The Net of Saint Andrew

Alastair McIntosh reveals some little-known sectarian pillars of UK constitutional law that fuel the Orange Order’s “loyal” opposition to Scottish independence.


It wasn’t just Question Time a few weeks ago with Nigel Kirk Hanlin of Inverness – “the Braveheart of the Better Together campaign” – going viral as he raised his fist for the Union, for Highland regiments, and for Jesus. “British forever!” – and that from someone who was, by his own account, first militarised in childhood as a boarding school boy at Glasgow’s fee-paying Academy. So much for the impression that Nigel had breezed in straight off the croft.

On a mass scale it’s also the Orange Order and behind them, groups that drive an authoritarian theology that owes more to Paul on his off-days and the war-God chapters of the early Old Testament than to the pacifist gospels of Jesus.

On the Saturday immediately preceding the Referendum the loyal Order hopes to send 15,000 of its members marching through the streets of Edinburgh as “a celebration of Britishness.” Last month on this website J. Simon Jones berated the Kirk’s silence on such matters. The issue that I want to explore in this essay is that in terms of existing UK constitutional law, it’s the Orange Order that’s in the right. It’s we, the advocates of Scottish independence, who are out of order! While everybody understands that the monarch apparently has to be a Protestant to head the established Church of England, what’s much less well-known is how very deeply anti-Catholic sectarianism runs through British constitutionalism. Especially from its Scottish antecedents.

Rule, Britannia!

Some background. The Union was not primarily driven by English aristocrats wishing to give charity to their Scottish cousins who they’d tripped up on the Darien Scheme. More to the point, England needed to bolt the barn back door through which Scotland, with our Auld Alliance, risked letting in the French.

The Union, says Linda Colley, was:

… an invention forged above all by war. Time and time again, war with France brought Britains, whether they hailed from Wales or Scotland or England, into confrontation with an obvious hostile Other and encouraged them to define themselves collectively against it. They defined themselves as Protestants struggling for survival against the world’s foremost Catholic power. They defined themselves against the French as they imagined them to be, superstitious,militarist, decadent and unfree.
(Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, Yale University Press, 1992, p. 5)

Protestantism was not just a “protest” religion that courageously protested the medieval Roman Catholic church’s corpulent abuses of power in favour of “the priesthood of all believers.” Protestantism was also hijacked as a political locomotive by Europe’s rising capitalist bourgeoisie bent on a new world order facilitated by the technological and navigational advances that would drive global imperial expansion.

As a project initially off the Renaissance and later, of the hubristically-styled Enlightenment, freedom of thought conflated into free trade and the freedom to conquer “lesser” races. Thus the British Empire became, in the words of its own anthem – Last Night of the Proms and all that – “the dread and envy of them all.” This presumption of a God-given manifest destiny, the sense of being God’s “chosen people” was nothing less than “the charter of the land.” It was to this, “at Heaven’s command,” that the “guardian angels sang this strain: Rule, Britannia!”

Colonialism of the Soul

State sanctioned Protestant religion (as distinct from Protestant spirituality and many of its “nonconformist” churches) was therefore central, not an optional add-on, to the making of the British Empire. Like Rome was to medieval and early modern Catholic states on the European continent, the imputed word of God was the basis by which emerging modern power was legitimised. The religious imperative was the means by which the state lubricated the articulation of psychological energy from the inner lives of its subjects to the outer-life projection of power, including military force.

Narratorial control over religion was also the means by which subjugated people’s could be held colonised from within, both as internal colonisation geographically within the UK and as the inner colonisation of a spiritualised Stockholm effect complete with gratitude for our “happy constitution” in the process.

None of this is an argument against religion or even, necessarily, against state-sanctioned religion. Much good has come out of what, for example, the Church of Scotland Act (1921) speaks of as the “mutual duties” that church and state owe to one another and its consequences for dignity, education and the expression of a more complete human potential. What it is an argument against is the idolatrous hijacking of religion. Religion as the inner or spiritual life socially expressed in membership one of another in community – and that, hijacked for manipulative, self-seeking and very often, violent ends. Indeed, liberation theology views much of Jesus’ activism as having been about engaging such powers in his time.

Sectarianism on all sides in Britain was born of brutal civil wars, the violent theologies of violent men of violent times. It can be understood and necessarily forgiven in terms of the norms of those times and human failings, but to carry sectarian ideologies forward into the present only tightens the spiral of violence.  “Those days are past now/ And in the past they must remain.”

Britain’s Constitutional Sectarianism

It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that anti-Catholic sectarianism remains a bulwark of the Treaty of Union. This is especially explicit article XXV (the final article ) of both the English parliament’s Union with Scotland Act (1706) and the old Scottish parliament’s corresponding Union with England Act (1707).

As is well-known, both acts carry forward the provision of the English Act of Settlement (1701) that ensures a Protestant succession of the throne. Both acts also ratify for Scotland “the true Protestant religion” – that is to say, Presbyterianism or church government by elders rather than bishops – “to continue without any alteration in the people of this land in all succeeding generations.” What is not well known is that article XXV of the Scottish Act of Union explicitly and fully incorporates the old Scottish Parliament’s Act Ratifying the Confession of Faith and Settling Presbyterian Church Government (1690), also known by its short name as The Confession of Faith Ratification Act (1690) and colloquially as the “Revolution Settlement”. (The latter is in reference to the self-styled “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 when William of Orange invaded Britain from Holland at the invitation of the English Protestant factions. He was granted the throne along with his wife, Mary, whose father, James VII & II (thus “Jacobites” because James is Jacobus in Latin) William had just usurped.)

We Scots appear to have overlooked the continuing legal traction of this 1690 Revolution Settlement in our comfort at pointing the finger of sectarian blame at England’s Act of Settlement. Speaking at the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1999 the former Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, said: “The Act of Settlement is the British constitution’s grubby little secret: nobody wants to tackle it.”

In pointing out the mote in our English neighbour’s eye we ignore the beam in our own. The language of the 1690 act is choice. As can be seen on the website as linked to above, William and Mary did “… hereby revive, ratify and perpetually confirm all laws, statutes and acts of parliament made against popery and papists … for the true church of Christ within this kingdom.”

