The small village of Monkton in the west of Scotland, which has a population of around 1,000, is not the sort of place you'd imagine playing host to a bitter far-right protest and an equally pissed-off counter-demo. But that's what happened this Sunday, as the Scottish Defence League (SDL)—a north-of-the-border spin-off of the EDL—held an anti-refugee rally.
The protest was held because a hotel outside the village called Adamton Country House is housing around 150 refugees, paid for by the Home Office. According to the SDL, locals contacted them and said they were unhappy with the refugee presence. On the event's Facebook group, one attendee said, "large gangs of young Muslim men were gathering in the village and the local people said they were being intimidated and felt scared." No Monktonites I spoke to shared that sentiment. According to one shopkeeper, the only problem was a language barrier.
Since they started in 2009, the SDL have held dozens of demonstrations in Scotland's biggest towns and cities, which almost always result in minor scuffles, vastly larger counter-protests, and breach of the peace charges.
Sunday's demonstration was much the same, with about 30 SDL members showing up, versus around 100 counter-demonstrators. I asked one of the anti-fascists if he expected any trouble. "Not really," he said. "I've protested against the SDL before, the last time in Edinburgh. We got kettled on one side, they got kettled on the other. We shouted at each other for a couple of hours and that was that. But we need to confront these people and their beliefs. They're just bigoted and uninformed."
The counter-protest had the initiative from the start, arriving early and occupying the town center, making it difficult for any SDL members to congregate hassle-free. Five of them did make the error of attempting to go near the counter-protest, getting immediately surrounded. A few scuffles broke out and they needed to be rescued by the police. Eventually, they escaped in a car, and came back later, when back-up arrived.
A few "undercover" SDL members were lurking around, scarves over their faces, their Stone Island jackets being a giveaway. They claimed to be locals just seeing what all the fuss was about, but appeared later on with their cronies, looking less coy and getting stuck into what were, at times, intense shouting matches.
A few appeared at a bus stop and got engulfed by counter-protesters. One tried to slap my photographer's camera out his hand and a couple got taken away in police vans.
Eventually this small contingent were herded up the street to link with a smaller, slightly more sinister-looking group. They weren't in the SDL and claimed not to be affiliated with them. Unlike SDL's football-casual style, they had more of a "Nazi punk band on a paintballing weekend" look going on.
Around three o'clock, the SDL cavalry arrived in the form of about 20 more members, running an hour late for their own protest. They gathered next to a small church ten yards away from the pro-refugee group who had occupied the central part of the main street all day. By this point, the police, who outnumbered the SDL, had the place on lockdown.
The situation became a stalemate with each side facing each other shouting stuff about Sharia law and Nazis.
All too fresh in the mind, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris came up. Speaking to people on the SDL side, the argument boiled down to a grim "I told you so," whereas their opponents pointed out that refugees are in fact escaping the very people that committed the atrocities.
Eventually, the stalemate became as bleak and dreary as the weather. The SDL members were looking wet and fed up, vastly outnumbered, and it was clear that they had lost the day. "Look at them with their wee limp flags! Bless them, coming out in the rain for this," said one counter-protester.
The final nail in the coffin came when a pro-refugee activist with a microphone shouted, "If you want to know what a scumbag is, look at yourself in a mirror!" No one could even be bothered cracking decent jokes any more, and shortly afterwards everyone dispersed.
The number of refugees that Britain is accepting may be pitifully small, but nevertheless, as it grows, it seems likely that demonstrations like this will become more frequent. If this can happen in Monkton, it can happen anywhere. It would probably help if people like the SDL could learn an important lesson: Standing in the rain being called a Nazi will never be fun.