IT has been a consistent failure of our media that fear-mongering over left-wing activism has taken centre stage while the real threat of right-wing terror networks has broadly been sidelined. Even worse have been the attempts to conflate the two political opposites as somehow similar in nature when one was responsible for a spate of terror attacks across Europe throughout 2020 and the other was not.

Hope Not Hate’s latest report on far-right organising across the continent seeks to shine light on the subject. Produced in conjunction with the Amadeu Antonio Foundation and the Expo Foundation, its findings should be of concern to all progressive voices in Scotland and across the UK – and there’s plenty here that should be of concern to the pro-independence movement too.

The manner in which far-right and fascistic groups organise changed in 2020, in no small part due to the global pandemic. Not only has the conversation around race dramatically shifted in tone, conspiracy theories have come to be a dangerously successful recruitment method. Worryingly, it’s also becoming harder to track political extremists. While traditionally fascism organised itself around political parties such as the BNP and Ukip, in the past year contemporary far-right organisers have instead adopted a more decentralised structure. Hope Not Hate’s Joe Mulhall refers to this as “the emergence of a transnational and post-organisational threat”.

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Parties such as Vox in Spain and the AfD in Germany obviously still have support, but these formal organisations appear to have significantly less influence than they once did. Instead, individual activists have been building support through social media and online networks that appear, overlap and disappear quickly.

The National: DISBELIEF: Tommy Robinson. Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA.

A key facet of the past year has also been that more fascistic organisations have gone full “mask off”. Far-right figures such as Tommy Robinson, or Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to give him his real name, would usually hide their Islamophobia behind a smokescreen of “legitimate concern”, such as justifying their position by pointing to alleged Muslim grooming gangs.

Of course, Yaxley-Lennon would conveniently forget to draw attention to the fact that most child sexual abuse gangs are made up of white men under the age of 30 – an intentional exclusion that moves the discussion out of the realm of concern and into straight-up racism.

Natalie Wynn, who goes by the name Contrapoints on YouTube, recently did an excellent video on the distinctions between direct and indirect bigotry which I would recommend watching.

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In it, she lays out the differences between “direct bigotry”, which includes slurs and harassment, and “indirect bigotry” like above that hides itself behind a facade of “free speech” and “just asking questions” but which seeks to build distrust against minority groups through the exclusion of context.

Likely in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, throughout 2020 these organisations actually dropped their indirect bigotry and instead began focusing more directly on what they see as protecting the white race.

Above all else, however, it appears conspiracy theories became the primary route for recruiting people into the far-right, most notably in the form of America’s bizarre QAnon movement – part conspiracy, part ideology.

In the report, Hope Not Hate’s Safya Khan-Ruf notes that the pandemic “has ushered in a new age of conspiracy theories as people seek comfort in simple and monocausal explanations for a world seemingly out of control”.

Small conspiracies lead to bigger conspiracies. QAnon has consumed plenty of other conspiracy-driven movements into its worldview – and therein lies the threat to Scotland.

While there is no significant number of far-right sympathisers in our independence movement, there has been, of late, a degree of conspiratorial thinking that I fear leaves elements of the Yes movement open to recruitment by the far-right.

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Clearly, I’m not the only one to see the similarities between some behaviour in the independence movement and broader conspiracy-led movements across the planet. A certain faction within the SNP and the Yes movement have picked up the moniker “StuAnon” online, in reference to Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell.

The National: Stuart Campbell runs the Wings Over Scotland blogStuart Campbell runs the Wings Over Scotland blog

In the past few weeks alone, the blogger has launched a series of attacks in his blog posts, going as far as to highlight Herald journalist Neil Mackay’s Irish birthplace possibly as a means of casting doubt on his commitment to independence.

This Yes faction already has a list of imagined villains and enemies, mostly women, who are supposedly steering the SNP and indy movement behind the scenes.

To be clear, I am not claiming the StuAnon faction of the Yes movement are far-right in their political beliefs. However, this tribalist worldview that spies a shadowy cabal behind every decision they do not like is wide open for exploitation by the far right – and that in itself poses worrying questions about the direction of the Yes movement and its more extreme voices.