Moreover, the Revolution Settlement itemises in full and re-ratifies the Westminster Confession of Faith, thus why it is a confession of faith ratification act. This renders the faith “confession” of Scotland in current law a doctrinal creed that was drawn up by a group of mainly English and Scottish divines (gathered initially at Westminster Abbey) as ratified by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647. The Westminster Shorter Catechism that some of us will remember learning in school (and may even draw some benefit from) is a summary of this.

Scotland’s Grubbier Little Secret

Here, however, the sectarian secret gets even more “grubby”.

It feels uncomfortable to say that – the Presbyterians amongst whom I was raised can be the finest of people – but we must be vigilant and seek to speak truth in love to what appears on our watch. The unexpurgated Westminster Confession states that Scots of “the true reformed religion … should not marry with Infidels, Papists or other idolators” (24:3). The Pope in Rome “is Antichrist, that Man of Sin and Son of Perdition (i.e. Hell)” (25:6). From the standpoint of “the Elect”, the “Popish Sacrifice of the Mass is most abominably injurious” (29:2).

Reference to “the Elect” is to the Calvinist principle of double predestination. The non-Elect, the “reprobates” with no prospect whatsoever of redemption, are by default the Damned. It may be an arcane theology, but not so in Ulster, or the American Bible-Belt, and our own 1690 act leaves such principles unrepealed in current UK constitutional law. To some double predestination is a core Christian doctrine, pivotal to the “5-point” interpretation of Calvinism. To others, it is a tragic historical heresy. It misrepresents and discredits the Christian faith because it is based on a theology of fear rather than on Christ’s repeated admonition, “Fear not.”

Put another way, Project Fear has form. I hope that I am not succumbing to the temptation of facetiousness in so suggesting. Nagging anxiety and the craving for security in all its material forms is not just in our genes. It’s also in our psychohistory, and if we don’t understand that in those with whom we might disagree we might win the Referendum in September, but we’ll fail to transform our society because we’ll fail to take others with us in seeking to tackle the aetiology of disempowerment.

Legitimacy of the Orange Order

Where does the above constitutional theology leave such groups as the Orange Order? It is what they see themselves as protecting. Their loyalty is to the law of the land as it has stood for over 300 years. If we are to seek to understand, dialogue, persuade and not merely push them into corners, it is important to appreciate that the Order, in its own words, views the 1688 Glorious Revolution’s conquest of Britain by William of Orange as an event that “laid the foundation for the evolution of Constitutional Democracy in the British Isles.” Indeed, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian religion has been described as “the seedbed of democracy” because, when first published in Switzerland in 1536, it was, in relatively speaking, precisely that.

The Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) church principles by which a congregation “calls” its minister and kirk sessions of elders take shared decisions was very democratic compared with imposition of clergy from above by an oligarchy of bishops.

Like Nigel the Highlander, the Orange Order see their defence of hardline Protestantism as the bulwark against the erosion of “Christian” values and creeping despotism. Whilst not to be confused with the Orange Order or with the Free Church of Scotland from which it broke away in 2000, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) expresses this principle very clearly in a recent report; one that carries a very helpful theological history of British constitutional principles. It summarises: “The Union, with its key provisions of a Protestant throne and Protestant church establishments, has been foundational to the values and freedoms which have characterised the British nation since 1707 and has functioned in both Scotland and England as a strong bulwark against the constant menace of Popery.”

Sectarianism and the Kirk Today

There we see the spirit of 1690’s Revolution Settlement carrying through into 21st century Britain. But where does this leave today’s Church of Scotland, the Kirk as “by law established”? This is a Presbyterian church that, at least as I observe the rhythms of its parish life, is wrestling valiantly to develop a progressive Christian spirituality for the third millennium. How does it deal with having the Westminster Confession written into British law as its “subordinate standard” – meaning, subordinate or second only to the Bible?

The answer is that in 1986 its General Assembly wrestled with the angel out of a growing acceptance that parts of its Confession had become too “time conditioned”. Its subsequent declaration stated that it now “dissociates itself” from the crassly sectarian parts of Westminster such as those cited above. The position now is that it “does not require its office-bearers to believe them.”

Sectarianism and Scotland’s Constitution

In law the Act of Settlement has, as of 2013, been partly repealed to allow the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic.

So far there has been little pressure (or awareness) from within Scotland to repeal the Westminster Confession’s sectarianism as it continues to stand in the Revolution Settlement. However, section 35 of the Scottish Government draft constitution published in June states that (in the event of a Yes vote): “The Union with England Act 1707 is repealed.” With it would go the sectarian bootstrap of Article XXV.

The white paper, Scotland’s Future, proposes “no change to the legal status of any religion or of Scotland’s churches” in the event of a Yes vote. As such, the 1690 Revolutionary Settlement would presumably remain as a freestanding piece of old Scots legislation. However, its privileged position within the Union would fall and thereby hasten its drift to desuetude. It would be up to a future Scottish Parliament, perhaps encouraged by the Kirk working ecumenically, to take matters the whole way to repeal.

The draft Scottish constitution makes no explicit provisions for religion other than as part of equality safeguards. This has stirred fears amongst some church leaders that an independent Scotland would further slide towards secular materialism. I would like to think that this might be mistaken. One constitutional proposal has much greater implicit or symbolic significance for religion that most people might be aware of. Namely, “The national flag of Scotland continues to be the Saltire or Saint Andrews Cross” (8:1)

This throws an anchor line back to Scotland’s constitutional charter text, the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, with its affirmation of the “most gentle” Saint Andrew as the nation’s patron saint. There is nothing in the Bible about Andrew having been martyred on a decussate (or X-shaped) cross. The notion derives from early Christian traditions. These hold that the disciple was executed for having encouraged the wife of the Roman proconsul in her sex strike against her husband’s nightly drunken rooster-like advances and also, for encouraging Roman soldiers to lay down their arms in accordance with the standards of early Christian pacifism.

