Scottish independence: The Better Together campaign last night distanced itself from a “Proud to be British” Orange Order rally which warned against the “divisive and evil enemy” of Scottish nationalism and of the “delusional” politics of First Minister Alex Salmond.
More than 15,000 people, including members of Orange Lodges from Northern Ireland, England, Wales and the Commonwealth travelled to the event in Edinburgh aimed at saving the Union.
Participants were addressed by all three grand masters of the UK at a service of worship prior to the three-hour march accompanied by 110 bands,
The parade attracted thousands of spectators and brought parts of the city centre to a standstill along its route from the Meadows, past the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on The Mound the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, before finishing at Regent Road.
But Robin McAlpine, a spokesman for the Common Weal, a left-wing pro-Yes group, said: “Just like [Nigel] Farage doesn’t help the No campaign, an Orange march doesn’t help the No campaign. It is grievance unionism, and simply doesn’t fit with what the No campaign want people to believe the Union is.”
Speaking from a lectern adorned with Union flags and the words “Scotland Says No to Separation”, Henry Dunbar, grand master of Scotland, said Salmond would not “con the people of Scotland”.
“The Union is stable, strong, tolerant and prosperous – to destroy it would be unforgivable,” he said.
“Together we have created a country that is the envy of the world. Unity is strength, and the best way of securing our future is for Scotland to remain an active and enthusiastic member of the most successful political union in history.
Dunbar added: “We have a delusional First Minister, whose answer to everything used to be “independence” but cannot now come up with the simplest answers. We have a 675-page White Paper wish list with no substance. We face a choice: the best of both worlds or a damaging divorce where jobs, pensions and state institutions are at risk.”
To resounding cheers from a crowd waving flags with the Saltire on one side and the Union flag on the other, he concluded with a shouted message of: “No surrender to separation. United we stand, divided we fall.”
Ian Wilson, 62, from Bellshill, Glasgow, one of the marchers, said the true figure of Orange Order members voting No was much larger than those taking part in the rally.
“There’s far greater influence for a No vote than just what you see here today. Every one of us has family and friends at home who will be voting the same way,” he said.
However, a spokesman for the Better Together campaign said his organisation had continually sought to distance itself from the Orange Order.
“This organisation is not part of our campaign and never will be.”
Grand chaplain Henry Williamson, who led the prayers, invoked the memory of the turmoil in Northern Ireland and two world wars before continuing:
“Well, a divisive and evil enemy has arisen against Scotland in the guise of false patriotism and the nationalist referendum, against our beloved United Kingdom, and our reply as God’s people this time is ‘no separation’.”
Edward Stevenson, grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said: “Next year, as is a long-held tradition, many of us will come over to Scotland for the annual Battle of the Boyne commemorations, and we very much hope that we will not require our passports.”
Alison Mulvanney, 44, a member of Coronation Loyal Orange Lodge 508, in Liverpool, said: “I’m here to support Scotland and help keep the Union together.”
A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “The Orange Order are officially registered as a No campaign organisation, and are entitled to campaign for a No vote, provided they do it peacefully and lawfully.”
Superintendent Phil O’Kane of Police Scotland said the rally had passed off peacefully with no incidents or arrests.