As marching season comes to an end and Glasgow City council begins to publish findings from their consultation on the issue The Glasgow Guardian sits down with a leader from an Orange Lodge.
Masquerading as a celebration of the Boyne on Byres Road, Glasgow’s in a unique position. Where else are such obviously divisive meetings routinely booked into a council’s diary? Coming to Glasgow three years ago, my first introduction to the Orange Walk was being awoken in Murano to a persistent drumming nose after having one too many the night before. At the time that was my sole concern. I was naive.
Orange Walks began in Glasgow in 1872, after a previous ban on them was lifted. The name pays tribute to the Protestant King of England, William of Orange, who defeated his Catholic predecessor James II in the historic Williamite-Jacobite War – perhaps better known as the Battle of the Boyne – in the 17th century. Nowadays, most marches in the city are organised by the Orange Lodge, an international fraternal Protestant group associated with Ulster Protestants. The Partick lodge, near the University of Glasgow, is one of the largest in Scotland. Marches consist of a parade of regalia as well as flute and drumming bands but have also been condemned for sectarian singing. Traditionally, the marching season builds up to the date of 12 July, the exact date of King William’s victory. In the Glasgow Boyne parades of 2022, seven people were arrested and 12 were given fixed penalty notices as 18,000 marchers descended on the city centre.
Following widespread disruption in 2019 with “outbreaks of violence and disorder at processions in Govan and the city centre” the council took the step to ban six marches and set up a city-wide consultation. Prior to the full review of council policy, published in August, the council’s consultation findings have been released. The consultation gathered 8616 responses primarily from individuals (97% of responses), but also local businesses (2%) and representatives of groups and organisations (1%).
The survey found that 60% of individual respondents believed there were too many marches in the city and 50% believed there were too many in their local area. Of those individual respondents, 56% believed parades had a negative impact on their local area. The negative impacts were considered to be antisocial behaviour and also frequently cited was the potential for violence and intimidation. Of those who thought parades had a negative effect, 97% “overwhelmingly agreed” that the council, and 98% that the event organisers should do more to limit their impact. One of the respondents noted that: “You’re frightened to go out in case you’re going to get hurt, in case there’s going to be trouble.”
In order to try and comprehend why people still partake in this archaic tradition, The Glasgow Guardian sat down with Jonathan Macdonald, former leader of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Glasgow. When asked that very question he stated that:
“I am a lifelong adherent of the Reformed Christian Faith. I have been a member of the Loyal Orange Institution for all of my adult life. I do not come from an ‘Orange Family’ background but became a member through subscribing to a belief in a patriotic British identity to which I am devoted. I passionately believe that no organisation has been founded on better principles than those of the Loyal Orange Institution; ‘Civil and Religious Liberty for ALL’. In days gone by, the greatest and best of men were members and promoters of Orangeism.”
He concluded his answer with sentiments akin to that purported in the ongoing ‘anti-woke’ culture. “In a secular and largely post–Christian multicultural society which the Western World has largely become the defence of, a heritage that paved the way for Britain’s greatness should not be eschewed. If that heritage is not to be confined to a footnote in a dusty history book, it should continue to be recognised for what it contributed to our nation. Unfortunately, the so-called ‘national church’ has largely abandoned moral leadership in a race to sign up to a politically correct agenda. While those who do not share my views are of course entitled to their ‘take’ on life, so am I.”
Due to the controversial nature of marches, calls for their banning have grown in recent years. In response to this Jonathan said that: “I presume that the issue that you are raising here is a cultural rejection and abhorrence of Orangeism per se and is not an annoyance at particular instances of any inconvenience that our parades may precipitate and which could and do equally apply to processions under the auspices of other groupings! The parades are events that are beloved by a large section of the population of Glasgow and with which they often retain long-standing cultural and familial links. These people have rights too. I do not propose to quote the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) Articles 10 and 11 (to which the United Kingdom was the first signatory) and the codification in the Human Rights Act 1998 which enshrine freedoms and liberties under which the whole of society lives.” Notably, he conveniently forgets Article 14, prohibition of discrimination; freedom of liberty and expression is not absolute.
When The Glasgow Guardian put to him concerns of Irish Catholics being intimidated by Orange Walks and the calls for them to be banned, he dismissed these concerns: “The majority of Orange Order parades are actually Church Parades, in which the member’s process to a place of worship in order to participate in a Divine Service, thereby practising their Faith. Occasionally, parades are arranged to commemorate significant anniversaries, banner dedications and acts of Remembrance. These have been significantly curtailed in recent years in a negotiated agreement with municipal authorities and other official agencies and in accordance with the recognised Codes of Conduct that the Councils have put in place. As always, as inherent in its principles, the Orange Order has behaved with integrity and in compliance with the established law of the land. Orange parades are legal, conform to all timetables and schedules of local and national governments, are confirmed by all official agencies for the excellence of their organisation and thoroughness of their execution. I should mention, in passing, that Orange Order parades are not a phenomenon confined to Northern Ireland and Central Scotland. These events take place throughout England and are even manifest in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand where the Orange Order is also flourishing. An accurate and appropriate analysis of the manifestation of a society’s level of tolerance lies in the evaluation of that shown to groups and individuals to whom one is not well disposed; not the ‘popular’ ones. Is it that prejudice towards one group to override ‘normal’ considerations of tolerance?”
As the member is a former leader of the Orange Order he wants to ensure that readers understand that these views don’t represent the current leadership of the lodge.
Orange Walks are steeped in a deep and ultimately complicated history. The Orange lodge claims that the parades “are beloved by a large section of the population in Glasgow”, but the Council consultation shows they are not. They say they have been curtailed, but they have not; there will be 75 this year when in 2019 there were 61.
Since coming to Glasgow I feel I have immersed myself in culture and one thing that always resurfaces is a sense of exceptionalism be it in the art scene or football culture or its historical underbelly. All cities are proud but Glasgow is unique. However, this is not a just reason to allow marches that undoubtedly cause offence to a large section of society and surely the time has come to address the ongoing debates over Orange walks.