Given their marching orders on Glasgow streets

OVER the past two centuries, members of the Orange Order have worn through countless shoes on Scotland's streets.

What began in 1798 – when Scottish soldiers were sent across the sea to put down an Irish Rebellion and served alongside the Orange Yeomanry and returned to protect Protestantism and king from the tyranny of Rome – has strode confidently into the 21st century. Swords and stitched jerkins have been replaced by smart suits and rolled umbrellas, and always the Orange sash.

While Republican marches do take place in Glasgow, at just 19 during the whole year, they account for less than a tenth of Orange parades

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Across Scotland, 500 lodges are today attended by 50,000 members who all love to march. No other organisation is responsible for more public marches in Scotland than the Orange Order, which has been exercising its right to stride down high streets from its lodges to a local church since the 1890s. In Glasgow last year, the Orange Order marched 183 times, while related organisations, such as the Apprentice Boys of Derry, marched 40 times and the Black Institute, 24.

Yet it is now set to stumble and fall. Glasgow City Council is planning to cut the number of marches by up to 90 per cent to about 20, on the grounds of cost and public disturbance. If the new policy on demonstrations goes through, next year's July Orange Order Boyne Celebrations – the largest Orange parade in Scotland – will be diverted away from the city centre.

The council is also looking at banning the popular "return parades", where individual lodges and bands return to their areas from the main demonstrations.

The leaked plans are seen as a pincer movement against the Orange Order, as they come just three weeks after the chief constable of Strathclyde Police revealed that the bill for policing three Orange Order events in July came to almost 1 million, a sum the force can ill afford, as it is facing a 200m deficit.

A full report on policing parades will be published next month. About 100 officers had to be deployed to prevent a riot when just six members of the Royal Black Chapter – an elite wing of the Orange Order – paraded with a band through the Gallowgate area of Glasgow, where there are a number of bars popular with Celtic fans.

"How many parades does one organisation need? These groups may have important dates in their calendar, but hundreds of them? We need to look at new methods of parading around the city centre, not through it," said council deputy leader James Coleman.

"We will allow and protect the right to demonstrate, but we need to strike a balance.

"Our responsibilities extend beyond upholding the rights of the Orange Order or whoever else. What was acceptable in the past is becoming untenable."

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So is the Orange Order march still defensible today? Or is the only way to banish the violent, anti-Catholic bigots who follow in its wake to ban the parades?

Professor Steve Bruce, author of Sectarianism in Scotland said:

"For me, the key point is the balance of competing rights. Any ideological group has a right to demonstrate its distinctive beliefs. I have a right to go shopping. How far should we allow the first to constrain the second? 'Not far' would be my answer.

"I suspect that most people who object to Orange walks do so on ideological grounds. They just don't like what the Orange Order represents.

"The price of free speech is that we may occasionally have to see and listen to people with whom we disagree."

Historian Ruth Dudley Edwards, author of The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions, said the problem often lay with the critics.

"It is the reaction to the march that is the problem. It's not the march. I have a great respect for Ian Wilson, the Grand Master. He is as sane and decent a man as I have ever met.

"He addressed the antisocial element in Orangism; he addressed the bigotry in Orangism; he has fought hard to bring it into the 21st century and be just a celebration. I have found what seems to be a very begrudging reaction in Scotland in the secular and Catholic world.

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"If they are violent or troublesome you penalise them for that – you don't just penalise them for being Orange," she said.

"How much of this protest is just touchy neighbours with an agenda?"

It is a description Monsignor Peter Smith would strongly reject, on the grounds that it has been the Orange Lodge and its followers who have been less than neighbourly.

As the parish priest at St Mary, on Abercrombie Street, a popular thoroughfare for marchers, he has had to contend with 15 marches this year, including three in the past eight days. "When the march passes the dregs are left behind and it's very unpleasant – they happen without warning, at times when weddings could be taken place or bodies arriving for funerals, and regardless of what they say, their attitude towards Catholics is appalling."

Msgr Smith points out that the Catholic Church abandoned its only official march, the Ogilvie Walk, in 2000, on the grounds that times had changed. "It's time for them to be cognisant of the community and call it a day."

'We are more pro-Protestant than anti-Catholic. Everyone likes to celebrate their culture'

THE Grand Lodge of Scotland is to mount a publicity drive to convince critics that it is a noble Christian organisation with an illustrious past.

The organisation plans to dispel the image of drunken bigotry that surrounds the marching season by inviting the public to dancing displays and band competitions.

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Robert McLean, an executive officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, admitted not enough has been done by the organisation to promote a positive image.

"Over the years we have been slow to educate people on our culture but in the past two or three years we have been handing out leaflets trying to educate the public. Only this year we have taken out advertisement for other events, not just the parade. We had Scottish dancers and pipe bands. We want to let people know what the culture is about, and it's not just about taking to the streets."

The organisation is extremely concerned about Glasgow City Council's plans to cut by 90 per cent the number of marches that take place each year. However, he said the criticism had brought new members. He said: "The Orange Order in Scotland has been around for over 200 years.

"We are older than most of the political parties and if people think we are going to curl up and go away they need to think again. We will be here for many years to come. We are getting stronger. The more the media hype this up the more new members we seem to get."

He denied, however, that the organisation was anti-Catholic. "The Orange Order is a Protestant institution and we don't apologise for that. We are not anti-Catholic. We are more pro-Protestant than anti-Catholic. At no time have we openly come out and said we are anti-Catholic. Everyone likes to celebrate their culture. I don't see why people are trying to target the Orange Order – is it that we are now the soft target?"