The tartan racists

THE BNP, buoyed by their leader's Question Time appearance, are taking to the streets of Glasgow to argue the rights of 'white British people' and to condemn immigration. And their message strikes a chord with some, finds Eddie Barnes

THEY are standing in the Broomfield Tavern, sheltering from the driving rain outside, waiting for their "truth truck" to arrive. Glaswegian Charlie Baillie, 58, the BNP candidate in the forthcoming Glasgow North-East by-election, is trying to explain the intrinsic links between whiteness and Britishness – how one is essential in defining the other. Alongside him, BNP supporter Steve, a tall Englishman who now lives in Glasgow, is supping an Irn-Bru and nodding, the tattoos on his neck and wrists just visible from underneath his overcoat. The muscle they have brought with them, a bored burly youngster from the south side of the city, has retreated to the bar for a pint of lager. "I disagree with everything they say," he confides between sips.

Three other BNP men are having a soft drink; none of them take alcohol while on duty, says Baillie. The rain keeps teeming down outside, the landscape dominated by the brutal obelisks of the Red Road flats nearby. The "truth truck" is late, so we must wait inside a bit longer.

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Two days after chairman Nick Griffin was watched by more than eight million people on the BBC's Question Time, giving the party an unheard-of level of profile, and the BNP troops are in a state of high excitement. Griffin claimed his appearance had led to the party's "single biggest recruitment night", with 3,000 people having called in to ask to become members. There is no way of verifying these numbers, but opponents of the BBC's decision to allow Griffin to appear said their worst fears had been realised. A YouGov poll taken in the wake of the broadcast showed one fifth of the UK electorate would consider voting for the BNP. Perhaps most tellingly, more than half of those questioned said they thought the BNP "had a point" in wishing to "speak up for the interests of the indigenous, white British people… which successive governments have done far too little to protect". So is Britain's far-right party, which enshrines ethnic segregation and racism in its constitution, now on the march? Or was last week a necessary wake-up call to voters and mainstream parties that will see the BNP wilt under the light of scrutiny?

Still no sign of the "truth truck". Baillie, a self-employed electrical contractor who lives on the south side of Glasgow, is scuttling around nervously. His demeanour is not helped by the fact his black pin-stripe suit is too small for his thick barreled chest. His shirt has also got soaked from the rain. He has been a member of the BNP for five years – after having lost patience, he says, with the immigrant labour coming in from the EU accession states.

Immigration is his main, perhaps only, campaign theme and here, on the roundabout alongside the Red Road flats, is ground zero. Glasgow is the only city in Scotland that, ten years ago, decided to take part in the Home Office's asylum-seeker dispersal programme, in which those waiting for their applications to be heard are housed across the UK. Many of the several thousand asylum seekers who were sent to Glasgow ended up in this constituency.

The programme has been widely deemed a success. One promising statistic quoted by city chiefs is the fact that, after asylum seekers have had their application approved, more of them choose to stay on than in any other part of the UK. You don't have to be born in Glasgow to be a Glaswegian is the official line. But leaving aside the rhetoric, on the streets of Springburn, the issue is about – literally – the roof over your head. Many of the asylum seekers have been housed in flats that are ranked "hard to let" – in other words, those left empty because they are of such poor standard. But the BNP has seen an opportunity.

Housing is the big issue. And the BNP "tells it straight". Asylum seekers would go home. Local people would get a flat.

Baillie goes on to spell out his hardline and somewhat eccentric take on immigration. "The only people, I will tell you sir, the only people that Britain should take in as refugees, as asylum seekers, are persons from the nearest two countries, which are France and Ireland."

Everyone else should stick with their own neighbours, he declares. So, if someone arrives on these shores from Zimbabwe, having been tortured, and who tells the authorities they will be killed if they are turned away, our response should be to tell him we're full up? "Yes," Baillie says immediately. "They have neighbouring countries where they can go to." The BNP could easily be re-named the NMP – the Not My Problem party. This, it seems, is the "truce" that Griffin had laid out on Thursday night. West and East, North and South should remain apart; Christian from Muslim, rich from poor. "We would give them foreign aid on the condition that they would remain in their own country," adds Baillie – the humane side of the BNP's compact.

