How a small Scottish town became a flashpoint for racial hate

How a small Scottish town became a flashpoint for racial hate
By: Ladyboy Posted On: March 12, 2023 View: 117

How a small Scottish town became a flashpoint for racial hate


THE small town of Erskine is at the heart of an ugly series of events which brings together the most toxic and divisive faultlines in society.

It began when far-right protesters started targeting Erskine in early February against refugees housed in a local hotel. Counter-demonstrations were launched by trade unionists. The clashes take place every Sunday – and are set to continue.

After festering for weeks, events have boiled over, triggering a wave of criticism from the SNP, Greens, STUC, refugee organisations, and anti-racist campaigners towards the Conservative Party.

It is blamed for creating a fertile breeding ground for far-right extremism in Scotland through austerity policies, Britain’s “broken” immigration system, and inflammatory rhetoric which scapegoats refugees.

The UN’s refugee agency says that current Conservative proposals banning those making small boat crossings from claiming asylum “would be a clear breach of the refugee convention”. The EU says that the plans “violate” international law.

Protests

Protests by the organisation Patriotic Alternative (PA), referred to by some people as neo-Nazi, are taking place at Erskine’s Muthu Hotel, where refugees seeking asylum are housed. PA has used inflammatory rhetoric, claiming the hotel houses “almost 200 unvetted fighting age migrant males”.

Specific numbers vary, however, from 15 to 174. Police say they are monitoring “community tensions”. One person has been reported to the procurator fiscal for hate crime.

One of PA’s Scottish activists, Kenny Smith, made fiery speeches outside the hotel to chants of “Erskine says no” from supporters. Smith posted videos on social media about Britain becoming a “white minority”. He refers to opponents as “commie ladyboys”, “marxist freaks”, and “filth”.

PA has staged protests outside hotels across Britain, from Cornwall to Lincolnshire. Following a riot at Knowsley in Merseyside, during which a police vehicle was burned, local MP George Howarth said he had “concerns about the involvement of far-right groups from outside of Knowsley such as Patriotic Alternative … seeking to stir up racial hatred”. The MP asked whether the UK Government was considering outlawing PA.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said “so-called ‘migrant hunts’ organised by far-right groups … have doubled in the last year”. Referring to Suella Braverman’s “invasion” rhetoric, Cooper said “the Home Secretary’s language has also appeared on some of the placards” by anti-refugee protesters.

Hope Not Hate

CIVIL rights organisation, Hope Not Hate, monitors PA and describes it as “neo-Nazi”. Its PA expert, David Lawrence, said: “It launched in 2019, founded by a former leading member of the British National Party, Mark Collett, who had a hardline reputation.

They are so active they easily outstrip any other far-right group. The temporary accommodation of asylum seekers is a flashpoint for them. They are targeting this issue more than other far-right groups and are disseminating locally-specific leaflets, infiltrating local community Facebook groups, attending residence meetings, and either attending protests organised by locals or organising their own protests.

“They’re a very extreme group. They take pains to hide this when dealing with the public. Anti-Semitism is at the heart of PA. Their whole worldview is dependent on the conspiratorial idea of Jewish people trying to destroy white people through encouraging immigration. Their central myth is ‘the white genocide conspiracy’.”

In 2021, The Jewish Chronicle reported that Collett “promoted Mein Kampf to thousands of followers online”.

Collett was covertly filmed in a 2002 documentary called Young, Nazi And Proud, admitting he admired Hitler, and describing Aids as a “friendly disease” as “blacks, drug users and gays have it”.

HeraldScotland:

However, Lawerence says PA “is practised at downplaying the more outlandish aspects of their beliefs in order to find wider reach”. There are images of “well-known activists performing straight arm salutes”. Online discussions are “rife with a fetish for the Third Reich”.

PA’s Scottish branch is “its most active”, says Lawrence. There is also a Scottish splinter group called Highland Division, which is “more overtly Nazi”. Kenny Smith, who organises the Erskine protests, was in the BNP.

He is now PA’s national admin officer, and “one of its four most influential figures”.

