Ferret investigation by Billy Briggs
A far right group in Scotland targeted by a government counter-terrorism strategy has been accused of trying to exploit concerns in Erskine over asylum seekers being housed in a local hotel.
Patriotic Alternative (PA) Scotland — whose supporters have included neo-Nazis and former members of the British National Party — is organising a protest and plans to leaflet the Renfrewshire town, linked to West Dunbartonshire by the landmark Erskine Bridge.
Critics have accused PA Scotland of trying to stir up racial hatred by scaremongering and spreading misinformation.
It emerged last week that the MGM Mutha Glasgow River Hotel will start to house asylum seekers shortly.
The settlement programme is being managed by Mears Group on behalf of the Home Office, which is trying to accommodate asylum seekers arriving on the Kent coastline every month.
However, some concerns were raised last week that the local community had not been consulted over the move.
The Ferret has now learned that PA Scotland plans to deliver leaflets in Erskine which urge people to complain about asylum seekers to local politicians. PA’s leaflet states: “It’s time to tell the SNP to prioritise housing and funding for local people instead of economic migrants.”
The far right group is also targeting football supporters’ sites on social media, The Ferret understands, in a bid to drum up support for its protests.
PA was described as a “Britain’s fascist threat” in 2021 after The Ferret revealed its supporters posted racist and anti-Semitic comments, and disturbing images, in a private group on messaging app Telegram.
Last year, we revealed that a leading figure in PA Scotland used a private chat group to recruit neo-Nazis who posed with weapons, shared a bomb-making manual, quoted a mass murderer, and said members should kill “for the greater good”.
The far right group is now the focus of a counter-terrorism strategy involving the Scottish Government, as revealed by The Ferret this month.
Those expressing concerns over PA Scotland’s plans to exploit the situation in Erskine include Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
A spokesperson for UAF argued that if the far right group wanted to make things better for local people then they should be “standing on the picket lines this week fighting for decent wages” for nurses, civil servants, and train drivers.
“Instead PA seek to divert attention away from the real causes of our problems and instead to blame people with a different skin colour,” the spokesperson said, pointing that one of PA’s leaders — Kenny Smith — is an ex-British National Party member who pled guilty recently to firearms offences.
The UAF spokesperson accused PA Scotland of “jumping on a bandwagon of local concern” about the lack of consultation, adding they have no “genuine interest” in the local community. “The protest organisers will parachute in, stir things up and then leave,” the spokesperson claimed.
Gavin Newlands of the SNP, the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, pictured left with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said that the use of the Muthu Glasgow River Hotel for asylum accommodation is a “damning indictment” of the UK Government’s “catastrophic oversight” of the asylum and immigration system.
“If the Home Office weren’t overseeing a huge backlog of applications, delayed by a decrepit and discredited system, these facilities wouldn’t be needed,” Newlands argued. “The absence of any meaningful engagement with the community prior to this announcement by the Home Office has regrettably allowed some on the far right to scaremonger and peddle mistruths online.”
Newlands said that he received formal notification last week that the first 20 asylum applicants would be arriving, adding he has now met with a “range of agencies” to ensure “proper supports are in place” for both asylum seekers and the wider Erskine community.
“While I completely understand some of the concerns being raised around the pressure on public services locally, I equally want to be clear that some of the wilder accusations and assertions being spread on social media are baseless and in many cases simply offensive,” Newlands said. “I have also requested a meeting with Mears Group PLC who, although have not confirmed a date/time as yet, have advised there will be no new arrivals at the hotel this week.”
The Ferret revealed last May that PA Scotland distributed leaflets in Glasgow’s south side, one of the most ethnically diverse places in Scotland. Critics said they were trying to cause racial tensions.
A Mears spokesperson said that due to the number of people seeking asylum and a “shortage of suitable accommodation”, hotels are being used as a contingency across the UK. Its role as a contractor to the Home Office, the firm said, is to place service users and support them while in accommodation.
“We are working to arrange moves to suitable alternative accommodation as soon as possible,” the Mears spokesperson added.
“The safety and welfare of our service users is of the utmost importance to Mears and we have in place a team of welfare support officers who will be on site daily. We are working with local partner organisations to arrange services and support.”
The Home Office said last week the number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and put the asylum system under “incredible strain”.
The Ferret reported last month that asylum seekers housed by the Home Office in a Greenock hotel for months felt “abandoned by the system”, with some reporting feeling suicidal.
Erskine Community Council has been asked to comment.