BY MATT PRESTON
GLASGOW — Tens of thousands of Scots anticipate giving British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair a warm welcome on February 15. Scotland is set to become one of the pivotal points of protest against the impending war on Iraq.
February 15 was set at the European Social Forum in Florence last November as a Europe-wide day of action against a war on Iraq, with mass demonstrations to be organised in every capital city.
The significance of the Glasgow action was boosted when it was announced that the Scottish Labour Party conference would be held in the city on the same day, with Blair to be in attendance.
The protest's organisers, the Scottish Coalition for Justice Not War (SCJNW), promptly re-routed the march so that it would finish at the conference venue. The chance to have a mass rally in close proximity to US President George Bush's number one ally in his war drive has provided a focus for people's anger.
As the build up to war continues, with more and more British troops leaving for the Gulf, the pressure on Blair has increased. It has become clear that a majority of people in Britain do not want to go to war.
Last autumn, huge numbers of people gathered in London and Glasgow to protest against the planned US-British attack. The numbers — 400,000 in London and 10,000 in Glasgow — broke all recent protest records. They were even more remarkable as they preceded the official beginning of the war.
Since then opposition has continued to grow. Just this week Blair faced public scrutiny and ridicule on BBC2's Newsnight program. Audience members were permitted to grill the PM. One person addressed a question to "the right honourable member for Texas North". Another asked the question on everyone's lips: "How do you feel knowing that most of the country is not behind you?"
Blair ducked the question, answering that he was sure more people would be convinced with a second UN resolution. But he still failed to guarantee that he would not follow the US to war without one.
Blair's role in the war drive has left activists in Britain feeling that if he could be forced to back down, international backing for the war might fall away also. With so many fingers already on the trigger in the Gulf, this is a slim hope but it is hope nonetheless.
It is anticipated that the February 15 Glasgow demonstration will attract 20,000 or more people. People in Scotland are keen to take up the chance to show Blair how they feel. Coaches have even been organised to bring people from across the English border from Manchester. The mass anti-war sentiment is reflected in the media, which has been unable to ignore the controversy.
Of course, the establishment has not been slow to make it as difficult as possible to organise the demonstration. The Labour Party has asked the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, the venue for Labour's conference, to refuse permission for the demonstration to have a stage and PA system.
Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party's member in the Scottish Parliament promptly responded to this move by tabling a motion in the parliament to allow the event to take place. He argued: "New Labour wants to stifle all opposition to warmonger Blair, who will be speaking at the SECC. We are demanding that they are forced to climb down and allow the rally. Will New Labour now repent and lift the ban? If they don't, we shall drown them in a storm of protest on the 15th!"
The SCJNW is a broad grouping. Its membership includes the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), the Green Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, as well as trade unions and members of other political parties.
The coalition was formed in response to the war on Afghanistan and has held together, gathering support and leading an increasingly united anti-war movement in Scotland. At a recent rally in Glasgow, the Fire Brigades Union (which is in a national pay dispute which has included UK-wide strikes) pledged to join the February 15 demonstration en masse, and will lead the march.
The SSP's delegate to the SCJNW, Richie Venton, said of the planed demonstration: "Tony Blair has the brass neck to speak in our name as he prepares to obliterate the people of Iraq in a war of mass destruction. The SSP is a part of the massive anti-war movement in Scotland and the only party opposed to Blair's war for oil, even if a bunch of unrepresentative capitalist governments in the United Nations back it.
"Just as the people of America laid siege to the 1968 Democratic Party Chicago Convention and helped end their war on the Vietnamese people, so too the people of Scotland should besiege Blair's rigged war rally at the SECC.
"We are confident of a human sea of opposition to Blair's butchery on behalf of the oil multinationals' carve up of the Iraqi oil fields."
From Green Left Weekly, February 12, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.