Orange Fest(er)

Sometime in the nineties I was asked by Sky News to spend the day in Larkhall filming. It was July 12th.

I knew about the Orange Order and I’d seen plenty of flute bands. What I hadn’t experienced was total immersion in the time warp of brocaded uniforms, competing bass drums, toddlers in Union Jack dresses and Buckfast-bevvied teenagers. I wandered the streets (red, white and blue kerbs) with slack-jawed wonder, smiling nervously as faces loomed at me with guttural greeting.


Lurid banners announced bands from Antrim and Belfast, there was wild, unselfconscious cheering yet the police were wary and tense, turning a diplomatic Nelson to any number of minor infractions. I had only twice before felt such a complete outsider alone in an alien context – once when I was the only non-Chinese amid hundreds at the Festival of the Monkey God in Kowloon and when I was the only white at a black Baptist church in Georgia celebrating its reconstruction after a Ku Klux Klan burning. Both times I was made to feel at home. In Larkhall I allowed myself to feel distinctly uncomfortable and at times threatened.

Every cliché hove into view – plastic bags bulging with bottles, men peeing against buildings, youths silently spitting at the policemens’ backs. It appeared uncontrolled, a delirious saturnalia befitting Alloway’s auld kirkyard. The choreographed section was a line-up of kirk ministers and politicians from Ulster on a makeshift stage on the back of a flatbed lorry. They made pious statements to a thin scattering of men (some swaying) while the raucous carnival continued nearby. When one Dog-collar asked What shall we do with these ecumenicals? a voice called out: Shoot them. When a hymn was rendered meekly, two of the congregation applauded after the amen.


It was clear that drunkenness was descending into muscle dysfunction as rubber figures in sashes rolled by. I was attempting to be the impartial observer open to influence, judging rationally and ready to speak as I found. Had I been asked for a report, I fear what I would have said. I left after eight hours, relieved to be in the car heading east, chastened by the knowledge that this is my country. These are my people, the Scots.

And that’s why I think Orangefest must go ahead.

Pretending there isn’t a powerful and embedded Protestant tradition in Scotland is delusion. Saying the Orange Order has no place is dictatorial – it exists, it is supported – therefore, like it or not, it is part of our country. The judgements I reached, shared by many, of a tribal, triumphalist, backward-looking and intolerant clan could be used to describe some football fans or, even, when I think back to the eighties, of some mining communities where social conformity was expected and imposed through the NUM. Tight-knit, virtually closed communities, whatever else they have in terms of solidarity and self-help, also tend to intolerance and unyielding discipline. If it’s true that many thousands have deserted the Labour Party as an ideological home, then in a Britain in inequality and powerlessness, why shouldn’t some cling to a traditional certainty that pulls them together and allows them a show of defiance?

I have also been in the home of an Orange Order official and, away from feral teenagers and drunks, had a calm discussion about history and religion. As we judge football via hooligans, so we judge Orangism via thugs and drunks. Can we write off the entire movement based on its extremes?


I was struck too by the similarity of language between Orange Torch magazine and commentary in the Daily Mail. We are a ‘nation of psychiatric basket cases’ for voting SNP. The electorate is ‘barking mad’ for being won over by the ‘lying propaganda and fruitcake delusions’ of the SNP. Not so far from the Unionist media’s outpourings, is it?  If we praise the Daily Mail and other divisive outlets and treat their rants as civilised, in what way is the Order worse? And weren’t they on the same side in the indyref? The Orange Order is a more powerful supporter of Britain’s mighty Union than the Tory Party.

The answer of course is that we don’t like their ‘type’ – the socially primitive who are quick to aggression and don’t shop at John Lewis. But they are a creation of their upbringing, their environment and the Scotland they belong to. If we don’t like it – and I don’t – we still have to lump it. I don’t like a government that builds child poverty into its welfare system but I have to lump it.

On Newsnet we interviewed a woman from an Orange family who was voting Yes and her words were a reminder that our country is in a constant flux and there is nothing that we can’t change with argument and debate. We’ve already changed the political map and in a generation maybe orange will turn yellow too. I’m not holding my breath and I will be avoiding the city centre on Saturday. But every Billy Boy with a fife and a Lambeg drum has as much right to be there as me.

