If you like cadging free trips to the cinema you’ll no doubt be familiar with the concept of Orange Wednesdays. If you happen to live in the west of Scotland, chances are you’ll be even more familiar with the concept of Orange Saturdays, Orange Sundays, Orange Mondays, Orange Tuesdays… you get the idea. For in towns and cities across the region, the calming sounds of flutes, Lambeg drums, the Famine Song and cries of No Surrender are never far away during the summer months.
So it was that on Saturday, like many Glaswegians, we headed for the hills. It’s become something of a tradition that on that particular weekend we all get as far away from our city as our meagre resources can carry us. The first Saturday in July, more than any other day, is the day when our streets are given over to the Orange Order.
1690 AND ALL THAT
If the Order, with their ridiculous, colonial-chic outfits and cheerful songs about being up to their knees in the blood of other ethnicities (the Irish), look like a relic from another era, that’s mostly because they are. Although every Orangeman’s favourite date (and PIN number) is 1690, the Order itself dates from around a century later. No prizes for guessing that the British government played a key role in its creation.
In the late 18th century, revolution was in the air across the globe, inspired by exciting new ideas like liberty and equality. It was in this spirit that the United Irishmen formed in 1791, calling for parliamentary reform and the ending of legal discrimination against Catholics, who were relegated to second status in public life throughout Britain & Ireland. Before long, they began to advocate an independent Irish republic that would ‘unite Catholic, Protestant and dissenter’. And interestingly enough, the United Irishmen was a largely Protestant organisation. For Britain, this was too much, and from 1796 they began supporting the creation of a new Prods-only crew, the Orange Order. Their aim was clear: to ferment sectarianism, disunity and disorder by nurturing a hardline Protestant identity that countered the dangerous ideas being touted by the United Irishmen, which represented a clear threat to British colonial rule. This same tactic of divide and rule was used in virtually every continent on Earth to maintain Britain’s Empire.
Every movement needs its own folklore. Despite not existing until over a century later, Year Zero for the Order has become the Battle of the Boyne on the 12 July 1690, the victory of King William of ORANGE over the Catholic claim to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland. King Billy of ORANGE loved Britain so much that he was actually Dutch, having been parachuted in by part of the English ruling class two years previously in a bloodless coup to remove all vestiges of Papery from the throne (or something). It’s this ‘glorious revolution’ and its final triumph at the Boyne in 1690 that the Lodge seek to commemorate with their marches every summer.
The Lodge have had their fair share of ups and downs since 1796. Taking a long view though, a pattern does emerge: any concessions towards Catholics, like giving them basic human rights, the vote or even the right not to have the fleg of their oppressors shoved in their faces 365 days a year, is seen as a threat to the supremacy of Protestantism and leads to an upsurge in Orange activity. In the late 19th and early 20th century, growing pressure for Irish home rule saw a revival in the Order’s fortunes once again, with the organisation spearheading the creation of the Ulster Unionist Party, from which in turn would emerge the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913. Ultimately their lobbying – which included collecting 500,000 signatures against Home Rule in the Ulster Covenant – led to the partition of Ireland following the First World War. The Order would then maintain their grip on NI politics with devolved Ulster Unionist administrations packed full of Lodge members governing until direct rule by London was imposed in 1972, in response to the growing crisis on the streets. Sure enough, when the Troubles began, the Lodge set about encouraging their members to join the security forces, in particular the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment – pretty neat given the key role the British state played in fostering the Lodge in the first place, right!
However, even at its height its membership was never higher than 70,000, working out at about one in five adult male Protestants in the North of Ireland. The Lodge did not, and still doesn’t, have a monopoly on Loyalism and were one of several – sometimes competing – organisations striving to be the most Proddy and Loyal defenders of God, Ulster and Her Majesty, not to mention the sectional interests of their own ‘community’. The history of the Troubles is for another article, but even the briefest of examinations fits with the wider picture here. Throughout centuries of struggle for political and civil rights for Catholics in Ireland, the Orange Order have been a ubiquitous presence on hand to inflame (sometimes literally, as the bonfires across the Six Counties last night testifiy to) tensions and provoke reaction. To this day, 58% of Orangemen believe they should be allowed to march through nationalist areas with “no restrictions” and a massive 86% support the abolition of the Parades Commission – a relatively feeble body set up by the NI government to make impartial decisions on the routing of marches.
Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, politics in Northern Ireland remains fractious. As with the recent fleg protests, this discontent is increasingly manifesting itself outside of the mainstream political parties, in no small part due to their sectional power-sharing carve up while unemployment, poverty and austerity spiral out of control. For the first time, the unionist community is facing the prospect of having things just as shit as Catholics in the North have had to endure for centuries. There’s no special jobs for Protestants anymore – there isn’t any jobs for anyone.
