Gavin Yates 

I grew up in the West Midlands of England. The nearest city to my home was Coventry – a 1960’s boom town that was famously dubbed ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials at the height of Thatcher’s economic destruction.

Along with ‘all the clubs being shut down’ the skylines were dominated by former busy factories that had previously employed thousands, now roofless to avoid having to pay business rates. These building were a cypher for the emptiness and hopelessness that pervaded the city at that time.

At the same time that unemployment rose, so did racism. The National Front under the leadership of John Tyndall and Martin Webster which transformed into The British National Party was a regular spectre in the City. The BNP stood candidates but thankfully failed to get over one percent of the vote in the 1983 General Election in Coventry South West. They employed the politics of thuggery and for many black and asian friends of mine it was a frightening and dangerous time.

BNP leader Nick Griffin would later cause huge contraversy in the City in 1996 when he turned up at Coventry Cathedral to claim that British Airmen who played a part in the bombing of Dresden and other German cities during the Second World War were ‘mass murderers’. This thankfully put paid to any chance of a BNP revivial in the City.

During the time when many friends in Scotland were dealing with the evils of sectarianism, my teenage years saw a rise in racism, driven by those who would exploit the pain of unemployment and hopelessness.

For me, the BNP’s recent gubbing in the English Local Elections brought a big smile to my face. The fearmongers and scapegoaters had reached the end of the line and the electorate had rejected them.

However, with the rise of UKIP we have seen a return to some of that same fearmongering and scapegoating, this time it is EU Nationals who are the victims rather than the Asian and Afro-Carribean friends of mine in Coventry.

Nigel Farage’s regular attacks on Bulgarian and Romanian immigration again is part of a politics based upon transference of blame. The argument is ‘if you are hurting in these austerity times then blame someone else.’

The blame could be – and is – placed variously on the Government, the bankers, the global financial system even perhaps capitalism itself. However, it is more convenient to exploit other more deep-seated fears and UKIP have done that successfully.

So, you might think that I would be delighted that Mr Farage was run out of Edinburgh on Thursday like a modern wild-west cowboy with a briefcase but nothing could be further from the truth.

The behaviour of some protesters at the Canon’s Gait did nothing but feed the fire of publicity for UKIP in Scotand and that is something most Scots would have liked to avoid.

The publicity surrounding UKIP ahead of the English local elections in my mind hugely increased their results and the subsequent media interest has poured more fuel on those UKIP flames.

Protesters screaming ‘F*** off back to England’ also makes me very uneasy. Why should Mr Farage’s origins have anything to do with the rubbish he spouts?

It was pleasing that Yes Scotland rightly dissassociated themselves with these protests as they played no part in their organisation. However, I fear some damage has been done and the UKIP bandwagon’s wheels will not come off in Scotland as easily as we might have hoped.

Attacking people for their nationality is a dangerous thing. I saw it day after day in Coventry in the 1980s and see it still in Scotland. As a Councillor I am told too often by people that ‘there would be more houses if there were less (insert racial/social group of choice) over here’. I always challenge that and explain the factual position but if anyone believes that Scotland is somehow immune from intolerance then they need a serious reality check.

Attacking someone for being English is as crass as any other form of racist behaviour. I hope that UKIP are defeated in Scotland and in England too but don’t for one moment believe that it is a done deal.

The only way forward is through rational, sensible debate certainly not using the same methods that the thugs used in my home town some 30 years ago.

 

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Gavin Yates is a Councillor in Fife and is a former adviser to Labour at Holyrood.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @gavinyates