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48 thoughts on “Orange Fest(er)

  1. Yup Derek – who get’s to decide who can gather and who can’t?

    And if we are to ban something because we don’t like the views of those participating in it when do we draw the line?

    If it’s a thousand people in George Square we ban it but if it’s just three men and a dog prattling on the corner we let them carry on and chose to either engage or ignore? Where’s the line to be drawn and who decides?

    Of course it doesn’t affect me because I don’t live in Glasgow. But I used to and I have had sectarian abuse first hand. But there are laws in place against that.

    Better, I believe, to let them march but, rather than turning a Nelson as you put it, having zero tolerance to anything and anyone who steps out of line just so it becomes clear that free speech is not the freedom to break the law.

    And if, in the end of the day, the majority of Glaswegians don’t agree with what their Council has allowed then that is what the ballot box is for come 2017. That’s true power and influence – the pen IS mightier than the sword.

  2. Bill Halliday

    I wonder how many converts from “live and let live” to “enough is enough” the Walks produce each year? Thankfully it’s letting people see just how far Labour Councillors will go to try and get some support.

  3. Aye Derek, as much as I hate it you are correct

  4. Who praises the Daily Mail? Both it and OO marches are an embarrassment.

  5. I got into a tit for tat on Twitter for expressing this very opinion yesterday. It’s not for the governement to ban them, it’s something society needs to shun to the point of extinction.

    Let them congregate, let them march, let them piss in the streets, let them lie in the gutter wallowing in their own Orange flegellation, let them do what they will. Those who witness it will judge them accordingly and their support will continue to dwindle until it dies.

  6. Tolerance for cultural groups – fine.

    Tolerance for aggression and violence – zero.

    It’s up to the Orange Order to sort that one out.

    Meanwhile, after the recent scenes in George Square following the referendum which saw groups of people making nazi salutes beside a war memorial, flag-waving teenage girls being roughed up and having their flags snatched out of their hands, police being aggressively taunted, and several incidents of proper violence, the Orange Fest in George Square should categorically not have been given permission.

    Labour councillors are running scared of the SNP surge so they’ve jumped into bed with a bunch people who can only be described as fascists who are trying to “reclaim” George Square from the independence movement. That’s a very dangerous game they’re playing. Orangery and sectarianism needs to be left to wither and die a natural death. It should not be nurtured as a political base.

  7. The city centre will become a no-go area for a lot of people- a moving march is one thing but 7 hours continuously in the main civic square? Most ‘event-goers’ will be in the numerous local pubs for most of that time- a lot of them still simmering from a recent football reversal, (The only other tribal release valve that they have). Woe betide anyone who should wear green clothing or, god forbid, that their crucifix might be showing while they try to make their way to Queen Street station for example- it will be interesting to see how THEIR rights are observed and upheld. On the other hand, maybe some at the council think they’re being clever and are now giving the OO enough rope to finally hang themselves.

  8. In our democracy,everyone has the right to march and protest against policies they don’t like but I never understood what the Orange Order were protesting against….Catholicism perhaps?
    If they march to celebrate historical events then the phrase ‘get over it’ comes to mind, a bit like the Brit.Nat. celebrations of WW1,WW2 and so on.
    They should have a designated place where they can gather annually to do whatever it is they do without upsetting everyone else.

  9. All these things pass, given time. Who now remembers the graves of the ‘saints’ and the ‘martyrs’ for the Covenant? In time, we shall no longer need to rally at Bannockburn or hold memorial services at Culloden. Who now, outside the ballads, remembers Jock ‘o the Side or the Debatable Land?

  10. I cannot agree with this. There is no doubt that the Orange order is entitled to exist and even to march in public but there has to be doubt about the wisdom of allowing them to gather in Glasgow’s Plaza Mayor. This is a foolish decision which some people will live to regret. Send them out to one of the city parks to let off steam if they must but this decision makes no sense.

