- Created: Thursday, 10 March 2011 12:00
- Written by FRFI
Republican march in Edinburgh
On 3 May the Labour controlled Lothian Regional Council banned a march planned for the following Saturday to commemorate Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary leader, James Connolly. The Labour Council had given way to loyalist threats and anti-Republican hysteria whipped up by the Scottish media, especially Robert Maxwell's Daily Record. On 3 May this 'newspaper' had a front page article condemning the march as 'an IRA victory parade for the killings in Holland'.
Labour not only banned the march but also banned Edinburgh MP Ron Brown, due to speak at the commemoration, from commenting on their decision. The march was organised by the Rising Phoenix flute band. Johnny, a band member, talked to FRFI about the banning and the fight for democratic rights in Scotland.
What was the march about and how did you go about preparing for it?
James Connolly was born in Edinburgh, and there's never been a major march commemorating him here. We thought it was about time that this great socialist and revolutionary was recognised in his home town.
We organised a leafleting campaign, getting round all the left-wing groups.
How did the opposition to the march get organised?
In February, when we first announced the march to the police, they must have been right on the phone to James McLean the leader of the loyalist coalition in Edinburgh because on the Sunday there was an organised phone-in on the local radio against this pro-IRA inarch and the Sunday Post, Scotland's best selling Sunday paper, had a front page trying to whip up opposition to the march.
I think the loyalists realised that there were that many people coming, that many people being organised, that they wouldn't be able to stop it, so they tried to create hysteria.
How did the Labour council react to this pressure?
We told all the councillors beforehand about the march…and despite police objections the councillors voted 30-14 in favour…of the march. They said that to ban the march would be to deny folk their democratic rights…
However in the week before the march they did cave in. On the Tuesday the Daily Record had a full front page article calling for the march to be banned. Councillors were getting threatened, Ron Brown got threatened, there were even threats being made against councillors' families by the loyalists. It was an organised campaign. There were local council elections on the Thursday, and just before them the labour council banned the march…
It reality shows you, specially coming up to the elections, that folk can't put faith in Labour councillors. Councillors just end up being just as anti-democratic as the state.
How are the band going to react to this ban?
We're going to fight for our right to march. There's now a three month ban on 'sectarian' marches in the Lothian Region, but the loyalists were allowed to go ahead with a wreath laying ceremony on the day of our march…Last year there were 57 loyalist marches in Lothian region…If the Labour councillors were serious about banning sectarian marches, why did they give permission for all those loyalist marches? The Republican bands are totally opposed to sectarianism, seeing it as a way of dividing the working class, but Labour councils encourage sectarianism.
We're going to be getting together to see what we can do about fighting the ban, because if they can ban our march it'll be gay marches or anti-racist marches they ban next.
Do you see any links between what you're doing and other struggles?
We're totally opposed to racism, we see racism in the same way as sectarianism, as anti-working class. Republican bands from Scotland have gone to support marches for the Broadwater Farm campaign and the Viraj Mendis Campaign in Manchester. The way blacks are being criminalised by the immigration laws is just like the way the Irish in Britain are criminalised by the PTA.
James Connolly was an internationalist, and we think it's important to recognise the anti democratic things going on in South Africa and against the uprisings on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The citizen's army that James Connolly set up was recognised by Lenin as the first working class army, and we follow in his tradition of internationalism.
What do you make of the political situation in Scotland?
The poll tax is going to be hitting Scotland first and the Labour Party is supposed to be taking a lead against it with the Stop It campaign, but Labour councils are already busy implementing the tax. Working class communities can't put any faith in Labour councils or governments, they have to use their own power to organise collectively, getting organised with things like the Anti-Poll Tax Union to get good results. We're going to be getting involved with the people at the front end of that struggle to make the links with Ireland.
What sort of hope do you have for the future?
Like James Connolly said, 'We shall rise again'. If we're going to beat this ban we're going to have to keep building support in the communities here, and get the people we support in England to come up and support us. Some people on the left tell us to forget Ireland and get down to trade unionism, but that's useless. If rank and file unionists want to do anything they have to realise they've got more in common with the Irish people than with the trade union bosses. What's wrong with the British left…is that they've given up supporting the Irish and going on the offensive in the tradition of James Connolly. Quite a few of our members were involved in the Edinburgh Irish Solidarity Committee a few years back, and we used the same methods of leaflets, posters, getting ordinary folk involved, in building for our march…That’s not the way to win, not the magic roundabouts and promises of the trade unions and Labour Party.
FRFI 78 May/June 1988