The Parish has a Saint’s Name

The draft Scottish constitution emanates from St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh, the heavy metal doors of which beautifully portray Andrew as one of the first-called “fishers of men”. The gospels additionally describe his interfaith role in arranging for visiting (pagan) Greeks to have talks with Jesus, and also, in being instrumental in the feeding of the multitudes. Liberation theologians point out that the feeding of the five thousand and its variants is the most frequent miracle in the gospel, recurring six times. Why such emphasis?

Because, they argue, it was the Roman emperor’s role to put on bread and circuses as part of keeping the people “doped on religion, and sex, and TV.” Here was Jesus usurping that role: inspiring a miracle that was probably not of magic, but more magically, of love, of community, of the willingness of the lad with bread and fishes to share. That is what subverts the power of empire, just as it was disarmingly subversive to ask of the empire’s currency: “Whose image and inscription is this?” (Matthew 22:17-22). To fly the Saltire of Saint Andrew is thereby to symbolise equality, nonviolence, interfaith relations social justice and emancipation from imperialism. Oh really? Well, as the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas observed, “The parish has a saint’s name time cannot unfrock.”

As for September 18th, my vote’s in Andrew’s net.


Comments (51)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Reblogged this on charlesobrien08 and commented:
    Aye well I am astounded at all of this,only ever knew the basics of it,and accepted it was for those of a religious nature,not thinking of the political points at all.

  2. Aye well I am astounded at all of this,only ever knew the basics of it,and accepted it was for those of a religious nature,not thinking of the political points at all.

  3. Wullie says:

    William’s much celebrated victory at the Boyne left the Irish Presbyterians as very much second class citizens, paying tithes to the Episcopal church and denied access to education.
    The Orange Orders arrival in Scotland saw their members being used to break up the meetings of striking Clyde workers fighting for a decent wage.
    Fortunately this reactionary import is on its last legs, a shadow of what it was in my young day!
    Working class Tories, the strangest of breeds.

  4. Dean Richardson says:

    Are the ‘Union’ flags on their glasses meant to be lenses or blinkers?

    1. Dave Coull says:

      They look like somebody’s photo-shop job to me!

      1. fudgefase says:

        No, they’re real.

  5. A good article, thank you. I would say however that the sectarian context which you describe is diminishing in Scottish national life. More pertinently, I can’t see that the job of challenging sectarianism is fundamentally-changed by a Yes Vote. Constitutionally, there is a lot which needs to be changed in the UK. But changing it within a broad continuation of the UK as we know it is at least as feasible as a start from scratch policy, if not more so. I’d like to add that – as both a Christian and a No supporter – I don’t believe that there is a straightforward ‘Christian’ position on the indyref. What matters is the heart and motivation.

    1. Yes, David, I could construct strong Christian arguments for both Yes and No as I’m sure you could too. “What matters is the heart and the motivation” – so right. I also agree that sectarianism would not fundamentally be challenged by a Yes vote. It might remove the Union as a source of legitimisation, but the underlying issues would remain to be resolved.

      In the sectarianism I’ve seen I wonder how much it’s poor-on-poor lateral violence linked to poverty – the intergenerational poverty Scottish Protestants and Irish Catholics each having once been squeezed from the land (by eviction or economic pressure) and cooped up together in urban settings. I know that’s a simplification. I speak as one who, a year ago, held an old woman’s hand as she died in a neighbouring street after being run over in a sectarian incident, and a few moths ago there were smoke bombs going off in the next street as a march went down – I’ll not say whose march because that’s not really the point. The point is that our communities hold some deep tensions that sometimes find ugly expression.

      I also wonder whether, even more than poverty, it is the deep need for identity that’s at the heart of things. In The Tears that Made the Clyde Carol Craig wrestled with the problem of why violence is at such high levels in the W. of Scotland. John Carnochan and his colleagues in the police violence reduction unit and Harry Burns in the NHS have wrestled with the same questions. I was thinking about this in an Ulster pub a while back. I’d been spouting some theory about Unionism and somebody said: “It’s not as complex as that: most of them would simply see it in terms of No Surrender!” Like Nigel’s “British forever!” Like parallel expressions on the Republican side.

      It left me pondering what it is that’s not being surrendered. An old siege in Londonderry? Or something in the psyche today. No surrender to, for whatever reasons, a loss of self? We of Celtic backgrounds were, until relatively recently, tribal peoples (the clan system). All over the world that’s the intimate social structure that modern forces have ripped from indigenous peoples (see Ray Burnett’s piece also posted on Bella yesterday and it’s comment thread – ). An indigenous peoples are ones intimately bound to community of the land, of society and of their spiritual underpinning. When that goes a yawning hollow’s created. No surrender! Yes, I could go with that sense of no surrender in such circumstances. It’s the “buoyancy of the human soul” as the late Colin Macleod of Govan used to call it. “You can hold somebody down for long enough, but sooner or later they’ll come back up.”

      I’d better stop. This water is deeper than what’s safe for my level of paddling. But what I’m trying to suggest is that the issue we’re dealing with in sectarianism goes beyond its outward religious presentations. It is spiritual, to a depth far greater than most on either side of the divide can clearly articulate. “My name is Legion” (Mark 5:9).

      1. Thanks for this comprehensive reply Alastair. Sectarianism is undoubtedly a blight in all of it’s forms and in all of it’s locations. As someone who was born and raised in the West of Scotland and went on to run an anti-sectarianism project in Northern Ireland, I have seen too much of it’s pernicious effects.

        I think that your key point is that sectarianism is about identity: formed at least as much by the parameters of what you are not as much as what you claim to be. More often than not, it’s a fearful identity, driven by a need to keep tribal purity for fear of becoming weak.

        This couldn’t be more contrary to the Jesus that we read of in the Bible – God incarnate who said Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called Children of God. Jesus also said that if you and the Gospel are not welcomed in a town, shake the dust off your feet as you leave; he didn’t say March up and down the Main Street for a hundred years until they agree with you. But best not to go down that route for now (traditional or otherwise).