    City centre businesses and restaurants are already complaining about the loss of trade. People are phoning to cancel reservations. The logic behind allowing any gathering that has this effect must be questioned.

  11. Gavin C Barrie

    Isn’t the behaviour the Unionists in George Sq on 19 th September sufficient reason to refuse them assembly at George Sq? Why not a defined area in Glasgow Green, well away from the general public.

    • William Armstrong

      Unionist have every right to meet in George square after a victory in the separatist referendum why should only the minority be allowed to take over my city

    • so it was the unionists fault the scottish nationalists started fighting and ruined the celebrations over the no vote? absolute crap from you

  12. Sorry Derek. Utter rubbish. I am technically a protestant by birth but I have zero respect, allegiance or tolerance for these half witted bigots. Freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate are enshroud in our laws and culture (I didn’t say constitution)… Out and out racism and religious intolerance are not.

  13. The majority of people don’t want these people to own the streets for a second. Their music with FTP interjected and their deliberate provocation makes me sick. I rate them with the KKK and the BNP

    • Fiona Halloran

      Totally agree. The oo are bigots and sectarian always have been always will be. Who in their right mind bring children up to hate someone with a vengeance because of their religion. I was brought up with folk who belonged to the OK. Really nice people but put on the clothes and you become a different person.

  14. ‘and in a generation maybe orange will turn yellow too.’ It’s possible Derek. I’m not sure if It was the later

    eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries when Presbyterian Scotland became so thirled to the Union, but

    those gathering in George Square this weekend (in light of our recent constitutional debate last September

    and the ugly scenes in the square the following day) would do well to reflect on the fact that the vast

    majority of Protestant Scotland in 1707, bitterly regretted the proposed Anglo-Scottish Union, not just on

    religious grounds but because the treaty represented the abrogation of Scotland’s ancient sovereignty

    maintained against heavy odds through many warlike ages. To contemporaries, the fact that Scotland was

    one of Europe’s oldest polities was a living reality that united almost all Scots irrespective of confessional

    identity. Perhaps on Sunday after the festivities have ended, revellers could read Dr Bowie’s excellent book,

    ‘Scottish Public Opinion and the Anglo-Scottish Union, 1699-1707’. It will certainly help give them some

    badly needed food for thought, given that the poverty and deprivation many of them live in is authored in the

    parliamentary legislation emanating from Westminster.

  15. A trio of personal thoughts;

    God doesn’t exist in an age of Reason so the raisin d’être of the Orange Order i.e. Hatred of Catholicism is dead in the water which makes the OO irrelevant.

    Alternatively we do like to go to the zoo, so if you want to see an anthropological throwback to pre Homo sapiens, feel free to go along and get in the Attenborough zone. Revel in the sheer primitiveness of it all and throw them some raw meat (or Bucky).

    Thirdly, wonder aloud at the thought processes that went on at Glasgow City Council, look at a picture of Gordon Matheson and his cronies and ask yourselves, “Why?”

  16. Gavin C Barrie

    What are the objectives today of the Orange Order? What were its objectives, say 100 years ago? Do they have unchanged odjectives?

    Might be an interesting case study.

  17. Mick Cavanagh

    my take is slightly different as I see a distinction between respecting the rights of sectarian groups and promoting and facilitating their activities. If a pro republican fest was suggested would it be less controversial and would a civic reception and official george square event be regarded as appropriate? I see this as a step back – decades backward in one event

  18. Gavin C Barrie

    Damn, Objectives!

    Anyway whilst I’ m here again. Has the Roman Catholic Church changed over these last 100 years in Northern Ireland? Has its power bubble recently burst?

    And of course, a Northern Ireland, why?

    Ah, during Indyref, “they” put it about that Orkney and Shetland may choose Great Britain rather than an independent Scotland. Get it?

  19. All I can and will say is that I’m glad I have no business in Glasgow this weekend. I was in Glasgow some years ago when I saw my first OO march, and there wasn’t a single man or woman walking those pavements that day who stopped to watch. They hurried on, heads down.

