Something happened in Glasgow’s George Square last night.
Tale #1: two rival groups of protesters clashed. One group was there to “protect statues” from vandalism.
Tale #2: more than 200 far-right loyalist goons set out to attack a peaceful pro-immigration protest, assaulting protesters, passers-by and the police.
Both tales are true, but they’re framed very differently and effectively describe two different cities.
The first one has appeared in multiple media outlets.
The second description is the real one.
The far-right thugs shouting racist and sectarian slurs – “Fenian bastards” was a favourite, judging by the videos I’ve seen – and sieg-heiling in our streets, the people who just days ago assaulted non-white people and young women in similar scenes, were not counter-protesters and were not there to protect statues. They were coordinated by the National Defence League, the successor to the SDL, a group of fascist clowns who go out intending to inflict violence. Their social media is plastered with the Red Hand of Ulster and the Union Flag, acronyms such as FTP and all the usual far-right tropes.
To suggest, as some media outlets have done, that they were in any way equivalent to the gentle, joyful, anti-eviction protesters whose event they deliberately targeted isn’t balance. It’s false equivalence.
I joked on Twitter last night that the bigots “need to work on their messaging: if they claimed to have ‘reasonable concerns’ about ‘statue erasure’, The Herald would give them a column”. But there’s some truth in it. Whether it’s sectarian hooligans or more genteel bigotry, false equivalence is very dangerous.
False equivalence doesn’t just mislead people about the story. It prevents progress. How can you take action against vicious, violent bigots if you won’t admit that there are vicious, violent bigots in the first place?