        Although markedly different, I find this discussion interesting in view of the place of national identity in the Indyref debate. Proud Scot as I am, I can’t help but worry about the nationalistic ideology underpinning most (although not all) of the Yes Campaign. For all it’s faults, one great strength of the UK in my view is that it is a truly multi-national state, both reflecting the nationalities within it whilst at the same time transcending them. It’s this vision which – when the policies of the current government depress me – I remind myself of to remember what is and could be possible on this island.

        1. Proud Scot as you are but

          You haven’t been “home” in a long time, I think?

          Scotland is jsut about the most welcoming inclusive nation I have ever lived in, and I have lived in many.

          I take it that your memories of Scotland are gleaned from the Press and the BBC.

          and by the way, there is NO nationalist ideology underpinning the YES side or especially the SNP, in complete contrast to the BNP, EDL etc.

          They is a civic societal nationalism at the core of the SNP. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it is where we are going together.

          Finally, you have fallen into the trap of thinking that SNP means Scottish Nationalist Party.


          It is the Scottish National Party after the merger of two political parties, the Scottish Party and the National Party. Easy mistake if your up to date information and news comes from the MSM.

      2. That’s a whole lot of presumption in the space of a few paragraphs Mr Panda. I am home regularly, up to and including last week, and don’t need to defend myself further than that. In my experience it’s best not to make assumptions about the people you’re having an online discussion with if you don’t know them.

        I think you’re right that Scottish people, me and my family included, are a very outward looking and welcoming people. But that wasn’t what we were talking about. The point was, what are the implications when your presiding identity – and politics – is nation? As opposed to some other worldview, for instance socialism?

        Whether Nationalist Party or National Party, the distinction is largely semantic (British NATIONAL party anyone?) Both offer a vision of the world which is founded on and defined by Nation – I.e. Us not You. I believe there are bigger and better ideas by which to organise our political settlement.

    2. David – I’d love to see a post on Bella (not that such is within my gift) from you putting your arguments for voting No. Your most recent post accurately captures my position. There’s not enough contexts where people on both sides debate – and while I would probably not agree with your reasons, I do appreciate that you use your real name and openly declare your No-leaning position on a generally Yes website.

      As for Mr Panda (I do not want to refer to him or her by their Christian name, lest it gets me on some sort of register), but every time I see your name on various blogs it makes me chuckle, though that’ll be missed on readers from elsewhere who may not understand the political in-joke to which it refers. I’ll buy you a sugar cane stick if I meet you somewhere – fermented.

      1. Thanks Alastair. It’s enjoyable to find an opportunity where honest and sincere debate can be had without the pettiness and vitriol that can be found elsewhere (on all sides). If you’re interested, I have written a few articles on my blog about why I believe that No is the way to go. I think this one best summarises where I’m coming from –

  6. Clootie says:

    Even more reason to vote YES.

    All the people living in Scotland must be equal under the law and free to follow any faith or none. Our society must be fair and designed to reduce the gap between rich and poor. It must look after those in greatest need be that NHS or social support.

    Bigots of any form or shape should be shunned and pitied.

    I am from a staunch NI Protestant family and I turned my back on this type of bigotry as a young boy.

    Every Scot be they Protestant, Catholic, Hindi, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Rich, Poor, Man, Woman, LBGT, Old, Young or any other adjective will be a citizen with the same rights or we will have failed.

    That is why we have one vote. We decide our path in this first democratic step. Are we a nation or a region. Control or controlled.

    If we chose nation then we will shape our future at each further step thereafter because our votes will not be swamped by another nations politics.

    We will know next month which path we will follow.

    1. rabthecab says:

      Well said Clootie.

      1. JimnArlene says:

        That’s why I’m voting yes.

  7. Fay Kennedy. says:

    Once again I learn about the complexity of the sectarianism in Scotland through this great source Bella. How will I manage after the 18th. without my daily of fix of interesting well informed eloquent writing that has been my great pleasure every day for the past year or more?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We’re not going anywhere. We existed long before the referendum was announced and will exist long after it is decided…

      1. Stuart Muir says:

        Glad to hear it!!

  8. emmylgant says:

    May be I have my head in the sand…. Perhaps I missed something in the past sixty years or so… But with due respect, someone please tell me how where and when has “popery” been a threat to democracy in the last 50 years? Now, compare your answers to what fundamentalist christians on both sides of the atlantic are doing to democracy.
    Now what should you fear?
    And take a quick look at Canada’s history while you are checking.

  9. Apologies but we are seeing an upswing in very sophisticated trolls appearing all over the pro independence blogosphere.

    Anyway the defining political of the SNP, and I would guess most Scots is that of social justice and that can only be achieved, within the current Westminster settlement by way of national independence, independence from the neo liberal laissez faire economics, all three unionist parties embrace.

    Westminster is uttterly corrupt and will not change because it can get away with it. It gets away with it because they are above the law and they decide what is the law. It is a looting operation on the people.

  10. TwoPandasOneTory says:

    Tell me my politics are whatever you want, nationalist, socialist, conservative, call me any name that suits you, cybernat, Nazi or braveheart.
    If you think it makes any difference to me you are wrong, and despite your best efforts and dirty tricks, and in some cases because of them, we will still vote Yes and be rid of your sort forever.

    Tartan hats with ginger wigs, now they piss me right off.

    1. TwoPandas + whats-his-name? Getting pandamonium round here.

  11. Dave Coull says:

    Interesting and illuminating article, Alastair McIntosh. However, I do have to point out something you didn’t mention.

    In a photo accompanying this article, there are two men wearing Orange sashes with Purple stripes on them. These Purple stripes on their Orange sashes indicate that the men are members of the Royal Arch Purple. This organisation is much more of a “secret society” than the Orange Order as such, although that is bad enough. The Royal Arch Purple has “degrees” and initiation ceremonies. Although the Royal Arch Purple is officially a separate organisation from the O.O. as such, in practice, all higher ranking Orangemen are members of it.

    Secret societies are contrary to the Gospel. They are contrary to the instruction given in the Gospel according to Mark, and repeated in Paul’s epistles : “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone”. No mention of just passing on secret knowledge to a selected few. That’s Mithraism, not Christianity.