    I’ve heard an OO spokesman say that he wants the people of Glasgow to see what they’re really about and to change perceptions – I doubt very much that holding a march and a rally in George Square is the right way to go about it. It’s worrying people enough that they’re shutting down their businesses for the day to protect themselves and their livelihoods – and their customers. I’ve already seen a distressing threat on FB towards them, and I cannot see the day ending well.

    We in the Yes movement get stick from the media and they know they malign us. Our marches, gatherings and demonstrations are loud but peaceful affairs, filled with good humour; policemen dance with us. They know we come in peace and are no trouble.

    My heart goes out to the police on duty tomorrow. I hate that they dread having to police it.

  20. I mean Saturday. Losing track of the days on my night owl work patterns. 🙂

  21. How much Fenian blood has to be spilled before the behaviour at these marches is hate speech? Moreover, how long until someone makes the point that one of the fundamental purposes of the Union is to protect England from Catholicism? (Being a presbyterian church, the CoS had no such fears over the monarch since their powerbase was politically independent.) The struggle in Ireland has in large part been a war against Catholics and the Lodge are just their cheerleaders. If we at least call it what it is, we can start to deal with it.

    In the meantime, the police ought to be prepared to lift anyone breaking the law – drinking in the street, peeing against walls, fighting, singing hate songs.

    • the fenian movement originated in new york. its members were survivors of the famine years in ireland, they were superceded by the IRB. which ceased to exist in 1916 after the easter rising.

  22. Almost unique to Glasgow/ Lanarkshire. Thank God.

    • obviously you have never been anywhere near the ayrshire coast. saltcoats, ardrossan and ghastly other towns and villages.

  23. Taken to Orange marches as a child, I remember the party atmosphere of this yearly opportunity for my family to reinforce their anti-Catholic bile. It reminds me that, in an eternally divided Spain, fascist marches are legal.

    So back to the OO – nice, educated people who presumably partly by childhood exposure felt themselves in an emotional comfort area, watching “our brave boys” march, and finding normality and community in a visceral hatred which still haunts Belfast today.

    Nice people at home, no doubt, but when they come together the comments are not so nice, Derek. This isn’t a protest or self-expression, it’s conscious reinforcement of bigotry, and worst of all, passing it on to the next generation.

    Lest we forget. Aye, right.

  24. It’s the public disruption we have to suffer and the cost of policing I object to. They’ve a right to their horrible culture, but since it involves the invasion of public space then local authorities should trim the number of these events to the level of public support there is for them.

  25. I would just like to provide a word of caution for all those going to George Square on Saturday, please please try to avoid too much contact in that enclosed environment, all those shell suits rubbing against each other, all it takes is for one of them to use his mobile to take a selfie and we could have a mass electrocution on our hands, be careful out there folks!

  26. Mad proddy dog

    My question is simple, if these people were in power would they tolerate us, no, they would obliterate us, gleefully, I’ d suggest, and do it for our own mad dog good…that is a scary proposition. Yet, they have the right to hold their views, and congregate, but they should get no special treatment or deference, they must be peaceful and uphold the law.

  27. Bill Halliday

    MBC mentions the cost of Policing. On that point has Wee-Wullie “I feel your pain” Rennie coughed up yet for the Lib Dem Conference.

  28. Derek, love reading your blog, but in this case I think your argument is simply in error. However, I see your point of view regarding the OO people being part of ‘us’. So, in the solid interests of compassion, tolerance and understanding here is my proposal. It involves a choice. Yes, you can continue to walk drunkenly up and down streets playing 17th century war-like music at no insubstantial policing costs to the majority of honest burgers, but only ON CONDITION:

    1. That everyone in the OO legally agree to undergoing a year-long course of privately-funded psychotherapy. Or, should finances be tight:
    2. Attend mandatory twelve step meetings of bigots anonymous.

    Problem solved.

  29. Well my view is ban the orange walk,they only bring trouble and take control of where they decide where they want to go.Freedom Square is no place for them as they will keep thousands of good Glesga people away from it because they are there and by chance they decide to walk threw.Freedom Square the abuse they will get is not wanted.So as i say my opinion and will await getting my head kicked with replys.

