The debate over Scottish independence was mostly free of sectarian overtones, but as pro-union fascists organised in Glasgow’s George Square on Friday evening, the otherwise peaceful event descended into violence.
Glasgow’s George Square was seen as the focal point of the Yes campaign in the days leading up to the referendum, to the extent that it was nicknamed “Independence Square”. The carnival atmosphere in the Square did turn to deflation in the early hours of Friday as it became clear that Scotland had voted No, but the crowds remained calm and peaceful.
However, violence broke out on Friday evening after a group of pro-union or loyalist supporters, partly organised by right-wing fascist organisation Britain First and including a number of Glasgow Rangers football fans, descended on the Square.
The loyalist demonstrators fired flares at the pro-independence crowd and chanted Rule Britannia and anti-independence slogans as the police intervened in an attempt to keep the two sides apart.
About 100 fascists triumphantly holding 'No Surrender' banner and attacking Yes supporters in George Square, Glasgow. pic.twitter.com/ngxmXRYiXv
— Jen Izaakson (@Izaakson) September 19, 2014
A number of reports say that some loyalists were seen giving the Nazi salute as they draped themselves in Union Flags and shouted abuse at the Yes supporters. Other pro-union demonstrators waves Glasgow Rangers flags and displayed other loyalist imagery, demonstrating the sectarian nature of their position.
Distressing scenes from Glasgow tonight. If you're in the city, please be safe. If you're not, avoid it. pic.twitter.com/3ETgCx0lGe
— Martyn McLaughlin (@MartynMcL) September 19, 2014
Red smoke bombs were thrown over police lines, and a number of Yes supporters are reported to have been pushed to the ground and kicked by an increasingly hostile loyalist crowd as sunset approached and the violence spilled out to nearby Buchanan Street.
Police deployed mounted officers in an attempt to maintain the peace, and helicopters were seen overhead monitoring the situation.
Police Scotland said that officers continue to manage situation and prevent further disruption, and three people have been arrested in relation to the violence. Further arrests are expected after the police review security footage in the coming days.
Early reports of a stabbing appear to be false, with no injuries reported to the ambulance paramedics nearby.
The violence and sectarian abuse has been widely condemned by campaigners from both Yes Scotland and Better Together.