Out of Order
The announcement by the Orange Order of its plans to march in the capital five days before the referendum (‘Orange Order Plans March’) was another gift for the Yes Campaign, the hope being that undecided and No voters keen to disassociate themselves from the less savoury elements of the organisation are pushed towards backing independence. Such has been the relentless conveyor belt of campaigning buffoonery by Better Together though, that one suspects the headlines made for an average day down at the Savoy, even if Team UKOK didn’t quite greet the news from their excitable chums in bowler hats with glee.
Unionism in Scotland has always had a slightly uneasy relationship the Orange Order and its contribution to the cause. Like the witless, boorish relative peppering a wedding speech with crude jokes from the back of the hall, the Orange Order’s overt displays of flag-waving Britishness and anti-Catholic sentiment are at odds with the values the Labour Party in Scotland still to pretend to espouse, and of course those of Roman Catholic voters, with the exclusion of George Galloway.
Political idealists, though, find themselves in very few winning situations, and the No campaign will accept Orange Order votes, even if they will not publicly endorse its support. Moreover it must be accepted by the Yes campaign, for all its civic nationalism malarkey, that it will inevitably garner the votes of nationalists bearing views towards the English not too far removed from those the less refined Orangemen hold against Roman Catholics and Irish republicans.
Ethnic nationalism though – and please take note high-brow mischief makers – is not necessarily prejudice, and neither does it always have negative connotations, although this is obviously dependant on the message on the banner and the tune of the flute. Ethnicity is not blood or race – there were no DNA self test kits in 1690 – it is culture, religion, language, song, tradition, history and heritage. Identifying and reaffirming one’s self or community with a culture via public display, display which very often marks an event in the distant and gory past with which each and every ethnic group on earth is inevitably associated, is something which can at times cause insult to others, despite this not always being the intention.
During this summer’s Bannockburn celebrations it can be reasonably assumed that there won’t be too many street parties in Dorset, likewise most Brits tend to avoid Fourth of July festivities. It is even rumoured that Brian Wilson MP, people-person extraordinaire and knight-errant of the New Labour charm machine, found himself in unaccustomed difficulty when attempting to give away free tickets for the Edinburgh Tattoo to Baghdad schoolchildren during a land reform field trip to Iraq (Sir Brian’s conclusion: in event of dictatorial regime or overbearing landlord, invading a country and murdering its civilians is a left-wing venture so long as said dictator is toppled. But don’t mention the oil).
If the Orange Order can promote its feelings of Britishness in the run up to the referendum without resorting to bigotry, then it is perfectly entitled to do so without criticism (blocking the street at public expense is another matter). Ironically, the undeniably stirring beat of the Lambeg and colour of an Orange march would provide the most positive case for the Union yet to those unaware of the connotations, and celebrating a 17th century battle certainly trumps the ‘pooled resources’ of nuclear missiles in An Geàrr Loch.
It is patently obvious though that the Orange Order goes far beyond celebrations of nationhood, or the marking of a conflict which gave its victors freedom, choice, or equality, such as would be those of VE Day or Bannockburn. By openly antagonising and reminding Roman Catholics of defeat, Orange walks are, needless to say, nothing more than bellicose triumphalism. There’s a difference here, primarily that Catholics and Irish nationalists are still perceived as the Order’s enemy in the present day, whereas Germany is unlikely to mount a counterattack on Paris anytime soon.
For a grown man from Scotland to work himself into fury banging a drum to a song about an Irish wall is surely something one must be brought up with, or have no sense of belonging in one’s own community, to fully understand. As utterly preposterous as it may be that anyone could care so much when their own country is riven with such inequality, Scotland however must accept that it if it is to welcome with open arms the cultures of people from all over the world, then it must similarly do so those of its nearest maritime neighbour and largest ethnic minority.
Despite the Orange Order in Scotland’s argument for the Union, and with it identity, being founded largely on religious and cultural links between Scotland and Ulster, it doesn’t quite add up. By symbolizing the Union Flag as a banner behind which the God-fearing Protestants of the British Isles rally, the Orange Lodge and its historians conveniently brush under the carpet the fact that there was no such thing as Protestant unity. Although perhaps today, as Christian fervour mercifully retreats to the advance of science, the presence of single identity can be argued for, it is generally not based on theology or any genuine belief in a higher power, in Scotland at least, but on political ideology and opposition to a united Ireland.
There was no Protestant church, and there was no single Protestant religion. That the word is an umbrella term for various religious sects who frequently opposed each other with as much fervour as they did Catholicism is something of which the Orange Order must surely be aware, particularly in Scotland, where memorials scattering the South West commemorate those put to the sword by government troops during the Killing Time.
Persecuted for refusing to accept the imposition of Episcopalianism, the Covenanters’ struggle, lacking utterly the colourful romance of the Jacobite rebellions, is a dark and relatively unknown period in the nation’s history. With kamikaze loyalty to their belief, the Presbyterian hardliners rejected England’s favoured branch of Protestantism, bringing them into conflict with the government and its ‘Severe and barbarous Highland Host’. Their enemy was not Rome, but London based monarchs and their desire for control.
By further failing to acknowledge that, as King of Scots, William of Orange was roundly unpopular for reasons ranging from Darien to famine, the Orange Order also view him strictly through the prism of the Ulsterman, and this is without mentioning the marginalisation of Scots Presbyterian settlers in Ulster by the Order and Anglicans, which led to thousands emigrating to America to eventually become what would be known as the Scots-Irish.
Despite bloody persecution, the Covenanters ensured both the continuation of the Presbyterian religion in Scotland and, ultimately, its guaranteed safety in the Act of Union, not to mention attempting to force it upon England by blackmailing Charles II. The Orange Order in Scotland thus bases part of its argument for the continuation of the British state on the religious connections Ulster has with a people which that very state, in fledgling form, tried to destroy, and a religious institution, the Kirk, which was never subsumed into the Union in the first place, something no one seems to have noticed.
In these, the waning days of Christianity, Protestantism is not the unifying ethnic vein running through the nations of the United Kingdom that the Orange Order portray it to be, and it never was. The Orange Order has every right, as have all ethnicities, to celebrate its cultural roots and to campaign for the British national identity with which its members feel an affinity. Indeed, it is far more endearing to vote No due to the tug of Britannia at one’s heartstrings than because Better Together tell you your first love, Caledonia, is too bedraggled and simple a creature to run her own affairs. Please though, leave religion out of it, not least the Presbyterians – misusing the allies you think you have is more awry than antagonising the ones you don’t.