Scottish public turns its back on BNP leader
WITH his ill-fitting suit and awkward demeanour, the chairman of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, looks more like an introspective office clerk than a man widely accused of being a serious threat to Scotland’s moral fibre.
Supporters of the BNP leader had heralded his allegedly "long-standing" visit to Glasgow yesterday as a much-needed shot in the arm for the defenders of "white peoples’ rights" in Scotland’s most ethnically diverse city.
But in the wake of the abduction and murder of a Pollokshields schoolboy, Kriss Donald, by a gang of Asian youths last Monday, the BNP leader’s visit was labelled inflammatory and malicious by his detractors. In the end, Mr Griffin’s visit to the city was a low-key affair with little sign of wide public support.
Amidst a last-minute melee, provided more by the media than passing members of the public, Mr Griffin and his supporters, who numbered no more than half a dozen, gathered outside the Glasgow headquarters of Strathclyde Police to hand out leaflets - headed "it could have been avoided" - blaming the police for not doing enough to prevent the abduction and murder of the 15-year-old.
In typically defiant fashion, Mr Griffin insisted his flying visit to Glasgow at the weekend was not aimed at stirring racial tension but, on the contrary, was intended to help stem a "violent backlash" to the murder - a comment that prompted looks of bewilderment from police officers filing into the station for their morning shifts.
He said: "I’m not here to stir up trouble, I have respected the calls for me not to visit the scene of Kriss Donald’s abduction. We are not blaming Asians for this boy’s murder but the police for letting these gangs run riot. If they had taken notice years ago that, unless something is done about this race violence, someone will get killed, they would have nipped these gangs in the bud and we would not have had this murder. They abandoned their operation six months ago into Asian gangs because it wasn’t politically correct.
"We hold the police responsible and feel Pollokshields could become a focus for tensions and troubles and we do not want that. People are using the BNP to try and deflect people’s attention and not talk about the murder."
Despite the police unequivocally citing criminality as the prime reason for the murder of the teenager, who is believed to have been tortured to death by his kidnappers, Griffin insisted that Kriss Donald was a "victim of race hate".
The lack of reaction by left wing groups to the BNP leader’s visit to Glasgow perhaps tells the most revealing story of all.
In reality, from a political perspective, the BNP aren’t even on the map, despite Mr Griffin’s claims that the party has seen a 38 per cent increase in membership north of the Border in the last year, with nearly 1,500, allegedly active, members in Scotland.
In Identity, the magazine of the British National Party, which is edited by Mr Griffin himself, there is a regular feature called "People like you are people like us".
The idea is to show how members of the BNP are what party activists tend to refer to as "normal". Mr Griffin himself knows that a perception of normality is vital to the BNP’s new image. In short, if the party can convince the voting public that its members and outlook are not only ordinary but temperate, the thinking goes, it can become a normalised part of the political process.
Mr Griffin himself is undeniably working hard to deny the fascist label long associated with his party, proposing a more "populist", if crudely limited, ideology. On the political surface, the BNP are anti-Europe and anti-global, support the countryside, smaller government and more referendums, are pro capital and corporal punishment, anti-gay and, of course, fundamentally anti-immigration.
On the surface, Mr Griffin is articulate and single-minded, and voters in Oldham and Burnley were perhaps impressed by his unfailing self-belief over his policies. But beneath this veneer of respectability, a pattern of intolerance and racism remains clearly visible.
Speaking to The Scotsman last night, he drew inevitable comparisons between the Pollokshields area of Glasgow and the ethnically mixed areas of Oldham and Bradford where his party have made political gains by winning seats on local councils. He said: "People in the South Side of Glasgow are seeing their communities overrun and taken over by ethnic minorities and, in the case of Pollokshields, many local people, of all ethnic backgrounds, are living in fear of Asian gangs.
"Glasgow is also the asylum capital of Britain and there is a great deal of understandable resentment about this. I was going to be in Scotland this week with the European election campaign. But people in Pollokshields want to see me. They feel under siege. We are speaking out for local whites and expressing opinions that are not being expressed by local politicians. We are acting as a safety valve for people to get their concerns off their chests. The BNP are bringing people together to let them express their opinions."
Comparisons between towns like Burnley and Oldham and Glasgow are relatively easy to make. Like in the north of England, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants came to Glasgow in their tens of thousands, in many cases taking jobs that nobody else wanted, and working anti-social hours. For reasons of language and religion, they also mixed mainly with their own, establishing their own communities within communities.
Since he became chairman of the mainstream BNP in August 1999, Mr Griffin has actively encouraged doorstep campaigning in targeted areas like Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, places which are, like Glasgow, traditional Labour strongholds with high levels of poverty and immigration.
But according to Strathclyde University’s professor of politics, John Curtice, the reality is, despite the social similarities between parts of Glasgow and the north of England, the BNP are unlikely to gain a foothold in Scotland in local or national politics. The key reason - outside the South Side of Glasgow, Scotland simply doesn’t have an ethnic diversity they can play on.
He said: "The conditions which would allow the BNP to flourish simply aren’t there in Scotland and this is why they have consistently performed poorly north of the Border. There isn’t the same split in the vote here that would also allow them to gain ground. Another key issue, in terms of local elections, is the effect of the single transferable vote. Few people would put the BNP down as their second vote."
But it is also undeniable that, in recent years, race-based nationalism has been mobilising across mainland Europe. The past two years have seen anti-immigration nationalists gain second place in both the French and Dutch general elections. South of the Border, there are signs that the same sentiments are making inroads in Britain.
The sentiments of Asian shopkeepers along Kenmure Street in Pollokshields, where Kriss Donald was abducted, were clear. Makeshift posters proclaiming "BNP Out" defiantly remained in shop windows.
According to Nasir Asif, a senior member of the Muslim community in the South Side, the biggest danger would be the BNP re-branding itself and targeting communities like his. He said: "We know the BNP goes where the ground is already fertile. It has neither the talent nor the resources to stir up fear and resentment where none already exists. At the poor, uneducated sharp end, this anxiety has turned in some places to resentment or hatred and that is something we fear they can use to their advantage."
Meanwhile, Strathclyde Police refused to confirm yesterday that a convicted Glasgow gang-leader, Imran Shahid, was the prime suspect in the case of the teenager’s murder. Amidst suggestions that the 27-year-old had fled to Pakistan as the investigation into the murder of the schoolboy continued, police continued to focus their inquiries on CCTV footage from petrol stations in Glasgow in a bid to track the movements of a silver Mercedes car.
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