TOMORROW is “The Glorious Twelfth”, the highpoint of the marching season for the sash-wearing fraternity of the Orange Order. The associated marches – which hang on tenaciously in Northern Ireland, the south-west of Scotland and elsewhere – continue to be sold by the Order as celebratory carnivals of Protestant culture.

That they are able to attempt this with a straight face is almost admirable. As any decent person who has had the misfortune to encounter a large Orange walk can testify, far from being uplifting celebrations, they are joyless, drunken gatherings with bigotry at their heart.

As a Glaswegian from a working-class, Protestant background (I was Christened into the Church of Scotland in the same kirk in which my parents were married), I have long considered Orangeism to be an embarrassment.

Whether it is the injunction to “never walk across” an Orange parade (for fear of being jostled, spat upon or worse) or the “boisterous” drunks (predominantly wearing the shirt of one particular football club) singing songs of racist and sectarian murder of fellow Scots who happen to be of Irish Catholic descent, I find these people to be a disgrace to the faith into which I was born.

Perhaps the most ludicrous thing about Orangeism is its claim to some kind of historical legitimacy. July 12, as many a Loyal Orange Lodge banner testifies, is billed as a celebration of the victory of King William III, aka William of Orange, at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.

However, the idea that William’s troops went into battle in order to assert the predominance of Protestant theology is a mendacious myth. The Battle of the Boyne had everything to do with the political power blocs in Europe (which cut across denominational lines) and nothing to do with religious principle.

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William’s army enjoyed the support of Pope Alexander VIII. Indeed, it seems likely that a celebratory Mass was held in the Vatican when news of the Dutch king’s victory reached Rome.

In reality, bogus history aside, the Loyal Orange Institution was established in County Armagh in 1795 with the objective of maintaining the subjugation of Catholics and upholding the power of the British Crown on the island of Ireland.

Since the partition of Ireland and the establishment of the 26-county Irish Free State in 1922, the Orange Order’s primary purpose has been to stand against the tide of history by seeking to maintain Protestant supremacy in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

Today, despite the inherent, defiant bravado of its marches, Orangeism is in crisis on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 – in which many of the symbols of Protestant supremacy (not least the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was disbanded and replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland) were abolished – has thrown Orangeism, Unionism and Loyalism in Northern Ireland into something of a predicament.

The Democratic Unionist Party – which has screamed blue murder over Brexit-related trade inspections, insisting that Northern Ireland must not be treated differently from any other part of the UK – demands that the province be an exception when it comes to gay marriage and abortion rights (both of which they oppose).

This hypocrisy and the reactionary social policies contained within it seem to have alienated a significant proportion of Protestants, particularly young people, in Northern Ireland. The Irish Republic’s embracing, through popular referendums, of gay marriage (2015) and abortion rights (2018) kills off the old Unionist slogan “Home Rule is Rome Rule”.

Those referendums (combined with widespread revulsion over a plethora of clerical scandals in Ireland) prove that the power of the Roman Catholic Church in the Irish Republic has been comprehensively broken.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Unionism’s last-ditch stance against the basic human rights of lesbians and gay men, on the one hand, and women, on the other, has seen it enter into an unholy alliance with the Catholic Church.

Little wonder, then, that a 2019 survey of Northern Irish opinion found that, if a border poll was held, 51% would vote for a united Ireland. Compared to the dark cloud of fundamentalist Protestant morality offered by Unionism in the North, the Republic looks like a bastion of progress.

Here in Scotland, too, Orangeism is marching into the dustbin of history. The days when the Order could deliver enough Protestant, working-class votes to the Tories to secure an electoral constituency are long gone.

However, Orangeism’s engagement with the Unionist parties in Scotland has far from ended. In 2019, Ian McNeil, then a Labour councillor in North Lanarkshire, became the Executive Officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland. Scottish Labour’s willingness to accept this state of affairs shames the party.

This association is particularly shameful given the spasms of Loyalist violence and disorder that have disfigured Scottish society in recent years. In the aftermath of the indyref in 2014, a motley bunch of Loyalist and fascist thugs organised to march into Glasgow city centre and set about violently assaulting anyone who could be identified as a Yes voter.

It was a peculiar way to “celebrate” the No side’s narrow victory – by 55% to 45% – in the referendum. It was also evidence of the violent anger that lies at the heart of Unionism’s Orange and Loyalist right wing.

This violence stood in stark contrast to the hope and optimism that had driven the diverse movement for independence, and has continued to do so – through campaigns such as All Under One Banner – ever since the referendum.

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In 2018, Canon Tom White was assaulted by a Loyalist thug who spat in his face as an Orange parade passed by his chapel in Glasgow. The following year Glasgow City Council, in consultation with Police Scotland, suspended parades by Orange and Republican flute bands for a period following attacks on Republican marches by Loyalist thugs in the Govan district of the city and in the city centre.

In 2020, refugees and their supporters were violently set upon in George Square in Glasgow in two Loyalist/far-right riots within the space of four days. The entirely bogus justification offered for this was the need to “protect the cenotaph” from Black Lives Matter and Republican activists.

It would be naive in the extreme to consider these spasms of rage and hatred as entirely unconnected with the scenes of violence, vandalism and, in the words of Police Scotland, “large-scale disorder” (centred, once again, on Glasgow’s George Square) following Rangers’s Premier League title victory in May of last year.

On that infamous occasion – again under the pretext of a “celebration” – we saw people wrapped in the symbols of British Unionism wreak angry mayhem on the streets of Scotland’s largest city.

This ugly rage, attended by the fake respectability of the bowler-hatted sash wearers who lead the Orange parades, is an expression of Loyalism’s recognition of the fact that, on both sides of the Irish Sea, it is on the wrong side of history.

Both a united Ireland and an independent Scotland are on the political horizon, no matter how hard the Orangemen bang the Lambeg drum.