    1. gonzalo1 says:

      What is bad about having a secret society? It is not a crime, Dave, They would most certainly not be wearing anything that denoted political affiliations for that is forbidden within the Royal Arch which is a progression of the Masonic Lodge and certainly not the OO, which is completely different. THe reason i know is because I am a member.

      1. Dave Coull says:

        “What is bad about having a secret society?” asks Gonzalo1

        Secrecy leads to covering things up.
        We have seen plenty of secrecy at Westminster.
        We have seen loads of covering up of corruption and child abuse at Westminster.
        I am in favour of open-ness.

        “It is not a crime, Dave”

        Of course it’s not a crime.
        But covering up crimes is another matter.

        My father was a Freemason.
        My brother is a Freemason.
        My mother was a member of the Eastern Star.
        My wife comes from the USA, where her Scottish-born grandmother was taking her along to Eastern Star functions when she was a teenager.
        They had a sort of “youth wing” called Job’s Daughters.
        (After the daughters of the Old Testament prophet.)

        Do I think my father and my mother and my brother and my wife’s grannny and indeed my wife herself were all bad people for joining these secret societies?
        No, I don’t.
        Do I think secrecy is a good thing?
        No, I don’t.
        Because in some situations secrecy can, and does, lead to covering up things that really ought to be uncovered.

    2. Jim Liddell says:

      I agree, Dave. These secret societies – or societies with secrets – can be classed as ‘neo-Gnostic’ in many ways, and are, as such, antithetical to Christianity as I understand it.
      Speaking as a kirk elder and somewhat of a Scots history buff, I find the ‘OO’s equation of their own identity with the Covenanters of the late seventeenth century as a form of identifying themselves as ‘Scottish’, somewhat strange.
      As an Ayrshireman, I’m pretty vcertain that some of the more extreme covenanters, with whom the OO in these parts identify, with their “We have no king save Christ” banners, and their setting up illicit ‘praying societies’ in the 1690’s in opposition to William and Mary, would be news to ordinary members of the order in this area – if they bothered to read it.

  12. Dave Coull says:

    The Act of Union with England passed by the Scottish Parliament makes no mention of Ireland. Neither does the Act of Union with Scotland passed by the English Parliament. That’s because both Ireland and Wales were already under English rule.

    But although the Scottish Act of Union makes no mention of Ireland, the Irish Act of Union of 1801 DOES mention Scotland. In the section of the Act relating to the Church. This states that there will be Union between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, but it specifically states that this Union will NOT include the Church of Scotland.

    This was because both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England were episcopalian and recognised the British monarch as Head of the Church. Whereas the Church of Scotland was presbyterian and held the doctrine that “the one and only Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. There is NO Earthly head.”

    For this reason, presbyterians were originally excluded from membership of the Orange Order.

    Because they were too Protestant for the Orangemen.

    1. Muscleguy says:

      Episcopalianism is by far the most Catholic of the Protestant churches and was expressly designed that way with the Archbishop of Canterbury simply replacing the Bishop of Rome.

      In human communities the sharpest differences, those most dearly held and fought for are often those that to an outsider are the finest. The CofE has bishops, bells and smells, catechisms, choirboys and until recently both monks and nuns. If it looks like a duck . . .

      That is why the Orange Order was necessary, because the differences were so minor so they needed to be sharpened. Not for religious reasons but for royal dynastic ones. England might still be Catholic if Henry VIII was less syphilitic or more fertile or if biological reality was better known. Even the arguments amongst the later Stuarts on which faith to profess was often more about foreign alliances made or desired than personal confession. Just as much as for the last Tudors with Mary marrying a Spaniard while her sister fought the Armada which would not have been sent except to push the claim from Mary’s marriage.

      Religion and which sect one professed was much more about diplomacy and a convenient means of motivating troops and supporters than anything theologically meaningful.

      Yours an atheist presbyterian in the Northern Irish sense. Oh and a sometime Celtic supporter (thanks to a family friend) to boot.

    2. gonzalo1 says:

      And the Episcopalians are really not a kick in the arse off the Anglicans, which of course form the establishment of the UK and which I was also brought up in. There are very few Episcopalians in Scotland nowadays, the most notable being Michael Russell of the SNP.

  13. Thank you, Dave Coul. I was not aware of those fascinating points you raise. Incidentally, it is the editor of Bella Caledonia that chooses the pictures, not me (though I had suggested a picture of an Orange march), and in response to Dean Richardson (above), I have no idea what the spectacles are meant to be. They could even be an Orangeman’s sense of humour!

    Several images rest with me when I reflect on the OO. One, from May 2001, when I took a Centre for Human Ecology student study tour to Ulster, was of a Catholic woman on the Garavaghy Road telling us: “They say they are just playing traditional tunes, but we know what those tunes mean, and they cut through us like a knife.” It astonished many of my students that people like her did not consider themselves “British” but as they listened in the Drumcree Community Centre they could see why.

    An opposing image is of a very ordinary guy in Govan, proud of being in the local Lodge, no secrets about membership, and saying that for him it was just a club that delivered mutual help to one another. Viewed through this lens was to see the OO as a benign grassroots organisation, and this is where your point about its many different strands is perhaps important.

    Yet another image from that 2001 study tour was that in the evening, after Garavaghy and the Sinn Fein at Bessbrook (as British army helicopters that were,at that time, ironically, commanded by my brother in law clattered overhead) we went along to the Portadown Orange Lodge to meet with the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge in Northern Ireland, Dennis Watson, and the County Master of the Orange Order for Armagh, Nigel Dawson.

    The Orangemen sat straight and stiff, uneasily on guard with these students who had felt such sympathy with the Catholics they had met earlier in the day. They struggled to communicate the principles for which they stood in any way in which our group could make a meaningful connection. Eventually, in profound discomfort, I turned and said to the students: “What we don’t realise is that these gentlemen see themselves as the heirs and guardians of the democratic freedoms that today we take for granted.”

    At this, the two Orangemen breathed a palpable sigh of relief and for the first time, relaxed back into their chairs. “But what I don’t get,” I said in follow up, smiling, “is how come when you’re all so Presbyterian and egalitarian, you give yourselves such fancy titles as Grand Orange Masters of Grand Orange Lodges?”

    The room erupted into laughter, and from that point on we were able to have a flowing conversation in which differences of power and perception were explored with warmth and honesty. My sense is that the “plantation” (i.e. colonisation) of Ulster wronged the indigenous Irish Catholics and wrongfooted poor Scottish Protestants who were given land there via an underpinning political ideology that might be derived from the Old Testament book of Joshua, but not from the gospels of Jesus.

    If any members of the OO are reading this debate it would be very interesting to hear how they see their position, and if they feel misunderstood, in what ways.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      I think the Union Jack spectacles are somebody’s photo-shop job! Not part of the original photo. Everything else about the photo looks genuine, including, of course, that purple stripe on the orange sash.

      1. rabthecab says:

        What makes you think they’re photoshopped Dave? They can be bought in any number of shops (at least they can down my way!)

      2. Dave Coull says:

        I thought those glasses must have been photoshopped onto the picture because I thought the purpose of glasses was to enable you to SEE, and I didn’t think folk would see very well with these things on. However, rabthecab informs me the glasses are indeed real. You learn something ridiculous every day.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          The glasses are real, nobody photo-shopped them.

    2. dercris says:

      Let me begin by declaring that I have been and continue to be a supporter of the Loyal Orange Order and its historic role in the defence of the people of Northern Ireland as well as its support for the cultural aspirations of people of the Protestant faith in the face of threats from other groupings. I have proudly walked the walls of Londonderry and supported the major ‘walks’ across the central belt of Scotland. I am a Past Master of an associated fraternal organization (Masonic) in which we have many members from Orange Lodges.
      So it is with some reluctance and indeed disappointment that I have to disagree fundamentally with the position of the L O L of Scotland to come out in support of the NO campaign in the Referendum.
      There are three reasons for my disagreement with the Orange Lodge decision to oppose the YES campaign: they are Historical, Cultural and Political.
      William of Orange was declared King of Scotland as well as King of England (Wm 111) and it was as the defender of the faith that he received the support of the people of Independent Scotland. (William died in 1702 before the Union of the Parliaments in 1707). So William of Orange was the monarch of an Independent Scotland .So too would our current monarch Her Majesty the Queen be the Queen of Scotland (as well as Canada. Australia New Zealand etc.) Independent Scotland would retain the monarchy going forward a vital part of the historical legacy of William of Orange.

      As one born and bred in Scotland but with part of my education in England I have a dual cultural heritage. I am both Scottish and British. After Independence I will retain my British cultural heritage it can’t be taken away by politics. I.e. I will still acknowledge the great contribution of British cultural icons like my favourite dramatist Wm Shakespeare, or author Charles Dickens or the Beatles or Arsenal Football Club or yes even my love of cricket. So much of my education has been British that I cannot just give it up. After all we are still joined physically to the British Isles and will retain strong ties with our British cousins. For Independence is a political decision not a cultural decision. Independence cannot separate us from our cultures like God Save the Queen-she is our Queen.

      Politically an Edinburgh Government of and for Scotland will govern Scotland better than the distant Government of Britain based in Westminster. Indeed it my disappointments in the quality of Government we receive from London that has helped me make my decision to vote Yes. Belfast has quite rightly separated itself from Dublin and we all support that.
      The Parliament in Westminster has failed the people of Britain. Economically all parties over-tax hard working income earners while under taxing wealth and the very rich. The NHS is being privatised and England has been badly let down by Westminster without a devolved assembly (unlike Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and London).
      England has also suffered very badly from misguided British policies on immigration making parts of England unrecognisable as a part of historical Britain with Sharia Courts having permission to function!
      But far more than England the people furthest away from London have suffered most from being governed by London. Take part of the UK that matters so much to many in the Orange Order, I speak of course of Northern Ireland which has been let down so badly by Westminster. While Belfast/Ulster is quite correctly politically separate from Dublin (separation is not in principal a bad thing) nevertheless it has been the people of Ulster that have had to fight to keep their sense of Independence in the face of a series of London parties trying to undermine Ulster’s political identity and separateness. Indeed so badly were the people of Ulster treated by Westminster in the Belfast and Good Friday agreements that major protestant political parties in Northern Ireland urged an Independent Parliament for Belfast (even declaring the option of unilateral independence.)
      The Ulster Unionist Party’s WF McCoy as early as the 1940s urged Independence as the best way forward in order to defend protestant Ulster. Wm Craig’s Ulster Vanguard Party along with section s of the UDA supported an Independent state like Canada. Glen Barr and the Ulster Loyalist Central Coordinating Committee in 1977 again urged a form of Ulster Independence. The Ulster Clubs, Ulster Independence Committee, the Ulster Independence Movement in opposition to the sell-out of the Tony Blair Belfast agreement created an Ulster national movement to oppose London rule. Ulster identity has been the policy of the Ulster National movement and its cultural clubs have been in the forefront of support for the Orange order, the 12th July walks, flying the flag and the commemoration of Londonderry etc.
      Political independence for Ulster from Dublin rule was a necessary political initiative. So it is for Scotland to have its own government rather than Westminster. Independence in Scotland is a political way forward.
      The Scottish people will retain close affinity with our many friends across the British Isles especially in Northern Ireland but we need to have our own voice internationally in order to make Scotland better and stronger. With approx 600 seats in Westminster and Scotland with only 60 there can never be democracy for Scotland within the London parliament. So while all parties in Scotland (save the Tories) had their MPs voting against the Bedroon Tax we still got the hated Tax.
      The people of Scotland should rule and govern Scotland and the Orange order should see that as a positive way forward and lend the YES campaign its support.
      Yours fraternally
      Chris T

      1. gonzalo1 says:

        Interesting. However, may I reiterate that, as a practising Freemason and member of the SNP, I can reveal that many in the Masons do not have a high opinion of the OO and those, in particular those, who follow it. The practice of stopping outside Catholic churches and playing the Lambeg drum is viewed as being insensitive, intimidatory and lacking in respect for our neighbours and fellow Christians. Masons do not, on the other hand, march anywhere. They hold meetings and mind their own business. They, of course, are not a secret society due to something called the internet where you can find any information that you wish to know.
        I would pretend that the net, in the other sense, has not always been as tight as many would have wished and that there are some in the movement and who hang around the premises who would be regarded as undesirables. However, in that regard, they are not alone.

      2. Thank you, Dercris, for sharing your fascinating position of being a member of the OO but in favour of independence. It just shows how nuanced this whole debate can be, and how careful we need to be of not stereotyping the positions of others. I do wonder why you feel the need to hold a Protestant identity not just in your church (I presume?), but also in the OO with such a strong focus on a military past, one which, at that, was of a colonial nature in Ireland. But then, I am a Quaker and pacifist who believes that Jesus never taught violence, not even just war theory: he taught nonviolence. I’ve written about this at and , I do accept, however, that if you read the Judeo-Christian scriptures through a lens that relegates the gospels to other books therein that (as I see it) are part of the historical journey towards Christ’s pacifist position, then you can draw out a form of religion – like Moses and Joshua did – to which nonviolence is not at the heart (Google, for example, Numbers 31). However, in my view such a religion is incompatible with the over-arching “scripture proof” (to use Protestant language) that “God is love.” As regards sectarianism, I know that some member of the OO would claim that they are not sectarian. I don’t quite understand that argument given the OO’s position towards Roman Catholics, but I would leave it pondering what Jesus might have meant in such passages as: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16).

        Thank you also, Gonzalo1, for your posts from a Masonic perspective. In one of them you ask what is wrong with a secret society. My answer is that secrecy is at odds with an open society. The very nature of a secret is that others don’t know what the secret is or how it might play out in terms of social power, perhaps violating fairness and democracy. As such, secret societies stir fear and mistrust. Secrecy blocks transparency and that is a spiritual problem because most mystical traditions understand social reality as being about profound interconnection. According to such worldviews we are “members one of another” (Paul), “branches on the vine of life) (Jesus), “Atman is Brahman” (small self is integral to great self) as the Upanishads of Hinduism say, “The faithful are as one body” (Islam), “all is Buddha nature.,” etc. I don’t see how secrecy can sit with such interconnected worldviews, but then I don’t know much about Masonic orders, and it may be that the worldviews that I am describing exist in a different universe of discourse.

      3. paulgillen88 says:

        Thanks for that input Chris – a really interesting insight. I’ve written an article on Bella before (in the Journeys to Yes blog), where I put across my reasons for voting Yes, as a Northern Irish Protestant. I’m a social democrat at heart, and tribal politics (mostly from the Labour Party, but from the Orange Order etc as well) is ruining the debate about what kind of society we want to live in. The Yes side is much more clear on that, whereas to vote No, we’ll just get the same out of touch Westminster system that we’ve always had.

  14. lochside says:

    Dave Coull’s point about the Church of Ireland being Episcopalian and as one with the C.of E. is very significant. It’s why the United Irishmen drew Presbyterians to their fold. It’s why literally tens of thousand of Ulster Scot Presbyterians left N.I to go to the U.S in the 18th century, less than 2 or 3 generations after being ‘planted’ there

    It’s also the reason they formed the backbone of the Revolutionary army against the British. These re-named ‘Scotch Irish’ retained vestiges of their bigotry against the Catholic Irish, but realised the biggest enemy was the British State that ‘planted’ them in Ireland first and then exclude them from the ‘Ascendancy’ once domiciled there.

    The Orange order has managed to distort Presbyterian history in Ireland and Scotland to such an extent that the rank and file think the Queen is their Church head. These ragged arse tories are little more than brain washed uneducated, theologically and historically illiterate slaves.

    The key is in their uniform: cargo cult primitives dressed like their’ betters’. Working class Celts dressed like City of London Bankers marching behind a Cross of St. George with a stolen native Irish symbol of a Red Hand stuck on it for vindication.

  15. Douglas says:

    One answer would be a second Plantation, funded by the government, to areas where sectarian strife still exists in Scotland and across the water…A second Plantation of deeply religious folk from all around the world, just think of the possibilities!

    Trappist monks, Zoroastrians, Druids, Christian Scientists, Mormons and Anabaptists, Shintoists and Shaminists, and other religious zealots of all different creeds…turning these hotbeds of sectarian society into a patchwork communities of “look how many different religions there are in the world, but mine is better than yours”…and mixed ghettoes of “We are all entitled to our beliefs, check out how exclusive mine are” and over arching religious neighbourhoods of “one thing we can all agree on is that we don;t like the secular materialists, they are boring and they just don’t get it”…

    Sorry, a joke,……that’s one thing all of the religions of the world have in common as far as I can see…they don’t have much of a sense of humour and in fact, I think that there is more than one passing reference in the Bible to how laughter is evil, demonic etc..,

    The Bible which is a one very, very, very long story of literally dozens and dozens and dozens of miracles, visions, dreams and people possessed by “devils”. I mean, do religious people today believe that Jesus went about freeing people from “devils” as told in the Gospels? Do believers these days believe in demonic possession? Do you Alistair? Just wondering…

    I would like to live in secular State, one which radically refuses to countenance any backing of any religion at all, and that doesn’t mean I am not a spiritual person, much less a materialist.

    It means I do not believe any one particular religion has an, exclusive, direct line to God if there is a God.If people want to believe in a texts written hundreds of years after the events they describe, and thousands of years before the advent of science, that is up to them.

    But the State must be a rational and impartial actor. Religious instruction at school should be limited to describing the literally hundreds of world religions instead of forcing this or that particular dogma down people’s throats

    I do not want a Protestant or Catholic Scottish State, I want to live in a Scottish State which minds its own business and leaves religion to people to decide for themselves, otherwise known as a secular Republic.

    How many more centuries and how many more wars must we tolerate from the religious fanatics in one part of the world or another?