THE BILLY BOYS
The fate of the Orange Lodge in Scotland is implicitly tied up with Northern Irish politics, and as in the Six Counties, has been on a path of decline over recent decades, their membership in freefall. Perhaps aware that the popular conception of them as religious bigots obsessed with ancient battles no one could care less about, the Order have masterminded several PR offensives over the years, with occasionally hilarious consequences. Meet, for instance, Diamond Dan, the kids’ cartoon character designed to “help win over a new generation of members”, launched amid a blitz of publicity in 2008. Dan was just one of many entries to their naming competition, with “Sash Gordon, Sashman and the Boyne Wonder” also strong contenders for taking the Orange message into classrooms (well, some of them…) across Ulster. More recently though, with ra yoonyin under threat from the anti-UK nat separatists , the Lodge have leapt at the opportunity to try and prove their relevance to the contemporary Scottish body politic. Having launched a new ‘British Together’ front campaign, this year’s outreach effort saw a leaflet produced to be distributed alongside parades in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Coatbridge and Renfrew, answering such pressing questions as “What’s it all about?” (heritage… um… religion), “Who are we and why ‘Orange’?” (um… democracy & religious tolerance… also our banners are very artistic) and “Are we a political movement?” (NO DEFINITELY NOT, we are just British patriots… also we cant afford independence and why would we gamble with our CHILDREN’S future?). All emblazoned in glorious Comic Sans.
The Lodge in Scotland has its fair share of dodgy history as well. If you’ve ever walked down Sauchiehall Street at three in the morning or been on the subway before a game at Ibrox, you may have been lucky enough to hear a song called “The Billy Boys”, a jolly account of being ‘up to our knees in Fenian blood’. The Billy here isn’t King William of ORANGE, it’s actually Billy Fullerton of Brigton in Glasgow – his ‘boys’ being the Protestant razor gang he led during the the 1920s, clashing with Glasgow’s Irish population, strike-breaking during the 1926 General Strike (Glasgow City Council gave Fullerton a medal for his efforts… how times change) and sometimes teaming up with emergent fascist organisations. Two extremist Protestant, anti-Irish political parties gained some prominence in Glasgow and Edinburgh during the early 1930s, but as with Fullerton, the Orange Order kept these at arms length, with its conservative leadership seeing little to gain from direct association with populist rabble rousers and street violence. (A Thousand Flowers will be bringing you a much more in depth look at the far-right in Scotland, loyalism and the indyref before too long!)
GLASGOW: SCOTLAND WITH BIGOTS
So for a fading organisation with such a divisive past, why do our very own Labour-run Glasgow City Council spend so much time and resources promoting its continuation? The much vaunted “Code of Conduct for Public Processions” issued in 2010 was sold as a measure to reduce the number of Orange walks. The timing of the new rules was no coincidence. 2010 was a year of protests across the globe. Whilst Glasgow may not have been Tahrir Square, a growing number of student and anti-cuts protests were visible on our streets.
A massive, centralised organisation with a long established calendar has no problem getting a permit. A community or political group needing to urgently respond to something has no chance. The 28 day notice period required to march has been a stick used by the council and the Police have beat back protests from our streets. If there’s a bastard coming to Glasgow in 27 days, we have no right to march against them.
If you think I’m being dramatic about the erosion of our rights, let’s examine the practical implementation of the rules. “Slutwalk” was a movement which occurred spontaneously in 2011 on the back of the ridiculous comments made by a Toronto police constable that women should “avoid dressing like sluts” to minimise their chances of being raped. As was happening across the globe, activists in Glasgow organised a demonstration to assert the rights of women to go out in public. The Council had other ideas and new rules to play with. Citing “lack of notice” the march was banned. Police turned up to the demonstration in huge numbers with the full dugs, thugs and helicopters regalia despite having met the organisers prior to the demo and nodded through a route from George Square to Glasgow Green (albeit not officially). Interestingly, they tried to insist the organisers announce the demo “wasn’t legal” although didn’t actually do so themselves. The best “undercover” officers we’ve ever seen were on full comical display throughout proceedings: hiding in bushes, filming people up close with massive cameras and searching our pal for going to the shop for Irn Bru. All at a demo calling for women to be allowed to go outside. This template offers an insight into what the legislation was really all about.
As if to make clear the new legislation was never intended to be used to prevent militaristic parades, Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson used the last council elections to “hold his hands up” and admit they had “got it wrong.” He told a hundred cheering Orangemen that his Labour council would rethink its strategy of limiting Orange Walks. During the elections (and the Scottish Parliamentary elections preceding them) Scottish Labour openly courted the support of the Lodge and many orangemen were out on the doorsteps with/as Labour Party members.