  30. While it is extremely unlikely that any supporter of an independent Scotland will be swayed from their belief by the gathering, marching and proselytising of the Orange Lodge.there is always a chance that a change can occur in even the most fervent unionist.

    My mother was a member of the Orange Order and the Eastern Star. My father was a Worthy Master in the Masons and both were members or the Church of Scotland.

    Both signed the National Covenant my father wore his kilt throughout his life and both wanted home rule for Scotland yet had a loyalty to a sense of Britishness brought about by the society they grew up in. Slowly the trappings of unionism dropped away and both became staunch members of the SNP..

    Sadly both are now gone although my mother got to see a Scottish Parliament before she passed on. But what did they leave? Children, grand children and great grand children all workers for our Independence and a legacy of hope for the future. After the referendum seeing that I was visibly upset my thirteen year old grandson said to me ” Don’t worry grandpa, we’ll get Scotland free for you”

    Let them march, gather, talk hate and fear, We have something much greater we have. hope and love and we will prevail

  31. You are wrong Derek. We condone by innaction. We consent to bigotry by allowing our bigegst city to be taken over by these thugs in bowler hats. There is no grey area in what they stand for. They stand against Scotland, against Catholics and against civilised rational debate.

    What about the 98% of the City who can’t go out for on Saturday because of these morons. The difference between the Hibs walk and the Orange walk is fundamental. One celebrates freedom from oppression and the Orange Order celebrates oppression. I would rather have no Irish polictics in Scotland but we must be clear on what minority means and what each group stands for.

    Must we put up with what happened in September all over again. Peaceful Yes campaigners attacked by unionist thugs. Who was the oppressed and the oppressor there Derek. These people are dangerous not an opressed minority. They must never be encouraged and their actions and beliefs must be left at their own front doors.

    Which reminds me of an irony. Houses with Union Jacks outside them are great. It lets us know that we would never want to meet the people inside.

    Wrong , wrong wrong end of stop defending them as some kind of ethnic minority. They are hooligans!

    • Do you know Scottish history, read about the covenanters and who set them free from oppression. Big jock you seem to know little about people being oppressed and little of shots history I wonder why.

  32. Sandy Mathers

    I long for an end to any influence that the Orange Order holds over anyone. Whether I think they should be banned from Freedom Square is neither here nor there. What I do object to is Glasgow City Council promoting bigotry on the rates. The Orange Order are doing what they always do. Glasgow City Council on the other hand is making a mockery of democracy.

  33. I heard the hyperbolically titled “Grand Master” of the County Orange Lodge being interviewed on radio. I thought at the time that his surname “Mister Hyde” was ironic, as that was also the name chosen by Robert Louis Stevenson for the evil villain/twin of his novel “Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde”.

    Grand Master Hyde confirmed in answer to his interviewer’s questions that not only were practising Roman Catholics barred from OO membership – but any Protestant MARRIED to a Catholic was also similarly barred! What does this say about his claim that the modern OO were not a divisive organisation and not about oppressing Roman Catholics?

    Final point, while I agree with Derek’s point that the OO should be allowed freedom of assembly and expression like others in our democracy, I think Glasgow’s central square is not the ideal place for this gathering. Glasgow Green would have been more appropriate given its more extensive area for marching and assembly and also in its remoteness from businesses which will inevitably be adversely affected by this particular gathering.

  34. Only people you can blame for this is Glasgow City Council who probably never really thought it through as OO ordered and City council jumped with no consideration for other people and businesses. I live in Ayr and every 2nd Saturday i go to Glasgow and enjoy myself in Freedom Square and i spend a few quid as well but i will not be going this Saturday so businesses will lose my money and how many more.Oh and alough i would likethe OO banned i agree Glasgow Green would have been better.

  35. Thank you, Derek, for some sanity in this conversation. Following the debate across Bella, the Dug, and now here, I have seen plenty of hatred spewed in the OO direction, and plenty of ugly invective. Those who slam haters with hatred themselves turn into haters.

