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By Jason Michael
ON 18 SEPTEMBER this year, the seventh anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum, a staggering thirty-four unionist-loyalist Orange Order parades will take place in just one city — Glasgow; one of two Scottish cities that backed independence in 2014. This of course is no coincidence. The Orange Order, in typical fashion — and with the consent of Glasgow City Council, intends to put on a triumphalist show of force to celebrate the victory of Britishness over Scottish independence and remind independence supporters of their place in the union. Magnanimity and the desire to heal old wounds are not virtues with which the loyalist Orange Order is familiar. No, on 18 September the majority in Glasgow who voted Yes will be told in no uncertain terms just who is in charge.
Younger readers, especially those from outside of the north of Ireland and the west of Scotland, may have some difficulty understanding the significance of these marches. In order to help them, then, let us very quickly explain what the Orange Order is and what it is all about. The Orange Order was established in Loughgall in the northern Irish county of Armagh in 1795 in the aftermath of the Battle of the Diamond, a local pitched battle between Protestant planter farmers (colonists from Britain) and Irish Catholics who had been dispossessed of their land. The Order was set up as both a colonist militia to harass the Catholic population and as a cultural force in Ireland to dissuade Protestants from joining the nascent Irish Republican movement.
34 anti-Catholic parades in one city in a single day! Who signed off on that?—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) August 13, 2021
In many respects the Orange Order is like the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. This is an explicitly racist organisation established to terrorise and disempower a subject community on behalf of the ruling political establishment. While some might attempt to argue that white Protestant animus towards white Irish Catholics is not racism, the truth is that it is both racist and sectarian. At the core of the English and later British colonisation of Ireland (the Plantation) was the British racialisation of Ireland and the Irish as an inferior people, and to this day the racial distinction between the Irish Gael and the British Saxon is central to the Orange Order’s understanding of its identity and privilege.
Why then are we about to experience the mass mobilisation of a British colonial guard dog, bred for the protection of British interests in Ireland, in a Scottish city where Catholics — and Catholics of Irish descent — are a minority? One can only suspect the British Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland’s recent closed-door talks with the top brass of Police Scotland at Tulliallan has something to do with this; considering policing is devolved to the Scottish government and that Mr Johnson also refused to meet the First Minister. Trouble is brewing — or rather, trouble is being brewed.
On 18 September the majority in Glasgow who voted Yes will be told in no uncertain terms just who is in charge.
Outspoken unionists have frequently associated the independence movement with the myth of the Popish Plot (1678-81), the fanciful idea that the Protestant English state was in danger from a Catholic conspiracy. This mythology, this deep prejudice, has lived long in the ideology of the British state project, and we have seen it deployed numerous times in the past when the British state has felt threatened from within. The relationship between the union state and Orangeism may not be immediately apparent today, but the Orange Order — a racist and constitutionally anti-Catholic institution — simply would not be allowed to exist in a modern enlightened society unless it served some purpose beneficial to the state, and nowhere was this more visible than in Ireland during the British military occupation known as the Troubles.
Scottish independence — the assertion of Scottishness (Scots and Gaelic) — over and against an English-British colonial ideology qua Britishness troubles the waters of unionists; it reminds them of their irrational and primal fear of the Catholic plot. While these are not necessarily unintelligent people, they conform to Robert Musil’s thesis on stupidity. As Sacha Golob explained in her article ‘Why some of the smartest people can be so very stupid’ (Aeon | Psyche, 4 August 2021):
Stupidity will often arise in cases like this, when an outdated conceptual framework is forced into service, mangling the user’s grip on some new phenomenon.
When your only tool is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail — and this, argued Musil, the author of ‘On Stupidity’ (1937), is the essence of stupidity; why smart people do dumb things. Unionists, unable to think outside of the conceptual framework of a dated apotheosis of imperial Britannia, see every internal threat as a repeat of the Catholic plot. Guy Fawkes was a Catholic, for sure, but the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was not proof that all Catholics were traitors. In Scotland, the Jacobites were viewed by London as Catholics (some were, but they were mainly Episcopalian), and so their cause became a Catholic plot. Likewise, in Ireland, where the vast majority of the population was Catholic, every rebellion and stirring of resistance was blamed on their Catholicism. The union’s failure to look at reality outside of its accepted and outdated framework rendered it blind to the reality that — from 1798 — this was Republican in nature, and, at that, a Republican movement founded by Protestant Irishmen and not Catholics.
Had Britain been capable of seeing Catholicism through a Catholic (or even a neutral) lens, it would have seen something altogether quite interesting. In 1870, Pope Pius IX (and popes are something of an authority on Catholic thinking) decreed that Fenianism was ‘…the enemy of the Church and the [British] state’ and thereby effectively excommunicated Catholics who joined the Fenian movement. The Catholic Church, an absolute monarchy, is no friend of Republicanism. Following the burning of Cork by British forces during the Irish War of Independence (11-12 December 1920) the Catholic bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, promulgated that anyone who joined the IRA would be guilty of murder and excommunicated latae sententiae (that is, automatically as a consequence of their actions).
Catholicism — religious Catholicism — is a natural monarchy. The papacy is a monarchy, and through its recent history has sided with Protestant monarchies in order to oppose the spread of Republicanism and other revolutionary ideas inimical to monarchic power. In Christian thinking, Christ — the archetypical leader — is a king, not an elected president. His is the image of Caesar and not that of a mere senator. This was the thinking of the Catholic Church Britain was incapable of seeing precisely because it had glued itself to a problematic fetish about Catholicism being the primal enemy of Britishness and the British state. And this is why we now have licence being granted to an organisation as repugnant as the Orange Order to stamp a distorted and outdated relic of Protestantism and loyal Britishness on Scotland as it challenges the union from within.
Scottish National Party leader speaks after Commons walkout