Since we revealed the Council had approved plans to allow the first ever “Orangefest” to be held in George Square, it’s fair to say there’s been a bit of a furore. A petition calling for the event to be halted attracted over 30,000 signatures, and in response, the organisers have been at pains to emphasise how welcome everybody would be. So keen to test out this apparent inclusivity and sample the “history and culture” for ourselves, we popped along to No Surrender Square to find out what was going down.
The Glasgow weather was predictably welcoming, varying for dreich to smirry to pissing it down and compared with the huge numbers who’ve packed out the square to oppose nuclear weapons or listen to other shouty men recently, there weren’t nearly as many folk as we’d expected. The threat of gale force winds may have slightly curtailed some of the festivities, our hopes of perhaps watching dogs in sashes walking on tightropes or playing on the Bouncy Bouncy Castle forever dashed.
Still, it’s no mean feat to get a big group of folk out on a miserable day and there were certainly many of the advertised bands and a seemingly never-ending list of angry men (and 1 women) giving long-winded speeches about the exact demographic makeup of various towns in Northern Ireland and glossing over tales of biblical lesbianism, to an audience of wet looking people standing under union jack umbrellas.
But I’m not gonnae tell lies here. There were no buckied up taps aff hooligans, not even that many flegs, it was all a bit flat and dull. While it was obvious many of the stallholders and the bands were having a rare time, showing off their wares and bursting our ears with their piercing flutes and unwieldy drums, everyone else looked pretty miserable.
This may have been the very definition of a carnival of reaction but there wasn’t a party atmosphere, much less the atmosphere at the “Last Night of The Proms,“ as the PR material claimed. The mood was not jubilant or triumphalist, there was a grim sense that the Orange Order know they’re on the decline and think events like this could be a last throw of the dice, which today seemed to be cast into a puddle in George Square.
We heartily enjoyed listening to some of the more predictable rants. I stood with a notepad in my hand, as angry bald man #575 said he detected the presence of those who’ve “already written their articles…throwing about the ‘b’ word” (bald, I presume.) But again and again, people mentioned the event existing in the context of the referendum. There was much discussion of “dire threats” and the audience were told it was time to accept that support for independence was not going away, or returning to 1970s levels in their political lifetimes. Blame was directed at everyone from the Tories (who once stood a Catholic in Glasgow by the way), Jack McConnell and his “onslaught,” the SNP and, of course, the Church of Scotland for their preaching of the “social gospel” and “liberalism.” The truth being spoken was that the Orange Order are more than a bit fucked and they know it.
Sadly absent from proceedings was the previously billed “Pastor Mike McCurry”, which suggests those in charge decided it was best not to so openly flaunt that part of “the culture” which involves getting yourself into positions of authority, in order to routinely discriminate against others. McCurry was forced to quit one job as a referee following suggestions he made unfair decisions to advantage Rangers, (and his other job as a minister, after going on about how holy he was while shagging loads of people who weren‘t his wife.)
I saw and heard things today that made pretty clear who the event was for and who it wasn‘t, no-one cares THAT much about precisely documenting every single Catholic population and whether they are increasing or decreasing, unless they feel threatened by that. You didn’t have to scratch very far below the surface to get to the fact this was essentially a celebration of bygone supremacy and the continued right of prods to practice racism and prejudice.
I saw 1 single person of colour, all day, and precious few people from the 18-50 demographic come to think of it. It really was just weans and their grandparents, standing in the rain, moaning about the weather, like a giant bigoted bus shelter, without any of the sheltering aspects.
It would be totally unfair to gloss over some of the upstanding organisations in attendance, such as “Soldiers Off The Streets”, a charity set up by Bill Murray, the BNP’s former Welsh secretary and his Nazi pals. The Scottish section was at one time the work of well-known Glasgow fascist, ex-BNP member and 25% owner of Hamilton Accies, Walter Hamilton.
Setting aside yer actual fascists for one moment, it would be easy to denounce everyone there as just another bigot, but it’s also hard to watch a man with his guitar, singing a song about deindustrialisation, the mills and the shipyards closing and not recognise the Orange Order as being one of the few mass organisations of working class people that still exists. The methods at this terrible rally were incredibly similar to those which have resulted in the organised left going from mass influence to occasionally being damply tolerated in public spaces, in ever decreasing numbers over the years.
One speaker made clear who the real enemies are: republicans are easy to predict, we heard…it’s the one’s who creep up on you, the Council (who invited you for tea), the Licensing Board (who granted you a license), the Fire Service (who’re probably worried about what message all those burning bushes send out) and of course, CHILD PROTECTION, who were repeatedly referenced as being the mortal enemies of the creation of the next generation of the Billy Boyzone. There’s a grim truth hidden here as well, it’s more likely the Fire Service will stop the Orange Order from going about their business than a mass campaign of opposition.
It’s been great to see a massive public outcry rather than the usual total ignorance, although there’s been little, if any, political opposition. We should be raging about the fact that council hosted the organisers for a civic reception and have given “community” discounts to a blatantly sectarian organisation. The Council have disgraced themselves, again, by using the Lodge to court votes but to solely focus a scandal of this one day, which I can’t help thinking was a bit of a washout, lets too many people off the hook and grossly underestimates just how much work there is to do.
If what the Orange Order want is to be fenced off in a square, for 1 day a year, in the pissing rain, that would a price I’d be willing to pay to get them out of my local community, twice a week, every week, for most of the year. Of course, I want sectarianism gone, finished. I don’t want militaristic, catholic baiting demonstrations, parades or “festivals” on any day and it‘s not for me to tell others what they should or shouldn’t tolerate.
But I suspect this isn’t what the Orange Order want, in fact, many seemed openly terrified of it. Why? Because today was what you’d expect from Council approved Orangeism, grim as fuck, tedious, bald, angry, defeated and soggy. The format appealed neither to the core audience nor to this mystical layer of new people, of all faiths and none, who’d be attracted by men shouting statistics about Catholics in the rain.
One speaker warned the choice facing Orangeism was to either, “adapt and overcome” or “fossilise and fade.” Given today was the very first Orangefest in Glasgow, it looks like it‘s starting life as a faded fossil – but the fight against the dinosaurs will be a much bigger battle.