On November 25, we at the STUC will hold our annual St Andrews Day March and Rally against racism and fascism.

The event first took place in the 1980s in conjunction with the Campaign for Racial Equality. It was an act of resistance. Organised fascist groups, the National Front and BNP, who for many years had sought to claim St George’s Day in England as a focus for intimidating and attacking Black and Ethnic Minority people, had turned their attention to Scotland. They sought to capture Scotland’s Day for their own pernicious ends. Together we said no. Our alternative was to take to the streets in a show of solidarity where trade union banners were carried alongside those of anti-racism, community and cultural organisations.

Every year since, with the exception of two Covid years, we have marched. Importantly, we have never indulged in false exceptionalism. Scotland had and still has a problem with racism. We marched with the family of Surjit Singh Chhokar who had been murdered in a racist attack and for whom it took nearly two decades to secure justice. Since 2015, we have continued to march with the family of Sheku Bayoh whose family are still seeking that same justice at the public inquiry into his killing.

We also march for a humane system of immigration, blind to colour and free of right-wing weaponisation. The UK Government’s toxic approach to refugees has seen asylum seekers dispersed to hotel accommodation in Scotland’s towns, many of which are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis at the same time as Suella Braverman and friends have filled the airwaves with the most toxic rhetoric imaginable. Cue the arrival of racist groups spreading fear and attempting to sew division in our communities. Different names, but the same old faces. The Patriotic Alternative Scotland, whose supporters have included holocaust-denying neo-Nazis, have tried to set up camp in Erskine shouting their vile hate at frightened young men, women and children. Every Sunday, they continue to be opposed by trade union and community activists. Earlier this summer, Hitler cosplayer Alex Yerbury, whose National Support Detachment (NSD) is an even more right-wing breakaway from the Patriotic Alternative, was sent packing from the town of Elgin by the local community, led by trades unionists from the Moray Trades Council.

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Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism in all their forms are a real and ever-present threat. The far right has always understood that racism can take root most easily among working-class communities where economic desperation can be exploited to incite people to the wrong conclusions. Our role is to point to the right way and to work to build community cohesion against the real enemy: the alienation that poverty and disempowerment brings.

It should be noted then, in this week of all weeks, that the marches and demonstrations we organise, whilst seeking to project an idea of a better future, are invariably against something.

It is a fact of life that people tend not to be motivated to swap their Saturday plans for gatherings designed to pat governments on the back and tell them they are doing well. Marches are, by and large, a calling for change. And they are normally targeted against the government of the day.

Which is why people in power tend to detest such protests. Suella Braverman’s failed attempts this week to ban the London march for a ceasefire in Gaza by branding it a "hate march" has used the framing that it is disrespectful and contrary to "British values". Replace the "contrary to British values" with "contrary to Suella Braverman’s values" and we get closer to the truth.

In Suella Braverman’s world, the same fascists and Holocaust deniers we have been fighting from Erskine to Elgin can roll up to the Cenotaph whenever they like, without rebuke, whereas marching for a ceasefire in Gaza, on armistice day, the day before Remembrance Sunday, no closer than two miles from the Cenotaph, is apparently taboo.

Braverman’s rhetoric is probably best explained by her desire to win the next inevitable Tory leadership contest. What is more concerning is the slew of so-called liberal establishment figures and centrist commentators who are, to a greater or lesser extent, taking her side. The hackneyed response to such marches tends to try and invoke the so-called "silent majority"; those who tend to suggest that if "only" half a million people take to the streets, all of those who don’t must think differently. This is ridiculous. In 1986 when a quarter of a million people took to the streets of London to protest Thatcher’s support for South African apartheid, did everyone else in the country support the white supremacist regime? In 2003, when on one single day upwards of a million people across the UK took to the streets to protest Blair’s plan to invade Iraq, did everyone else support the war? And we know for a fact that when hundreds of thousands take to the streets calling for a ceasefire in Gaza tomorrow, their call is supported by three-quarters of the UK public. A similar proportion in the United States supports the same call.

None of this is to say we should not be vigilant and respectful of those who take a different view. This week RMT leader Mick Lynch, in pledging to attend the march tomorrow made clear that if, instead of keeping respectfully clear of Armistice as it does, the march had caused disruption to remembrance events the next day, he would not be there. We agree.

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Neither should anyone pretend that among the hundreds of thousands of people gathering in such public events, there will not be some individuals whose support is motivated by malicious intent. These people are quite demonstrably few, but that does not mean they should not be challenged and rooted out. That’s what anti-racists do. Anti-Semitism is a problem across the political spectrum. Ripping down pictures of Israeli Jews massacred in the horrific Hamas attack last month is an act of hate. Carrying placards equating Jews with the Nazis is an act of hate. These acts must be resisted even, as we say without fear of contradiction, that the overwhelming majority of those who march for a ceasefire are motivated by a desire to end the killing in Gaza and against the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.

Would there be so many people on the streets if the UK Government was calling for a ceasefire? Or if it refused, as it should, to sell ever more weapons to Israel to continue the genocide of Palestinians? The answer is probably no.

Just as our annual St Andrew’s Day march includes a call for change, so are the marches for a ceasefire. One has to wonder though, if Suella Braverman’s reach extended this far, would she be trying to ban our march too?

Roz Foyer is General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress