AMIDST the echoes of a Catholic childhood in the West of Scotland, the clamour of orange parades still resonate. In vain you try to recall a sense of jeopardy as all those men and women, their faces hard as flint, marched past on feet that always seemed to be set at ten to two on a clockface. There was no jeopardy though, only fascination tinged with a slight unease from all those embroidered stories from uncles in whisky when Margaret Maria or Damian John were making their first holy communions.
In those hot summers there was a swagger about the Orangemen that seemed rooted in a confidence that comes from knowing your place in society and in the certainty that it was near the top of it. In the decades that have since passed that confidence has steadily evaporated and there is little certainty about anything. How could there be? The pillars that once upheld and reinforced their view of the world have crumbled and what remains is under siege.
The Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland, once a citadel of intellects like Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Forsyth and George Younger, is now the preserve of an assortment of backwoodsmen whom you wouldn’t trust to return safely with the messages. The Church of Scotland is a mere husk of what it once was; susceptible to every passing populous whim and calling it ‘inclusiveness’. The factories and yards that once guaranteed well-paid employment and security of tenure have vanished and the once downtrodden Irish Catholic community has risen to a position of genuine influence in politics, media and the senior professions.
Orange Parades in 21st century West of Scotland are a shadow of what they once were. The Order, once a power in the land, now has little influence and its most faithful followers reside in some of Glasgow’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Where it once exuded self-confidence and poise, now there is only defiance and resentment. They have become marginalised and yet that which they hold dear still has a place in this modern Scotland of many cultures.
The assault carried out last Saturday on Canon Tom White and the verbal abuse of some members of his congregation in the east end of Glasgow marked the lowest point of the Orange Order in Scotland. It’s beyond dispute though, that none of the actual marchers were responsible for this and that these were the actions of less than a handful of those rag-tag watchers who walk alongside the parade. The Order was quick to condemn the assault and stated its desire to work with the police to identify the perpetrators. In recent years it has emphasised its non-sectarian nature. It exists merely to uphold the Protestant faith, loyalty to the crown and support for the Union.
The condemnation of the attack has been universal and was followed by loud calls for all Orange parades in Glasgow to be banned. An on-line petition calling for an end to them has attracted 75,000 signatures. This attack shouldn’t have happened and the Orange Order now has a formidable task on its hand to ensure that it doesn’t fade into oblivion on the wings of public censure.
I get queasy though, when all the usual outriders of enlightened, diverse and multi-cultural Scotland start to assemble moral firing squads. At times like this some people get rather selective in their interpretation of what it means to be cosmopolitan and inclusive. I’m thinking of the sanctimony of dunces that comprise the swollen ranks of Scotland’s liberal elite who all pile in to condemn movements and traditions that don’t fit with their cosy, chi-chi agendas.
I suspect that many who signed the on-line petition banning Orange parades, even though they represent the inalienable right to march for the faith and the crown, will also be among those are never slow to condemn the Catholic Church for being too Catholic. This usually occurs when the Catholic Church seeks to uphold its belief in the sanctity of all human life and the nature of holy matrimony.
The same people who condemn bullying and intimidation of women gleefully display photos on social media of female Orange marchers and cruelly mock their looks and their shape. These women simply wanted to have their big day out with family and friends – just like all of us who love our right-on political marches – only to see themselves humiliated by a dreadful posse of sneering liberals on social media.
The Catholic hierarchy, which has been vociferous in its condemnation of last week’s incident, really ought to be careful here. It’s fond of playing the victim card by portraying sporadic incidents like these as indicative of a pernicious, nationwide attack on their church. There are indeed pockets of anticatholicism here and there across Scotland but the damage this has caused the Church is as nothing compared with the decades of clerical sex abuse and subsequent attempts at cover-up by its own leaders and professional factotums. The enemy of the Catholic Church in Scotland isn’t the Orange Order, it’s the ranks of militant atheist humanists amongst our political classes. These people affect horror at last week’s assault in the knowledge that it will give them ammunition in their ultimate quest to make inclusive, enlightened and tolerant Scotland a Christian-free zone.
Let’s speak frankly here (and I do so as a committed supporter of an independent Scotland). We simply cannot, in a mature and diverse
Scotland go around banning marches because we don’t like the look of them. We nationalists are no strangers to the odd urban peregrination and big displays of flag-waving. This weekend tens of thousands of us will also indulge our human right to be extremely rude about a visiting US president while a few hundred Scottish firms and their employees hope that their American clients turn a blind eye. The Orange Order though, is considered fair game because they’re a bit rough and unkempt and they don’t support the economy of Byres Road.
Instead of trying to exploit this crisis in the Orange Order, the Catholic hierarchy should be reaching out to them to seek an accommodation regarding the number of marches and some of their traditional routes. When the big push comes to outlaw all “unacceptable” symbols of Christianity in Scotland these two will be the last defenders. We should both get to know each other a little better.
The enemy of the Catholic Church in Scotland isn’t the Orange Order, it’s the ranks of militant atheist humanists
Orange parades in 21st century West of Scotland are a shadow of what they once were, but an online petition calling for them to be banned has attracted 75,000 signatures.