MEMBERS of the Scottish Defence League (SDL) and anti-fascism campaigners interrupted Festival celebrations as the rival groups marched down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile before staging counter-protests outside the parliament.
Hundreds of police officers lined the city centre hotspots yesterday afternoon as the opposing sides aired their political views. Officers, some on horseback, lined the Royal Mile and its side streets to ensure there were no clashes between the SDL and Unite Against Fascism.
Police reported that four people were arrested for minor offences, but said disruption to the city was kept to a minimum.
Around 350 members of Unite Against Fascism marched down the Royal Mile from East Market Street at 1.30pm, followed by approximately 130 members of the SDL and English Defence League half an hour later.
Hundreds of tourists watched the opposing marches as they walked the route along Canongate to Holyrood.
On arrival at the Scottish Parliament, police cordons and several dozen officers were in place to keep the chanting sides at a safe distance from one another.
Despite bearing their banners and loudly airing their opinions, the event was reported to have been a peaceful protest.
Green councillor Maggie Chapman, who covers the Leith Walk ward, attended to support the anti-fascists. She said: “I am very angry that the council and the police supported the SDL’s request to march through the city today. There is no place for that kind of hatred on our streets, and we need to be brave and refuse to accept them in future. When the eyes of the world are on our festival city we must ensure messages of welcome and peace are what they see.
“Edinburgh is a wonderful, welcoming and diverse city. I’m glad that we were there to stand up against the hatred and bigotry of those claiming to speak for Scotland. I think it speaks volumes that their demo was fronted by the English Defence League Sunderland Division. Clearly the SDL does not have the support in Scotland that it would have us believe.”
Police continued their high-visibility patrols last night to ensure there were no related incidents later in the evening.
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, divisional commander for the city of Edinburgh, said: “Robust planning with our partners was undertaken to ensure those wishing to protest could do so.
“I would like to praise the Edinburgh public for their support and assistance throughout today.”