The Scottish Dawn are creepy fascist boy scouts who, bedecked in runic symbols and using the language of European "identitarian" movements, have set out to retake the cause of Scottish independence from "a corrupt internationalist liberal elite". A glance at their website indicates that their strategy for doing so involves organising litter picks in the countryside, hiking through the hills and voluntary sessions at an animal shelter. This all seems quite wholesome until you get onto the stuff about blood and soil, a key tenet of Nazi ideology.
And while they might look equal parts ridiculous and sinister, the Scottish Dawn's pro-independence stance tells us something important about what's going on north of the border: Scottish nationalism is back, baby, and this time it's far-right! Yep, it looks like some on the extreme fringes of right-wing Scottish politics are scrubbing their hard drives of Enoch Powell memes, getting out their Gaelic phrase book and stocking up on saltires.
With independence becoming the main dividing line in Scottish politics over the last five years, it has been no surprise to see the full alphabet soup of far-right hate – the EDL, SDL, Britain First, the BNP and UKIP alike – lining up behind the union.
The UK's far-right has long wrapped itself in a Union Jack and pursued a fiercely British – rather than Scottish – form of nationalism. Historically, this has meant that the primary outlet for bigotry north of the border has been more "acceptable" organisations like the Orange Order, with explicitly far-right parties clinging on to their coattails and rarely enjoying much success in their own right. I've previously argued that this has played a key role in keeping anti-immigrant populist parties – like the BNP or UKIP – from seeing the same successes in Scotland as they have elsewhere.
But for the extreme right, firmly aligning themselves to a union that may be on the way out seems like a questionable strategy in the long run, especially considering post-referendum polling showed that majorities of under-50s, the working class and those born in Scotland had voted Yes.
Mind you, there may be more to this seemingly overnight conversion of a bunch of far-right wingers from ardent British nationalism to Scottish independence than first meets the eye. In an undercover meeting with two of Scottish Dawn's leading members in an Edinburgh pub, a reporter from investigative website The Ferret was able to secretly film the young men as they spoke of past UKIP membership and their plan to win over SNP supporters.
Ruaidhri McKim from Scottish Dawn explained: "A lot of the people that vote for the SNP, they are, more or less, ethno-nationalists… especially the kind of working-class kind of SNP supporter. I think instinctively it's kind of 'fuck England', basically. Instinctively, that's probably a good instinct. It's been twisted into this, like, New World Order kind of ideology where everyone is Scottish. Scottish Dawn as an organisation, we'd like to kind of get those SNP supporters and… turn them into what we want rather than what they want."
In an interview with an alt-right YouTuber in May, a Scottish Dawn spokesperson doesn't leap at the chance to back independence when asked, saying the referendum offered a "false choice on both sides of the divide". He says it would be an economic disaster, and that they would only support it if it was pitched along more "ethnic" lines. This is in contrast to the group's public image, which is all Alba gu bràth (a nationalist slogan) and supportive for independence. So it might just be that their tactical turn is exactly that: an opportunistic bid to try to pick up some followers from the sidelines of a popular nationalist movement that is overwhelmingly civic and inclusive in nature, rather than because of any deep-seated beliefs.
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The Ferret investigation, carried out in conjunction with The Daily Record, also confirmed what many had suspected: Scottish Dawn is effectively a reboot of National Action, a UK-wide neo-Nazi group which was banned under terror laws last December because of their celebration of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right fanatic last summer. "National Action were a good organisation and the stuff we do is very similar," explained McKim, adding that they share some members, but that it's "hard to talk about" now that NA are banned.
Another Scottish far-right activist who has taken a turn to the indy cause is Jim Dowson, who is originally from near Glasgow and has made his name promoting far-right causes around Europe, particularly through funding loyalists in Northern Ireland. Dowson is an accomplished purveyor of "fake news" and was profiled by the New York Times last year, which named him as being behind a "constellation" of influential pro-Trump websites. Dowson later topped the rankings in anti-fascist research group Hope Not Hate's annual State of Hate report for 2017, named as Britain's most influential far-right figure. Earlier this year, he said that England is "stuffed" and that he will be "backing Scottish independence 100 percent", hoping his favoured mix of online propaganda and militant street politics can find an audience in a new Scottish state where the "whole political landscape would change".
While the English far-right are unlikely to abandon their favoured pastime of dressing up in Rangers shirts and signing off video monologues with "God Save the Queen" any time soon, others on the far-right are sensing a more strategic opportunity to jump on the indy bandwagon. While they may be four years too late in that respect, Scottish politics is currently in flux, with the SNP in stasis and many unsure of where to turn. At the last election, many Yes voters simply didn't vote.
While it seems hard to believe fascism will have more success here than it ever has in the past, the rise of similar movements across Europe suggests there is little room for complacency.
Ultimately, it may have a more profound impact on the independence movement itself. Supporters of independence have often defined themselves by their opposition – you should back indy because its opponents are migrant-hating Tories, the argument basically goes. With fascists donning saltires, it might be time for some new arguments.