Former PA member, Kristofer Kearney, recently pleaded guilty to disseminating terrorist publications. He is said to have been an active member of the neo-Nazi group National Action until just before it was banned for glorifying the murder of MP Jo Cox. He then switched to PA, it is claimed. It is believed he became PA’s “head of fitness”.

Kearney was co-host of PA’s official podcast, Lawrence says. “We’ve exposed several links between people active within PA, and active in National Action prior to its ban. This is a matter for the authorities to investigate.” There “was at least one” PA member at Knowsley during the riot, Lawrence adds.


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PA wants to achieve political office, says Lawrence, but so far applications to become a political party have been refused by the Electoral Commission. “However, their ultimate idea is to lay the groundwork for a white ethnostate.”

Mark Collett was a “child prodigy” within the BNP and “very close” to former leader Nick Griffin.

Lawrence adds: “They’re still fringe, they don’t have the BNP’s brand recognition, but they’re extreme, that’s the risk – there’s a very nasty current running through PA. They’re trying to stir up trouble and inflame tensions around the country.”

Politicians

GREEN MSP Maggie Chapman wrote to the Home Office about the Erskine protests, saying some “attendees are individuals with reported links to National Action, a terror group banned by the UK Government.” She raised the question whether Patriotic Alternative should be proscribed.

“Domestic far-right extremism,” Chapman says, “is an increasing threat to the safety and stability of our communities … 45 per cent of Home Office referrals are related to right-wing extremism.”

Chapman says the use of hotels is “a clear symptom of the failure of the UK Government’s approach to asylum”. Hotels were meant to be “temporary”.

She adds: “The fact we’ve seen asylum seekers in the same hotel for months, even years, shows it’s become institutionalised. The process of dealing with applications and dispersal isn’t working.”

The UK Government provides ammunition to the far right by failing to tackle this issue, Chapman says. “Hotels become a target of groups like PA.”

HeraldScotland:

The focus on refugees diverts attention away from government economic failures, Chapman believes. “The UK Government is banking on people looking for scapegoats at a time of economic hardship. We’ve seen this over and over again in history.”

She adds that austerity was “fertile territory to sow the seeds of hate”. Government must focus on “uniting communities when there’s the far right on the streets”, and tackling “the gross inequalities in society” through better economic and social policies.

“We must ensure we don’t sustain those racist, far-right views. If we don’t act, this isn’t going away … I’m surprised we haven’t seen violence already. If we don’t tackle this hatred as soon as we can violence is probably inevitable. I hope I’m wrong but history tells us if we don’t address the root causes that’s not good for anyone.”

Lee Anderson, Conservative deputy chairman, recently said he felt “sympathy” for hotel protesters. “It’s sickening,” says Chapman. “It’s like ‘predict trouble, cause trouble, say I told you so’.” She says the UK Government had “laid racist groundwork. There’s been constant anti-immigration rhetoric. What we’re seeing is the inevitable working out of that, and the emboldened activities of PA.”

She also urged empathy. “Listen to the stories of asylum seekers in that hotel, stuck in their rooms, and seeing this mob saying ‘you’re not welcome here, Erskine doesn’t want you’. They’ve fled war or persecution, and this is what they’re met with. The long-term psychological trauma, the exacerbation of existing trauma, cannot be underestimated.”

The majority of asylum seekers have their claims approved, she says, adding that many of those being protested against will eventually become “part of our community. What kind of problems does that create for the future if this is their formative experience of Britain?”. Chapman says protests have left those in hotels “terrified and intimated”.

Gavin Newlands, Erskine’s local SNP MP, says the “hotel policy is the manifestation of Tory Party failure on immigration”. Refugees are also housed in hotels in Greenock and Paisley, he adds.

Newlands has “zero issue” with housing refugees in his constituency but criticised the “Home Office implementation” of the scheme and its “scale”. The initial plan was to house 174 young men, he says, making Erskine “the largest hotel in use in the whole of the UK … potentially four times the numbers housed in Paisley”.