    1. Douglas says:

      And by the way, if Catholics, Protestants Muslims and any other religious people want to have their own private schools, then fine by me, please, by all means, go ahead…

      But not one word of religious indoctrination paid for by the tax payer in a state school, not one!!!

      When I think of the sanctimonious minister who came along to prattle on to us in what was supposed to be a “non denominational school” in Edinburgh the capital of the Enlightenment, it makes my blood boil.
      Religious indoctrination, pure and simple, of children, Absolutely disgraceful.

      Turn on your TV and somebody is killing somebody somewhere over some religious belief or other.

      Which is why schools should try to teach children to think, to critique and to question, never, ever, “to believe”…

      1. John Lee says:

        Absolutely spot on

  16. Douglas says:

    The Catholic Church which, of course, was the first institution in the world to invent the Index of Prohibited Books, and has always been deeply and fanatically hostile to culture and bitterly and violently opposed to learning, and which for centuries burned, maimed and killed its opponents.

    As opposed to the Presbyterian Church here in Scotland and its fanatical orgy of looting and the destruction of Scottish chapels, Scottish art and Scottish culture starting at the Reformation and going on for centuries, also burning, maiming and killing its opponents and, eh, witches (folk possessed by the devil, right?) with zeal and wild abandon for centuries.

    These two institutions will at some time in the future be looked back on as the institutions of barbarity and cruelty nonpareil in the history of human affairs. As for God, that is wholly different question..

    1. Douglas – I very much share your concern about what I call spiritual abuse – the forcing of religion on others. However, I am a little perplexed where you say: “… and that doesn’t mean I am not a spiritual person, much less a materialist.” If that means that you do in fact accept a non-material, or metaphysical, spiritual underpinning to reality, why are you so antagonistic towards religion, which I would see simply as the collective or social expression of spirituality?

      1. Douglas says:

        Alistair, greetings.

        I don’t accept that organized religion should stake a claim, as it invariably does, to being the only valid expression of spirituality for human beings, nor that the church should set itself up, as it never fails to do, as the only meaningful repository of the spiritual life of human beings.

        Spirituality can be expressed in lots of other ways, not least in art and philosophy and fraternity and brotherhood and carnal/spiritual love and love of nature.

        I’m not hostile to religion per se, but I am hostile to the State arrogating itself the right to tell people what to think in any shape or form, and that includes their identity by the way. I am not comfortable with this “Scottish identity” thing which keeps cropping up.

        I don’t believe that any single book can ever tell the whole story. All of the world’s religions remain wedded to a total idea of human existence and a single dogma and faith. Why? You might have thought, given that all of the meta narratives have broken down in other fields like philosophy and politics and art, that something of the same might have happened to religion. We have many, many religions in the world, and I’m sure they all have some good aspects to them.

        But the great religions are not interested in the spiritual life of humans so much as power, or at least that’s how it looks to me.

        Otherwise, we would be taught at school about the history of religion and philosophy, instead of being treated like imbeciles, having carefully selected parts of the New Testament read out to us, which is to say, the reasonable parts, along with a shameless attempt to terrify children into believing in hell and the eternal torment of the afterlife, to terrify them into not thinking….

        The people who do these things, and they are still doing them in Scotland today every week, are sadists or psychopaths, I don’t care what excuse they want to call it.

  17. Davy says:

    Very interesting and informative article and comments, demonstrating how Scottish and Irish history is inter-tangled. Would it be right to say that although the Orange Order may have been instigated by the Episcopalian establishment ( unionists ) it has over time been taken up by working class Presbyterians ( loyalists ) , many of whom are of Scottish descent ?
    Interesting article here on Ulster Scots

    1. Dave Coull says:

      Davy asks “Would it be right to say that although the Orange Order may have been instigated by the Episcopalian establishment ( unionists ) it has over time been taken up by working class Presbyterians ( loyalists ) ”

      Taken up by working class Presbyterians, yes. But not taken OVER by them.

      As it happens, my father was born and grew up in Clydebank, served his apprenticeship in John Brown’s shipyard, and worked on the building of the Queen Mary. That’s right, the boat which is nowadays a tourist attraction and floating hotel at Long Beach, California. And my father wore an Orange sash. As a youth. In the bygone days of yore.

      Okay, so my dad was definitely protestant, and he supported Rangers, and he liked the colourful Orange banners, and he liked the tunes (I learned them from him), and he liked playing a bit louder when they passed certain buildings. But nevertheless he wasn’t devoted to the established order. He listened to and absorbed the socialist message of fiery Red Clydesiders. And in 1952 he took me, a young laddie just eleven years old, to a public meeting at which we heard a talk by Ian Hamilton, who had recently “liberated” the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. Together we joined in the applause. In his later years my father was a supporter of independence for Scotland.

      There is going to be an Orange march and rally in Edinburgh on Saturday the 13th of September, just 5 days before the referendum. The message from the High Heid Yins of the Orange Order will be “Just say no!”

      But don’t make the mistake of thinking that will in fact be the opinion of all those taking part in that Orange rally. For some of them it might be an enjoyable day out. Then, 5 days later, some of them will go into the polling booth and quietly put their mark beside YES.

      1. I love that, Dave. A pearl of a case study in why we should try and go heavy on the issues but gentle on the people.

        My father too was one for saying “they should bring back the black and tans.” Took me years to figure out what he meant. In parallel, he taught and practiced the philosophy that kindness is what matters most. That’s why, although I think sectarianism is an evil that, in Walter Wink’s sense, we must name, unmask and engage, we do need to remember that human beings are behind it. At least, that’s what I attempt and not always as successfully as I might.

  18. Barontorc says:

    What a fascinatingly honest forum, which has produced some information that now unearthed would never have seen the light of day otherwise. Many thanks to all.

    I hope and believe it will be YES, and yes there are many skeletons rattling behind us all, but surely it is right to run your own life.

    I’d guess that Jesus, alongside every other selfless person would be for a YES, which again is not hard to work out and it’s also from an ‘indoctrinated background’ that I’m happy to live within.


Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.