I’VE described before how poverty blighted my childhood. But for one day each year in the summer, a sense of excitement gripped the household.

First thing in the morning I’d be woken up by the beat of drums and the smell of hot rolls from the oven. Our house would soon fill up with men in dark suits with starched collars and women in floppy hats. The women would make up what we called the purveys. Orange collarettes, retrieved from the bottom of the wardrobe, would then be donned.

I was always jealous of my pals who got to dress up in a white dress for their first Holy Communion. But on the day of the annual Orange walk, I would get to wear a lacy white hat and pristine white gloves like the Queen. Sometimes I got to hold and swish a cord from a banner on which there was a painting of a beautiful white horse – and to this day, I still have a thing for white horses.

When I was wee, that was all that mattered. I was part of a family and a community that were bound together with strong bonds and knew how to have a good day out.

As I grew older, I became more aware of the history and politics behind the Orange Order. I was still drawn to my “tribe” and would join in with the “party songs”, but a nagging voice in my head grew louder.

I began to question everything. By the age of 14, I was a socialist, a feminist and a pacifist. I was also a republican who supported Scottish independence. I was a bit iffy about God by then, too.

My family was still steeped in Orangeism and would often have visitors over from Belfast for the walk – and I would end up arguing the case for a united Ireland with guys from the Shankill Road.

Yet I was not among those signing the petition to ban the “Orangefest”. This was not a hostile march through a Catholic area, but an attempt to offer an olive branch. The Catholic Church was invited, as was the Consulate General of the Republic of Ireland, who reported receiving a warm welcome.

If there’s anything we should have learned from global conflict over the past few decades, from Baghdad to Belfast and from Kabul to Kosovo, is that rather than demonise, we need to talk and listen. There’s no surer way of reinforcing hatred and driving people into bunkers than repression, whether by military or legal means.

If you defend freedom of expression for views you agree with, it’s worth nothing if you don’t defend freedom of expression for views you despise.

I’ve seen people on social media, who supported the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, in defence of the right of a magazine to publish inflammatory anti-Islam cartoons, calling for the Orange Order to be banned. I’ve seen photos of families, with wee girls that could’ve been me, captioned as “c***s”.

Is this really how we should communicate with an organisation that has tens of thousands of members living in Scotland? I have no truck with hate or violence, and freedom of expression is not, and should not be, an unqualified right – but it has to be upheld in a principled and consistent way.

People in Northern Ireland, many of whom have suffered terrible loss and injury, have driven forward peace and reconciliation, striving for a peaceful, inclusive society. To this day, relatives sit down face to face with people who killed their son or daughter, their partner, their mother or father. In Scotland, the least we can do is try and manage our differences and work towards a more tolerant society all round.

I’m not religious at all but whenever I’m in a Catholic church I’ve loved the tradition of greeting strangers with a warm hand and the words “peace be with you.” The correct response is “and also with you”.

My politics and philosophy long ago led me to reject the Orange Order. But my background and life experience allows me to understand the power of group identity. If there’s not much in your life that gives you purpose, the comfort of being part of a tribe that makes you feel you belong can be intoxicating.

I wonder how many folk attending “Orangefest” on Saturday know that Pope Alexander VIII conducted a special thanksgiving mass in Rome when King Billy won the Battle of the Boyne. Or that the victorious monarch launched a crusade to impose Anglicanism on Ireland that included outlawing Presbyterian marriages and jailing ministers for preaching Presbyterian sermons. Or that King Billy ordered the massacre of the MacDonald clan in Glencoe.

It’s difficult to turn your back on everything that formed your earliest personality. And the truth is, many in the Orange Order go about their everyday lives without thinking too much about ideology or even religion.

It is right that we strive to build a new Scotland, free of sectarianism. But in my view, that won’t be achieved by building walls, but by working patiently to marginalise bigotry without denying people the right to celebrate their own traditions.