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.
Yet, we feel that we can’t ban these marches – that we can’t ban the organisation – because to do this would be illiberal, it wouldn’t be tolerant. Rubbish! If the Orange Order insisted on marching through the more affluent streets of Glasgow, insisting that they too were “the Queen’s highway,” they would have been banned decades ago. If their songs and their open hostility were directed against Jews or people of colour instead of Catholics, the government would have no option but to ban the organisation. So, why is this not the case when they are marching down working-class streets?
Sectarianism is a reflection of the historical, social, and political tensions of Scotland, dating back – of course – to the Reformation. Even then however, from the mid-sixteenth century, the struggle between Catholicism and the various Protestantisms of the Reformation period was always, in essence – as it was in England and on the continent, a power struggle. With the Peace of Westphalia – ending the Wars of Religion in 1648 – where states recognised the principle of cuius regio eius religio, which granted the monarch the right to determine the religion of the state.
Sectarianism is a serious social problem in our country, for sure, but there is little we can do about it when it happens outside institutions. We can’t police people’s homes to stop parents poisoning the minds of their children. The best we can do here is improve diversity awareness and education in schools and hope some of it sticks. But racism, prejudice, bigotry, and sectarianism thrive in institutions where such cultures have gone unchallenged and allowed to fester.
Portadown’s Orangemen now no longer march from the Drumcree church and so the insistence on parading down the nationalist Garvaghy Road has ended. This parade made its way down “Protestant streets” – a reminder of the social segregation of Northern Ireland today – where union and loyalist flags were waving in the breeze.
Orangeism is a culture no matter how much we protest, but that is because we have gotten stuck on the idea of culture as a good thing; the social expression of the better angels of our nature. Yersinia pestis, the organism responsible for the Bubonic plague, is a culture.
It is perfectly acceptable for Orangism to accommodate itself to independence. Interestingly this is already more than a future possibility – as is apparent with the presence of thriving Orange Lodges and loyalist communities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and in the northern counties of the Irish Republic.
The less that everyone else cares about Ulster Loyalism and the antics of its lunatic fringe the more impressive its show of idiocy. Over the last few days families have been evacuated from their homes because fires celebrating a historical injustice and genocide are allowed to take precedence over public safety. As fewer and fewer people around the world care what these people do the larger their tantrums are likely to get.