And while he's at it, the BNP should stay white-only, he continues. Not because he's racist, of course, but to even up the balance. There are too many organisations for "brown, black, yellow and Muslim people," he says. The seamless and entirely random linkage between Islam and skin pigmentation is telling. "But there are no organisations for white British apart from the BNP," he adds. He doesn't want the party to admit non-whites, as Griffin has said he will to comply with EU law. Whites in Britain are an endangered species, he says; perhaps like panda bears or capercaillies. "If that particular population was under threat, the whole of the UN would unite to save it. I believe the British indigenous people are under the same threat and we have a right to save ourselves".

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It is a strange paradox of the BNP ideology that while it upholds the white British race as an indomitable heroic force, it also suggests it is too weak to avoid being swamped. But then, without fear, the BNP would be nothing.

Finally, the "truth truck" arrives, driven by three men in yellow fluorescent jackets, adorned with Union flags. It is basically an advertising hoarding. On one side is the image of a wholesome family: mother, father, children (white naturally). On the other is a huge poster declaring "Punish the Pigs" – the Pigs being the expenses-claiming Labour and Conservative MPs who have given the BNP such a popular lift. Baillie charges outside to greet them. The drivers check out the few locals who are wandering past. "You're better keeping together in twos," one of them advises us. "If anyone gets hit, then you have a witness." The photographer nearly gets run over by a motorist who, it appears, has slim regard for our little huddle.

With the truck in place, the interest of the passers-by is roused. And for those who believe that the BNP has little traction north of the Border, the exchanges are telling – and worrying. A local unemployed man agrees to talk. He points over at the newly refurbished flats on the other side of the roundabout. "Before they were renovated, we got a petition going about the unfair allocation of the flats," he says. "We got 500 signatures. All the asylum seekers were getting them. We put the petition to the council, but I was told I was being racist. But they are coming into this country and getting everything they want." Twenty minutes later, he comes back to show us the petition. And he asks us not to use his name, because he fears that if the council finds out he's been complaining, he'll lose his chance for a house.

Further down the street, Andy Henderson, is happy to give his name. He says he lives nearby and is a full-time carer for his mother. The first thing he mentions when we point out the BNP truck is the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who was jailed after shooting two burglars who were escaping from his house. "The BNP are the only party that speaks up. I got the Labour guy coming around my house last week and I asked him why is that you've paedophiles and murderers on the streets and he said that you can't tell judges what to do. They should be locked up for life." Henderson says he's voted BNP before and will do so again.

A little behind him, another unemployed man, Jim O'Neill, says he's sticking with Labour. But he adds: "When you see the likes of asylum seekers walking into furnished flats, it makes you think. I don't support the BNP's policies. They are trying to stir hatred. We should be trying to educate people. But the trouble is people here see the foreigners getting everything they want."

There is now a split in Scotland about the influence of the BNP. Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy pointed out last week that their vote had increased from just 3,000 across Scotland ten years ago to 29,000 in the European elections from earlier this summer. "If this thought doesn't concern people, then the problem is only going to get worse," he said. The SNP disagrees, and is furious at the BBC for having aired what they consider to be primarily an English problem. Culture minister Mike Russell said: "BNP membership figures show them to be virtually invisible in Scotland – yet Scottish viewers and listeners have been overwhelmed with coverage of the BNP's spiteful message on our national broadcaster. The whole thing has been an enormous error of judgment by the BBC."

Bonnie Greer, who sat next to Griffin on Question Time last week, disagrees. "He was completely exposed as an evasive liar who couldn't even stand up his own quotes and looked like a buffoon," she said.

The Glasgow North East by-election result on 12 November will give a good indication of who is right. Like his chairman, Baillie shrinks into absurdity the moment his views are made known. But in a climate of poverty, fear, anger and envy, there is no knowing, as yet, how much those views can take hold.

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As we leave the Red Road flats, two men carrying plastic bags are wandering back up to their own block. They stare up at the huge edifice above them. "They n*****s get everything on a plate. Yes, I'd vote BNP," they say.