Statement from James Connolly Society
Following a lengthy investigation, and after briefing our activists, the James Connolly Society would like to put the following information into the public domain. We have made this decision in the interests of transparency and also to alert the wider community to this ongoing campaign against republicanism in Scotland.
Over the last 18 months two people in the Edinburgh area have been approached by Lothian and Borders police and encouraged to apply for a republican flute band march in the city. One of these is a vulnerable young man and his parents approached the JCS after becoming concerned about his welfare. In another incident a young male was encouraged by police officers to reform the Rising Phoenix Republican flute band. None of these people were members of the James Connolly Society.
Our investigation has uncovered evidence this is part of an attempt by the state to increase tensions in Scotland over the summer and draw republicanism, and republican marches in particular, into the controversy over the forthcoming contentious marches by the Apprentice Boys and the Scottish Defence League in Edinburgh. They appear to want to set up a contentious republican march to allow the far right to mobilise against and then to claim ‘both sides are as bad as each other’.
The James Connolly Society is opposed to the sectarian marches of the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Order and attempts by the far right SDL to organise in Scotland. The focus for progressive forces should be on opposing these bigoted and racist organisations politically and if necessary on the streets.
Marching is an important and legitimate tactic for republicans in Scotland. It is important to point out there are no contentious republican marches in Scotland. Republicans understand the need to work with and respect the host community. Through decades of struggle to establish our community’s right to march we also understand the responsibilities that come with this right. This included a responsibility to our own community and the necessity to place marches within a broader social and political strategy.
Attempts to restart flute bands or import flute bands to Edinburgh is an old tactic by the state. Twenty years ago during the Labour controlled Edinburgh Council’s doomed ban on the James Connolly march the police deployed exactly the same tactics. They approached individuals encouraging them to apply for a republican flute band march and guaranteed permission would be granted on condition the James Connolly Society were excluded. They also approached one individual and encouraged him to apply for a St Patricks march in Edinburgh again guaranteeing permission if republicans were excluded.
For over twenty years the James Connolly Society has worked to ensure that the life and work of James Connolly is moved from the periphery to the centre of Scottish political life. Throughout this period we have deployed various tactics and faced many battles with Edinburgh Council and the police. Many inside these state institutions have not forgiven the JCS for the many defeats we inflicted upon them and are driven by a desire to turn the clock back to refight old battles.
The James Connolly Society has an almost unique insight into the dangers of the far right in Scotland. Our organisation has been a target for these groups for over two decades. We have been to the forefront of political struggles and physical confrontation with these groups in their various guises. The rise of the SDL and the recent recurrence of far right attacks on republican marches should act as a spur for all anti fascists to devise new strategies for the times ahead.
While Lothian and Borders police must take responsibility for the actions of their officers our investigation has uncovered evidence these actions are being directed by a unit based in the Scottish Government’s Policing Division. This unit is made up of seconded police officers and civil servants. The JCS condemns these attempts by the state to manipulate individuals in our community. Their behaviour is irresponsible and dangerous.
We would ask our members and the wider community to remain vigilante of attempts by the state to set the agenda. Over the last few years we have organised dozens of events including conferences, educational sessions, political talks, Connolly tours as well as fundraisers for The Connolly Foundation’s statue appeal. We remain committed to working with others to ensure James Connolly’s life is celebrated in the city of his birth.
Republicans remain committed to building a better future not revisiting the past. Irish republicans in Scotland are focussed on making a positive intervention during the independence referendum debate recognising the strategic importance of the break up of the British state. We will not allow our political opponents to deflect us from this task.