Orange Order evokes Britain’s past to bolster case for union

Better Together campaign distances itself from 15,000 strong march in Edinburgh

David Cameron brewed a coffee and watched as the Orange Order's 15,000-strong march passed by on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Neither Cameron nor his civil partner, John Clark, who co-own the Cortado cafe, were impressed. “I can’t understand why Edinburgh City Council gave them permission to march,” says Clark.

The Orangemen – from Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some from the Republic – had gathered in the Meadows, a public park in the south of the city, from 9am for a pro-union rally.

However, they were not wanted by the main leg of the pro-union campaign, Better Together, who feared trouble on the streets and regard the Orange as a reminder of Scotland’s sectarianism.


"They have some nervousness about us," said Ian Wilson, former grand master of the Orange Order in Scotland, "but we'll inject some passion and vitality in what has been a fairly sterile campaign."

Recalling the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, the gathering sang Our God, our help in ages past, as their forebears had done in Belfast, and thousands, too, throughout Scotland, a century before.

“Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home,” the Orangemen sang, as early morning walkers and joggers looked on bemused.

Grand chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Henry Williamson, said "brethren had gathered a century ago" in Scotland in defence of Orangemen in Ulster.


“Brothers and sisters, in a world of instability, a world of insecurity, a world of nuclear proliferation, of radical Islam, people look to the UK as a land of hope, a land of peace, of success and unity, and an example of what they so desperately long for – unity not stupidity, unity not division, unity not separation, unity not them and us,” he declared trenchantly.

His voice cracking, Rev Williamson went on: “We find our beloved Scotland torn: families divided, workplaces divided,” adding later that “a house divided against itself will be brought to desolation”.

Alex Salmond and other leading Scottish nationalists had practised "the great deception" upon "the hearts and minds" of Scots with their "misguided patriotism", which was all part "of a secret nationalist agenda to rid Scotland" of the Orange way of life.

Like others in the debate, Ron Bather, grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of England and Imperial Grand Master of the Imperial World Council, evoked Britain’s fight against Hitler’s Germany.

“As individual nations, could we have succeeded in defeating Nazism in 1939? I don’t think so. It was the resolve and the endeavour of the individuals that make up this country that stood up against a mightier foe.

“How many times in the past has this country been left to stand alone and yet has never been defeated. To you Scottish sisters and brethren, this coming week is your chance to defeat once and for all the separatists, the people that want to change your way of life,” he declared.

With time running out, Henry Dunbar, the grand master of Scotland’s Grand Lodge, hurried the Orangemen to their marching positions, because they had to be off the streets by 2.30pm under the agreement made with Police Scotland.

Music ban

“The parade leaves in three minutes,” declared the steward, before band after band fell quickly into position and headed into the city – though a music ban was enforced strictly at the George IV bridge, so as not to disturb the civil marriages taking place in the nearby registry office.

“They told us that the couples wouldn’t be able to hear the registrar if the bands were playing as we went by,” said a steward, who held a large “Music Stop” sign to enforce order upon the passing bandsmen.

The march continued on the Royal Mile, passing the Scottish parliament in Holyrood, before it ended under Abbeyhill railway bridge with a final, thunderous cacophony from the bandsmen and cheers from supporters.

In the Cortado cafe, David Cameron and John Clark – who married in the same registry office that the Orange had passed – said they disliked the spectacle and thought little of the views expressed by the Orangemen.

“I can’t understand how Scottish people could vote No,” said Clark.

The cafe will become a Yes rest camp during Thursday’s frenetic day of voting. “We’re opening at eight. We’re near the parliament, but we have the best coffee, too,” said Cameron, though both he and Clark have already voted Yes.

In a bid to keep humours high, Clarke said friends blessed with famous Scottish names were coming along. "We have a William Wallace, a Robbie Burns, even a Ruth Davidson (the Scottish Conservative leader), he told The Irish Times.

However, Clarke fears the ill-will that will be left afterwards. His brother-in-law, a No voter, has stopped speaking with him, he says.

“I said that I would accept the result, whatever it is, but if it is No the campaign for a Yes will start again the day after.”

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times