The far right group Patriotic Alternative Scotland is the subject of a counter-terrorism strategy involving the Scottish Government, The Ferret can reveal.
In an email exchange last October, the Scottish Government suggested that Police Scotland and Pursue – part of a counter-terrorism strategy which specifically aims “to stop terrorist attacks” – coordinate a future meeting regarding “Patriotic Alternative and online radicalisation”.
The emails, obtained under freedom of information law, followed a counter-terrorism meeting including representatives from schools, prisons, the Ministry of Defence and local authorities.
The Lib Dems said it was “remarkable how long it has taken to recognise the threat of the far right”. Both the Conservatives and the Greens said Scotland must not be not be complacent when dealing with far-right groups.
PA Scotland claimed that its “code of conduct expressly rejects anything that advocates for anything other than legal activism”.
The Ferret previously revealed that a leading figure in Patriotic Alternative (PA) Scotland, Kenny Smith 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”.
Among the content shared by some in the group were guides to making improvised landmines and “automatic and concealable firearms”, a violent combat guide, and military tactics for white supremacists.
In the Scottish Government’s October email, it asked a redacted organisation to outline the “PA footprint and current activity/targeting in Scotland” at the next counter-terrorism meeting in November. The government wanted to “understand any current trends within online radicalisation”, it said.
Far-right counter-terrorism strategy
Both Pursue – which aims “to stop terrorist attacks” – and Prevent are part of the UK Government’s Home Office-run counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. Prevent aims to “tackle the causes of radicalisation” via early intervention. It also exists to “enable those who have already engaged in terrorism to disengage and rehabilitate”.
Prevent works with teachers, healthcare practitioners, social workers, the police, charities and civil society, psychologists, community leaders and others to spot those considered to be at risk of radicalisation or being “drawn into terrorism”.
Those thought to be attracted to extremism can then be referred to Prevent. According to the latest available Police Scotland data, 55 individuals were referred to Prevent in Scotland in In 2020/21.
Some 25 (45 per cent) of these referrals related to right wing extremism. This proportion more than doubled from 22 per cent in 2017/18 while the proportion of referrals related to Islamist extremism fell from 37 per cent in 2017/18 to 13 per cent in 2020/21.
PA Scotland claimed the counter-terrorism statistics had “nothing to do with PA”.
Prevent has previously faced criticism for being used as a means to spy on Muslim communities, while a leaked government review last year said the counter-terrorism programme had been too focussed on right wing extremism.
Following the leaks, a government advisor said that targeting one form of extremism was counterproductive, arguing that Prevent should be “ideologically blind”.
The Scottish Lib Dems’ Bruce Wilson has worked on projects using technology to counter terrorism. “It’s remarkable how long it has taken to recognise the threat of the far right, while our governments have been overwhelmingly focused on Islamic extremism,” he said.
“If extreme right-wing groups or individuals are trying to establish a presence here in Scotland then it is sensible for the government to do what it can to prevent them gaining a foothold.”
Neo-nazis are increasingly using platforms such as Instagram and Telegram to recruit young people, a 2021 report found. PA Scotland has a youth wing, which it promotes online.
A young disgruntled former member leaked PA Scotland’s list of around 60 organisations and individuals in Scotland who oppose racism and fascism, some of which it intended to infiltrate.
In November, PA figurehead Smith was found guilty of firearms charges. The former BNP member’s group has been accused of trying to stir up racial hatred in Glasgow. Speakers at its secretive October conference in Stirling included an activist linked to a banned neo-Nazi terror group.
The Scottish Government said that while counter-terrorism was reserved to Westminster it was working with partners across the UK to “tackle the threat posed by all forms of extremism”.
“Where individuals or groups support or use violence or the threat of violence, with the intention of dividing our communities, we will take robust action to counter them,” said a spokesperson.
“Our focus is on building links and relationships between communities to overcome all forms of prejudice, intolerance and racism, to protect our shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government takes the threat from all forms of terrorism seriously, including the warped ideology of the extreme right wing. We are committed to tackling those who spread views that promote violence and hatred against individuals and communities in our society, and that radicalise others.”
‘Wrong to be complacent’
The Scottish Conservative’s shadow community safety minister, Russell Findlay MSP, warned that “while it may be tempting to dismiss this far-right extremist group as a small collection of cranks, conspiracy theorists and misfits, it would be wrong to be complacent.”
He added: “It’s therefore reassuring to learn that the UK counter-terrorism network is doing its job in monitoring and curtailing the potential threat of those who seek to inflame community tensions by peddling such abhorrent views.”
The Scottish Greens’ Maggie Chapman MSP called Patriotic Alternative “a bigoted and reactionary organisation that spreads misinformation, bile and hatred.”
“It must be challenged and driven out of our communities whenever it rears its ugly head, whether those are physical spaces or virtual ones” she said. “We can never be complacent when it comes to the far right, the danger that it poses or the way it mobilises and recruits online.”
Police Scotland said it was aware of the use of social media as a promotion and recruitment tool by far-right groups.
“Our focus is on protecting our citizens and working with communities to deliver the Prevent programme to help safeguard individuals who have been identified as vulnerable to radicalisation or susceptible to being drawn into terrorism or violent extremism,” said Chief Superintendent Matt Richards.
PA Scotland told The Ferret that it is “a radical organisation which unashamedly stands up for the rights of the indigenous people of these islands and indeed across the world.”
“Our community politics based approach is very much focused on making sure political dissidents engage in lawful resistance,” said Simon Crane, the far-right group’s Scottish regional organiser.
Crane added: “Kenny Smith was admonished for the firearms offence of holding a small number of bullets in excess of his licence – it was not terror related and that should be made clear in your report. Mr Smith, as the court recognised, is an upstanding member of his community.
“He is one of the leading advocates for community politics within PA and has been instrumental in shaping the organisation’s zero-tolerance attitude toward the cranks and misfits that besmirch the wider nationalist struggle.”
Police Scotland added: “I would urge anyone who has concerns about someone they know being drawn into extremism to visit ActEarly.uk for support and advice. Anyone who has an urgent concern about terrorism can also always call 999 or contact the confidential anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321.”