    Then there is strategy. The enemies of Saor Alba love it when Scots turn on their fellow Scots. That way, the dirty work is done for them. It’s an old problem… when the underdogs score a win, they turn on their fellows instead, with purges, repression, and demeaning limitations. It happened to the Protestants after they secured a fair measure of independence in central Europe, it happened to the communists as they staged successive purges of those Bolshies and others who were just not up to snuff, heck, I even saw the infighting among the Greens. Live and let live, I say. The OO and the police are promising a whole different event this year. Let’s see. Maybe the new wind blowing through Scotland is affecting even them?

  36. That’s two now. Are you going for a Holy Trinity? Utter pish! These miscreants need to be gone.

    I can’t wait for your next post.

  37. The problem here is they allowed the Republican Celebration around the square when the Hope Over Rally was on….(deliberately timed by GCC I am sure..they like their wee insinuations) so can’t really bleat that the OO are having their turn….even though I hate it too..let’s just hope they let themselves down…badly.

  38. Jock fae the Wemyss

    Who cares about a silly wee rally? I really believe that most people don’t care about it (but will be glad when it’s all over) but what they do care about is the location? Why disrupt a complete city centre when there are numerous parks they could use and be confined to (and cordoned in)? Of course this is not about the OO having a ‘gathering’ it’s about a show of force and numbers anf the OO reminding us that their militias stand ready on the sidelines.

  39. Margaret Brogan

    There’s rather a lot of bile and hatred in some of these comments.
    The Orange Order is the product of poverty, deprivation and lack of education, these are what we were campaigning against during the Referendum campaign.
    I spoke to people while street campaigning in Saltcoats, it doesn’t just affect Glasgow and Lanarkshire, who said they were going to vote Yes in spite of being told not to by the Order. They were doing it for their weans, for their future.
    We are talking about our fellow Scots. I hope they don’t crash and burn today.

    • Having read your opening views I feel a sense of sadness and anger at the views of Larkhall. You have a made a very generalised statement about Larkhall and the people who live there. When these parades take place, it is pretty clear that the majority of people attending do not live in Larkhall . Iam not sure as to the relevance of your opening views and how this Inks to your conversation on this event being held in Glasgow. I appreciate events take place in Larkhall and in many others towns, but this does not accurately represent the majority of people who are opposed to such events and do not hold the same views on religion.

  40. If we live in a democracy surely the OO have every right to exist and promote their views

    One Scotland many cultures must also include the Orange Order

  41. One comment has said the Fest should have been at Glasgow Green but it was a festival NOT a march. It was only just before the George Square event stopped there was a short parade of banners. Seemingly it is okay for Nats to think the Square is somehow theirs but it belongs to everyone. The County Grand Lodge of Glasgow invited the RC Archdiocese be represented and their Archbishop sent 2 reps who were it seems gob-smacked and enjoyed the experience. The Irish Consul was in attendance and he was enthusiastic.On top of this a couple of years back the then Grand master of Scotland was invited to do a whole page in the Scottish Catholic Observer. Now such flies in the face of the short minded who come away with the stick sectarian and other guff. A lifelong Orangeman I have been in public office in the city ran a large youth organisation and one of the longest youth leaders in the west f the city and respected for it. Too many so called liberal minds are not that at all but knee-jerk and fall back on the past or some passing incident. My work seen me interviewed on BBC Radio and mentioned in a book

    Many in the Orange world from Dr Barnado (a Dublin Orangeman) and many others contributed to society and made no difference. In the last year of Strathclyde the Deputy Chief Constable put a message on the Net complimenting the Glasgow Order over the arrangements for the Annual Walk. The closed mind set condemn us for living in the past well the 4 “Walks” in Scotland hardly make us insignificant. Theh ate stuff comes more from the closed mind people and George Square was an enjoyable and friendly affair was peaceful and all left having enjoyed it including that Consul and the Archbishop’s two reps. He had apologised for not being able to be there but that the invitation was accepted and from the Irish Government really makes the diatribes quite stupid and limited grey cell examples! That the Order and the RC church can do what was done is a slap in the face to the twisted people who spit out rubbish here!

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