There was “no engagement” with locals. That caused “disinformation” and a “vacuum which allowed the far right to come in”. Newlands says he has put the community’s “genuine concerns” to the Home Office. “It’s not about where they’re from, they could be from Montrose,” he points out. “But getting so many young men can be potentially intimidating.” Newlands says it would be better if more families were part of the “cohort”.


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He also stated that there were “plenty” of locals “who have no issue” with the hotel scheme. If there had been Home Office engagement locally, “the programme would have been more acceptable, perhaps even welcomed”.

“However, those valid concerns have been hijacked by the far right,” he adds. Far-right groups are now blaming the SNP, Newlands says, “even though we cannot do anything directly about it”. Immigration is reserved.

Newlands was warned PA planned to visit his surgery. “When we go into Erskine for surgeries, police have to attend,” he adds. His staff now use panic alarms. “We had to close our office on Friday as we got intelligence PA were coming.”

Although Newlands says he understands locals’ concerns, despite the fact “some are stoked by disinformation from the far right”, he is “disgusted” with PA targeting Erskine. He has warned locals not to engage with PA. “They aren’t here to support the community, they’re here to advance their fascist agenda.”

He adds: “Foreigners and immigration are being blamed for inequality … It’s got nothing to do with them. It’s all to do with UK Government policies.”

HeraldScotland:

Campaigner

ROBINA Qureshi is Scotland’s most prominent campaigner for refugees. Her charity Positive Action in Housing helps refugees find homes. The far right are active in Erskine, she says, as “politicians are starting fires with their words”.

“The far right are terrorising people,” Qureshi adds. She said it wasn’t “young, single men in hotels, it’s married men who won’t bring their children over until they’ve found safe routes for them. They won’t put their kids in boats.”

Those in hotels “aren’t scammers”. They are fleeing war, persecution and torture, she says, and only receive £9.10 a week from the state.

She mentions one Palestinian doctor forbidden from working for the NHS while his asylum application was being processed. “Yes, there are people trafficking from Albania, but [most refugees] are from Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Iran.”

Qureshi adds: “The far right is being inspired by the children of immigrants: Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman. If their families made the same journey today they’d be taking boats.”

There is a “colour bar”, she says, with Ukrainian refugees treated better than “war refugees of colour”.

The only answer, she believes, is “safe routes” for all refugees fleeing war – as there is for Ukrainians. “Nobody wants to go to smugglers.”

Many transiting through Europe to Britain do so as they only have English as a second language. At least 60% of those making boat crossings eventually gain refugee status, the Refugee Council says.

People are in hotels as the UK Government hasn’t processed applications, refugee campaigners say. Quickly processing applicants and allowing them to work would be economically beneficial to Britain, they say, rather than paying millions for hotels.

Life in hotels is miserable, according to Qureshi, with many traumatised people suffering mental and physical problems, with no money, and nothing to occupy them. In 2020, an asylum seeker with mental health problems in a Glasgow hotel was shot dead after stabbing six people.

He had made 72 calls to officials asking for help. No lessons were learned, Qureshi says.

“There’s tinder boxes all over Britain. When you treat people badly, it creates worse outcomes for society.”

Trade unions

SCOTLANd’s trade unions are leading the counter-demonstrations in Erskine. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer says: “The Home Secretary has been complicit in the reappearance of these neo-fascists crawling out from under their rocks.

“They’re empowered by the UK Government demonising migrants, actively gaslighting local communities into believing that, somehow, the economic disaster caused by the Tory government is the fault of those seeking refuge … A community-led fightback, supported by our movement, has defeated fascists time and time again. This won’t be any different.”

Local trade unionist Robert Parker said anti-refugee rhetoric at Erskine included terms like “white people first”. His colleague Colin Mack heard chants of “white lives matter”, adding: “They just want scapegoats, which is want happened in Germany in the thirties. Erskine needs funding, not fascists.”

Trade unionist Tam Morrison said the “degrading of public services” by the Scottish and British governments “enabled” the far-right, adding: “Social problems which are attracting working-class people to fascists need tackled”.

All three have organised counter-demonstrations at Erskine. It is estimated up to 150 PA members came to the largest protest, with many “bussed in” from England. Morrison worries matters might “turn ugly” if PA continues to bus in protesters. Unions would have to respond by “mobilising massive numbers”.

