Back in 1979/80 I had an American girlfriend who I was taking to see Stirling when an Orange march (it was some kind of national Orange event) came through town. She had not the first idea what it was about, but she felt terrified and threatened and ended up in tears, despite being a Presbyterian from Illinois. I tell you that story because it is difficult to get over to people who have not experienced it, just how nasty the atmosphere of an Orange march is. The aggressive rattle of the drums, the fierce posturing and apoplectic faces of the participants, the plain enactment of an aggressive territorial possession ritual, and of course the drunken and swaggering followers walking on the pavements forcing people off them or into the shops.
The great John Stuart Mill made the point in On Liberty that it was a perfectly legitimate point of view to express that corn merchants were thieves who made fortunes out of the starving and misery of the poor. But to use precisely the same words shouted to a howling mob bearing torches, outside a corn merchants’ house in the middle of the night, was not legitimate. Even the apostle of liberty held that freedom of speech could not be absolute but must be linked to context and intent.
That Mill’s observation is followed in practice is well illustrated by the Northern Irish practice of restricting Orange marches away from Catholic areas and churches. But the whole question of Orange manifestations raises difficult questions of how to tolerate the intolerant and to deal with mass threat. There is not a simple right or wrong answer.
But what I do know is that it is very wrong indeed that in Scotland in 2015, I had to warn Nadira this morning to be extremely careful as she set off to go to Queens Street station and then on to a meeting in Glasgow Film City in Govan.
As to the legal position, Orange displays are very plainly illegal under the Public Order Act 1936. This has not been repealed or contradicted by subsequent legislation and it does apply to Scotland. It is not otiose – it has been used against striking miners and against Irish Republicans.
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 :
The Orange Order registered as a participant in the referendum campaign. It is therefore by definition an avowedly political organisation.
Without any need to get in to the fact it is the only remaining effective part of Scottish Labour and Gordon Matheson’s sole resource on the ground.
If section 1 is not enough for you, and you would have to be a dedicated sophist to claim it does not apply, let me refer you to Section 2b which bans “the display of physical force in promoting any political object”. No reasonable person who has ever seen an Orange march can deny that is precisely what it is. (I do not use their lying term of walk designed precisely to obscure this truth).
Whether Orange street events should be allowed is a difficult question. Whether they are illegal is an entirely different question. They are illegal, and the fact the law is not enforced takes us back again to the subject of the institutional corruption of the Scottish legal establishment. I guarantee you that if I suggested we walk down Sauchiehall Street all wearing black berets in support of independence, we would be in the pokey PDQ.
Anyway, my knowledge of Northern Ireland comes largely from Graham Norton. So anyone who comes across the Orangemen in Glasgow today, I suggest that you, if you are male, scream out at one:
“Oh Wow! Look at you! You look just Gorgeous! And Orange is SO your colour!!! I had no idea you could be so dominant. I can think of things we could do with that umbrella/flute/drumstick/furry cockade. Anyway I shan’t bother you now in front of your charming butch friends, but we really must do it again sometime. (Mime “phone me”).
If you are female, you can play too, but better use a lower voice and say this:
“Oh wow! You look great. I am so glad I ran into you again. Honestly, I have been wanting to see you to say please don’t worry, it happens to a lot of men. Especially your age. Maybe it would help you if you wore your uniform?”
Go on, hug an Orangeman.