IN Glasgow the skies were blue and the Pride of Govan band held its banners high as the loyalist march set off past Ibrox stadium – the home of Rangers Football Club – towards the heart of the community where it was founded.

This was the largest of four loyalist parades that Glasgow City Council agreed to let go ahead yesterday, with some 800 marchers and hundreds more walking alongside.

It was followed by police horses and dozens of vans complete with riot shields. Special officers, helmets slung in their belts, accompanied each of the 17 bands, with more vans and units stationed along the route.

It came just weeks after a Republican march by the James Connolly Republican Flute Band was met by hundreds of disruptive counter-demonstrators, with smoke bombs thrown, bins set alight and riot police battling to keep order on the streets of Govan.

In the aftermath, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned the

“sectarian disruption” as “utterly unacceptable” and Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has called it “a stain” on the city.

Yet the following week more loyalist protests faced off against Republican marches, with a policeman hospitalised after being hit by a firework and eight arrests made.

In response, Glasgow City Council banned last week’s marches, but decided to allow this weekend’s to go ahead after Police Scotland warned that though they expected protests against the planned marches, loyalists who “had travelled some distance” might take to the streets in protest against prohibition with “a likelihood of violence” as a result.

In the event, all four marches happened yesterday without incident. The Pride of Govan band said it was “disgusted” by Glasgow City Council claims that it had allowed the march to go ahead due to threats of violence or disorder if it was cancelled, accusing it of “scaremongering and trying to stir up religious hatred” because of its “obvious issues with any group loyal to the Union”.

It issued a strong call to all those attending to do so “with respect and decorum”, adding on its leaflets: “Please do not give the haters any cause to portray the PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community in a negative way.”

Yesterday, its loyalist supporters walked largely in silence.”

There has been plenty of comment on the sectarian nature of these simmering tensions. But according to one of Scotland’s most eminent historians, Professor Tom Devine, “violent interventions” in the past few weeks at Republican marches have “precious little connection to religion but much to do with politics”, principally the divisions of Brexit.

He claimed that violent disorder was as a result of organised activity, with “militant Protestant groups” motivated by insecurities over issues of Anglo-Scottish Union and Irish unification “put on the table” by Brexit.

Devine, an emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, told the Sunday National: “As far as can be judged, the Republican marchers were set upon by Unionist gangs bent on disruption and violence. There were similar pro-Union disturbances in George Square in Glasgow when the result of the 2014 independence referendum was declared.

“A number of factors might be involved. Underpinning them is the historic migration of Irish Catholic and Protestant immigrants from Ulster to Scotland, with some of their

descendants, through family tradition and memory, maintaining a passionate commitment to events in Ireland.

“This is of minor importance among modern Catholics, not many of whom support IRA-related republicanism, but stronger among militant Protestant groups who have been the aggressors in recent disturbances, though numerically they are likely to be also a small minority.

“They are stout defenders of the Anglo-Scottish Union and passionate opponents of Irish unification. Both issues are firmly back on the political agenda to a large extent because of Brexit.

“Militant Unionists are fearful and insecure as a result and this has fed their violent interventions against Republican parades, most of which had 

passed off peacefully for many years in the past.”

Ian McNeil, executive officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, which took part in protests yesterday, expressed a very different view.

He said: “The only organised political activity we are aware of is Scottish nationalists weaponising protests by their Irish republican nationalist counterparts to discriminate against Protestants and Unionists by proposing illegal bans on peaceful processions in Glasgow.”

Dr David McArdle, head of law at Stirling University, made no comment on the decision to allow march - es to go ahead, but believes Devine is “absolutely right to draw a link with Brexit”.

He added: “It has pulled this country apart like nothing we’ve ever seen. Brexit clearly brings with it the increasing likelihood of a second independence referendum.

“Against that backdrop it would be hugely surprising if those who were of a virulent Unionist or a Leave persuasion in particular weren’t recruiting marchers at football matches – Ibrox on a matchday would be the eminently sensible place for them to start.”

Yet McArdle claimed it was important to remember that while concerning, there is “no easily discernible link between ‘football hooliganism’ and political activity”.

He went on: “People on either side of the divide who are going to get involved in overtly sectarian activity are probably involved already.”

Dave Scott, director of Nil by Mouth, said the reasons behind the violence were complex.

He said: “The ripples of insecurity – which are partly but far from totally caused by Brexit – are being felt here.

“I’d say the vacuum of leadership in Northern Ireland – and here in the UK – is a bigger issue.”

Events such as the attack on Canon Tom White while a march passed St Alphonsus Church last July, the subsequent rerouting of loyalist parades this summer and the efforts of dissident Republican groups “to get a toehold in Scotland” have all contributed, he said.

“What I would say is the days of marching groups having a blank cheque to parade or protest when and where they want are coming to an end,” he added. “There are certain groups this will scare.”

Duncan Morrow, professor in politics and director of community engagement at Ulster University, and who chaired the Scottish Government’s advisory group on tackling sectarianism, said it was “impossible” to blame everything on Brexit. But he claimed it had fuelled real uncertainty about issues of both Irish and Scottish identity with massive implications for the future of the UK.

“Across the western world, we are also seeing real tensions emerging as a result of economic change and growing inequality,” he added.

“This anger is working its way out in resentment against ‘the establishment’, new minorities associated especially with immigration and the growth of far-right extremism.

“It is hard to pin down which of these factors is most important at any given time, but we can see them all, and all of them tend to promote the expression of identity issues in a hostile and violent way.”

The Scottish Government must set out clear principles “which make clear that all violence will be dealt with swiftly and without prejudice”, he added. But key to tackling tensions was the need to tackle issues of inequality in an inclusive way.

“Thirdly, the organisations and groups that have grown up in the shadow of sectarian and ethnic divisions need to ensure that they are taking responsibility to ensure that relationships across old lines are opened, that violence and hostility is directly and overtly acknowledged and addressed and that the culture of denial is ended,” Morrow said.

“Finally, it means a proper dialogue about change,”.

Ruth Harvey, director of Place for Hope, which trains faith communities in peacemaking and conflict resolution agrees wholeheartedly about the need for such dialogue.

“We need to talk about finding a safe but effective space where we can look at ideas around identity, belong - ing and the faith roots of some of this conflict,” she said.

“We have done this in the past with communities involved in marches and parades – we know it can be done.

“But we also know that as soon as we scratched the surface we found the conflict was not just about sectarianism – it is about independence and poverty, it is about everything from housing to Brexit.”

The result, she claimed, is that tensions cook in communities as if in a pressure cooker.

“We have to find a way to facilitate deep listening and an openness to being changed by those around us,” she said. “We need to be robust and yet hopeful.”

Back in Govan, the marchers moved on, the community went back about their business and the police vans started their engines. In the distance you could still hear the thump of the drum.