My mole at Pacific Quay tells me that there will be no BBC coverage of the Orange Order No campaign march in Edinburgh on 13 September. It has been decided that this would “present an unfairly negative image of the No campaign.” I find that fascinating, as the BBC has certainly never shirked from portraying an unfairly negative image of the Yes campaign. Apparently BBC Scotland have taken the decision “in consultation with” their bosses in England.
The proposed Orange for No march appears plainly to be in contravention of the Public Order Act 1936. This act makes it illegal to wear a uniform to promote a political cause:
Section 1 (i)
Subject as hereinafter provided, any person
who in any public place or at any public meeting wears
uniform signifying his association with any political
organisation or with, the promotion of any political
object shall be guilty of an offence :
For the Orange order to march through Edinburgh in uniform to support the No referendum campaign seems to me as blatant a contravention of the Act as can possibly be imagined. The Act remains in force, this section has not been modified by subsequent legislation and it does apply to Scotland. The specific provisions for Scotland at Section 8 relate solely to the mechanics of administration.
Orange marches in Scotland are not normally prosecuted on the (frankly weak) grounds that they are a cultural not a political manifestation. But that cannot be said of the September 13 March which is being undertaken by the Grand Orange Lodge as a registered participant in the referendum campaign. If they march in uniform they are very plainly indeed in breach of the Public Order Act.
The Act is not a dead letter from the 1930s. It was used to arrest and convict Irish Republicans in the 1980s demonstrating at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park for wearing black berets. Its breach of the peace provisions were used against pickets in the miners’ strike.
There is therefore a key question here – is the law applied impartially, or is it only applied against political demonstrations opposed to the Westminster Establishment? Is the law ignored for political demonstrations in support of the Westminster Establishment?
It is not a case of whether you support the existence of this particular law. It is an essential attribute of a democracy that where the law exists it is applied impartially. That appears not to be the case in Scotland.