Refugees have shouted down from hotel windows thanking counter-demonstrators for support. PA tries to hide that they’re “fascist”, trade unionists say. When some locals discovered PA were leading the campaign “they broke off their own protest”. A few locals, though, are “heavily racist, anti-government conspiracy theorists”.

Dr Talat Ahmed, co-chair of the STUC’s black workers committee, convener of Stand Up To Racism Scotland, and a senior history lecturer at Edinburgh University, said the Conservative government had “given a green light” to PA by “demonising refugees” and blaming them “for all society’s ills”. The hotel protests are “the clearest expression in many years of the far right feeling confident”.

Those in hotels are “some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, which makes what’s happening so horrendous”, she adds.

Trade unionists say counter-demonstrations will continue as long as PA protests. “We won’t allow our streets to be taken over by thugs,” Ahmed says. “It’s important those inside hotels know there’s people opposing the politics of hate. If the far right were given the opportunity, they’d annihilate the freedoms we hold dear.” PA ramping up racial tensions is frightening, Ahmed feels, particularly after a far-right extremist in Dover firebombed an immigration centre.


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The Knowsley riot, she adds, “was a stark warning. The growth of the far right is happening at the same time that we’ve the most severe economic crisis in five decades. It’s biting deep into our society. We’ve seen the politics of scapegoating before historically. We need to expose the far right for what they are and offer a different vision to people under the cosh economically. We can’t allow the far right to deflect attention onto the most miserable and vulnerable. Instead, point to where the real ills lie: the politicians making the laws.”

Layla-Roxanne Hill sits on the STUC’s general council and wrote the book Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland. She was “shocked” at the number of anti-refugee protesters in Erskine. “They weren’t all PA folk,” Hill adds. Many were local.

There was rhetoric in Erskine “about white women, upholding whiteness … purity”. Hill says the left must take some blame for what’s happened, for failing to connect with marginalised communities. Nor is Scotland as “progressive” as imagined, she feels. “Anger is piling up. Unless we’re serious about addressing that, we’re in real trouble.”

Accusation

PA LEADER Mark Collett refused to respond when it was put to him that he and his organisation are “neo-Nazi”. “I don’t deal with these silly definitions,” he said. “When you start calling somebody names rather than dealing with the issues, that’s because you’re unable or unwilling to deal with the issues.”

Collett said the “legitimate” concerns of locals were being ignored or “covered up” by politicians and the media. “When it’s white people, nobody is interested, and when we go and listen to them and help them the only response is to call us names. The media and the government are vehemently anti-white.”

“We’re unashamedly pro-white and stand up for the interests of the indigenous people of these islands: white British people,” he added.

He said the Knowsley riot “wasn’t a PA event”. However, one local PA member had “turned up and filmed it”.

When asked if PA protests intimidated those in hotels, he responded by calling them “criminals” for “entering the country illegally”.

Collett added: “This tells me everything I need to know about the

anti-white bias the media employs. What you’re trying to do is build a story that there are unfortunate refugees in hotels who feel marginalised – their feelings are hurt – and then nasty neo-Nazis turn up and scare them.”

When the case of the former leading PA member, Kristofer Kearney, was put to him, Collett claimed: “He pleaded guilty to recklessness.” This is false. Kearney pleaded guilty to disseminating terrorist publications.

Collett said that “post-Trump, post-Brexit” words like ‘Nazi’, ‘bigot’ and ‘racist’ no longer had “an effect”, adding: “Those words are becoming increasingly meaningless.”

Regarding reports in The Jewish Chronicle about him promoting Mein Kampf, he said: “I don’t care what The Jewish Chronicle says”, adding: “I’m not interested in their hypocritical babble.”

He claimed “there’s big change coming”. Collett said that as an “ethno-nationalist” he “desires a largely ethnically homogenous country”. Collett added: “Protests will continue all over the country until this issue is solved.”

He refused to accept his organisation was a small, fringe group, claiming: “We don’t have a formal membership system.”

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