With a referendum on the horizon, Scottish Labour see the Lodge as their not-so-long-lost allies. The link between working people and Orangeism on the West coast is strong. The complete destruction of any form of industry in Scotland, along with widespread hatred for Thatcherism, mean the Tories are no longer the primary political defenders of the union in Scotland; these days, that’s what Labour do. Even the Lodge know this, so they’re more than happy to switch sides to preserve their privileges.
SUMMER OF HATE
But enough about the council and the rest of Labour, what are we gonnae do about the Orange Order? Every year there are murmurings of discontent in many sections of Scottish society that we’re in for yet another summer of hate. A survey conducted by… Glasgow City Council (we’re NEVER done with them) back in 2001 found only 24% of the population were in favour or Orange walks even being legal, with 54% supporting an outright ban. In a similar vein, this petition has been doing the rounds over the last few weeks calling for marches to be banned from the City Centre.
Asking for people in power to ban nasty things has many flaws. Firstly, the sheer sexiness of something being illegal is a lure in itself. Secondly, it’s not marching through the City Centre that’s the biggest issue; it’s the Order banging their drums and intimidating people on residential streets at seemingly any time of their choice that’s the real problem. The one day a year they get our City Centre pales into insignificance compared to the general freedom of our streets they are allowed in the run up to it. Some weeks, they pass my window no less than 8 times (feeder march, main march both ways, feeder march back – Saturday & Sunday). We suspect there is something darker going on in vague calls to just disappear. There may be a touch of not wanting to look at poor people whilst you’ve shopping going on. It’s ironic that the central ideology of Glasgow City Council – gentrification – doesn’t seem to be applied to the Lodge. Most importantly though, asking for lawmakers to legislate people off our streets has dire consequences for all of us. If history tells us anything, it’s that we can’t trust politicians with this stuff. A bit of parity would be nice when it comes to the policing of demonstrations. Dare we suggest the police could pay a bit more attention to militaristic, sectarian events with a history of attracting violence – and a bit less to peaceful, political ones? The Lodge have many privileges the rest of us don’t. In many ways that’s what’s so galling. They are a supremacist organisation who receive supreme treatment from those in power. That has to end, but that’s a totally separate issue from whether they should be legal.
Opposing the criminalisation of marching (or just people being outside) doesn’t mean we can’t oppose the Lodge. The Council is compelled to meet whenever objections are raised, so we should be as organised as they are about finding out when their marches are and raising objections. It’s intolerable that so much space is given to an organisation so unrepresentative of the people of Scotland. It’s time we told the council & cops loud and clear that we see exactly what they are doing and why – and we’re coming for them. Last Summer, we witnessed the obscenity of of public money being poured into Protestant supremacist events during the Jubilee. As a cantankerous republican, I can just about put up with my maw wearing a Union Jack bowler hat for a day in her garden, but I don’t see why anyone should put up with public funds being spent on events at which non-white, non-Protestants wouldn’t be safe.
Active opposition to the Lodge on the streets has been problematic if not impossible. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think and talk about it – the organised left and political parties never do this. As well as just being shit scared (which is a perfectly legitimate concern for many of us who don’t see constant political violence as very constructive) they are all faced with the problem of not wanting to isolate their voter base. Left-wing parties in Scotland have a constant history of either fudging or grossly oversimplifying anything related to religion or sectarianism to try to placate people. Back in the heyday of the SSP, they somehow managed to end up supporting sectarian segregation in schools and ignoring the partition of Ireland respectively, in a desperate bid to please everyone. You only have to look at the sudden SNP support for the pound and the monarchy if you want a more mainstream example of this kind of behaviour.
Sectarianism is held up as a bogeyman in Scotland – some unique problem the root of which is beyond comprehension or challenge. It isn’t. It exists because we made it exist, and we can make it not exist if we want. The idea that challenging or talking about sectarianism either makes you a sectarian or somehow “does more harm than good” needs to be tackled. If we’re going to deal with the Orange Order – and we must – we need to get organised on many fronts: hassle the council when they send them marching down your street; protest when they spend your money on their bigotfests; have actual political meetings where we discuss how and why we should oppose the Lodge.
THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT
We can’t just shout and bang our own drums either. We need to deal with the root causes of the Order. The fact is that for many people, they offer little more than a fun day out with (some of) their community. The total absence of other events which offer the same says a lot about the kind of society we live in. Poverty, recession and boredom are just as important as racism, bigotry and sectarianism in all this. It’s not often said, but the Orange Order are one of the few remaining organisations of working class people in Scotland. If we are going to take on mass, community organisations of working people then we need mass, community organisations of working people to do it with. If we’re going to ask people to give up something which gives them a sense of purpose and community, we have to do so by asserting our purpose and by rebuilding our shattered communities.
One proposal is for Scotland to get the hell away from Labour, the Tories and the Lodge and start building a new country for all our citizens. This by itself wouldn’t deal with many of the underlying reasons the Lodge exists, but it would be really fucking funny.
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