"NAZI scum off our streets!” and “refugees welcome here!” were the slogans ringing out in Erskine yesterday afternoon as anti-fascist protesters outnumbered an anti-refugee rally called by the neo-Nazi hate group Patriotic Alternative (PA).

The anti-racist counter-protest was called in opposition to PA’s attempt to capitalise on some local opposition to asylum seekers being housed in the Muthu Glasgow River Hotel in Erskine.

The counter-demo was organised by the campaign group Stand Up to Racism (SUTR), with the support of the local trades union councils in Paisley and Clydebank, and the anti-far right organisation Hope Not Hate.

The PA rally was originally coordinated with local group Erskine Against Asylum Hotel, which is led by Derek Stitt. However, after the neo-Nazi nature of PA was exposed in the media, Stitt sought to dissociate himself from the fascist organisation.

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Confusion reigned, however, when Stitt’s group called a snap protest on Saturday, which mustered barely more than 30 people and broke up in disarray and recriminations about the lack of local support. Having attempted to deny that he was a racist who associated with the fascists of PA, Stitt went back on his word, putting out a call encouraging local people to join yesterday’s PA rally after all. He himself was seen at the neo-Nazi demonstration.

In the end the number of local people attending the PA mobilisation was low, as the neo-Nazis attracted between 70 and 80 people. Many on the PA rally were well-known fascist agitators, such as Kenny Smith (a former election candidate for the British National Party [BNP]) and Kenneth McCourt (who has a history of involvement in far right and racial separatist groups).

The National:

The involvement of Smith and McCourt came as no surprise to anti-fascists. PA’s neo-Nazi character has been exposed by Hope Not Hate, which uncovered photographs of PA Scotland activist Shaun McAlonan posing with weapons and giving a Nazi salute.

PA leader Mark Collett (another former BNP member) has recommended Hitler’s Mein Kampf to his followers. He also helped to forge links between PA and the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (which seeks to expel all non-white people from the Nordic countries). Collett has praised the NRM as “ethno-nationalists who really mean business.”

PA’s Erskine rally was heavily outnumbered by the SUTR counter-demo, which was more than 150 strong. Trade unionists accounted for a significant number on the anti-fascist side.

Alongside the placards and banners of SUTR, the anti-racist demonstration was festooned with banners and flags from trade unions PCS, Unison and Unite, as well as a banner made by local people that read: “Erskine needs funding, not fascists, say no to Nazis.”

That was a sentiment echoed by Erskine resident Ian, who joined the anti-fascist demo along with seven members of his family. “I believe it’s right that we come down to show our support for people who have been shoved into a hotel, who have been driven out of their own lands”, he told The National.

Pointing to the PA rally across the road, he added, “we’re also here today to protest against these scum who would try to divide our community”. Ian expressed his disappointment that some local people had “bought into” PA’s racist message, adding: “we need to stand up to racism of all kinds.”

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Leading SUTR activist Pinar Aksu said it was “unfortunate that we’ve had to organise a counter-protest against the racists and the fascists.” However, she added: “It’s amazing that we’ve had a lot of people joining our demonstration.”

Aksu said that hotel owners are making significant profits from Home Office policy. She argued that hotels are not the right place for those seeking refuge to be housed, and that they should be provided with decent quality housing within Scotland’s communities.

David, a local, young farmer, joined the SUTR protest with a homemade banner reading “refugee lives matter”. He told The National that he has worked on his Renfrewshire farm with many refugees who have been forced from their homelands and who are themselves farmers.

“[Refugee farmers’] willingness to come onto the land, to plant trees, to farm and repopulate the land is fantastic”, he said. “I do not see a problem at all with having better ways of bringing people into this country.”