had formed an unholy alliance in support of the political status quo. The result of their efforts was apparent in the spectacular victory of the SNP at the recent election.Rumours are rife that, during the referendum campaign, a deal was struck between the Orange Order and the city’s Labour Party that traded future use of the centre of the city, and the iconic heart of Glasgow, for their co-operation with the NO side. Loyalists and fascists from the east end and southside were spotted in the preceding days trying to attack and provoke YES campaigners. Many of the loyalists who turned up at the Square in the days before the 19th September carried official, red and yellow, Labour Party ‘NO’ posters. ‘Orangefest’ might well be regarded as payback, a ‘thank you’ from the Scottish Labour Party to the neanderthals of unionism and loyalism.
One of the consequences of the general election results in Scotland, and the referendum campaign that preceded it, has been an awakening of a national and political consciousness among many Scots citizens. Old political loyalties were smashed assunder by the election of 56 SNP MP’s out of a total of 59 MP’s in Scotland. If unionism is not already dead in Alba, it is almost certainly on its last legs and in its death throes. It is against this political background that ‘Orangefest’ must be viewed.
Liberal commentators like Ian McWhirter in today’s Herald have called for ‘toleration’ of the Orange Order event in Glasgow this weekend. It’s all fine and dandy for middle-class liberals like McWhirter to wax lyrical about ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘right of assembly’, because it is rarely folk like him who have to deal with the consequences of sectarianism. Toleration of the intolerant is not a liberal position; it is appeasement of an irrational, politically illiberal, fascistic ideology.
The important questions that should be raised around ‘Orangefest’ relate to the role of Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland in allowing the city centre to become a playground for religious bigots on a busy summer Saturday for no less than seven hours.
Scots are rejecting the old political chicanery of the Labour Party and the old bigotries of Orange and Green. This is a reality that republicans in Scotland must be prepared to engage with and politically embrace. It does not mean a renouncing of political principle, nor does it involve turning our backs on the political struggle for a united Ireland, but it does involve a willingness to rethink and renew strategy and tactics. The old ‘march, march and march again’ tactics have to be re-examined. Is it tactically relevant to continue with a movement that is primarily built around militaristic flute bands? Whatever anyone says in Scotland or Ireland, the bands are not a political vanguard any more. That is not to deny their history or the contributon that they made to the struggle, but in a period where we need to rebuild on principled republican positions, do they have a constructive political role to play?
I can see no point any longer in continuing with a ‘march and grow’strategy based around flute band parades. That doesn’t mean that I am in favour of disbanding the republican flute bands, but I believe that a sober assessment of the role of the bands is necessary. They are a cultural phenomenon that might well continue as republican youth organisations, teaching music and history to our young people. Perhaps encouraging the involvement of professional musicians as teachers in the band scene might one day produce a concert flautist or a fantastic folk performer? What they will not produce is a political leadership.
Some involved in republicanism over a long period have recognised the dead end of a strategy that is primarily based upon marching bands. There are no Edinburgh based republican flute bands, nor is there a march organised by any Irish republican organisations in that city. I contacted the organisers of the James Connolly Commemoration before writing this piece and they confirmed that they have not organised a march in Edinburgh since 2006 and that their commemoration now involves a static rally with speakers and folk music, rather than flute bands. The JCS want to reach out beyond the periphery of Irish republicanism and have politically adapted to new realities.
The flute band march that has taken place in Edinburgh in the last couple of years is organised by bands from the West of Scotland. They are not wanted in Edinburgh and they have very little support locally, not even from those who are supposedly on the same political ‘side’. This is an import from the West of Scotland that undermines an already established annual event (in its 29th year) that takes place in the city to commemorate the life of James Connolly. It is wrong and it is politically sectarian, but it also involves the curious role of Police Scotland and local councils in accommodating such events, whether it be ‘Orangefest’ in Glasgow, or Glasgow flute bands marching in Edinburgh. It is a ‘divide and rule’ strategy driven by the state and far too many republicans are falling for it.
I realise that by writing this article I will have put myself out on a limb to a large extent and that many friends and comrades who are still involved in flute bands will strongly disagree with me. However, as with everything that TAL Fanzine has done over the years, we stand for what we believe to be right, not for what we think is going to be popular.
A new politics is emerging in Scotland, one that is not only discussing independence, but that is moving on to a debate about the type of country we want to become; what type of government do we envisage for an independent nation?
Currently the SNP is still wedded to a policy of independence under a constitutional monarchy. Many, radicalised by the referendum campaign, have started to question the whole nature of the relationship with the British state and its antiquated system of government. Republicans, Scottish and Irish, should be to the fore in this debate. We favour the break up of the UK state and the establishment of a Scottish republic, a nation of citizens rather than subjects. That means, not only breaking the union, but also breaking all links to the British monarchy.
This is the political debate with which Irish republicans based in Scotland must engage. New strategies and new tactics will help Scotland to break the link with Britain and, as a consequence, will further the cause of Irish unity.
This article was originally published on Tal Fanzine
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