Defenders of the union

15,000 members of the Orange Order marched in Edinburgh on Saturday to oppose Scottish independence.

It’s just after seven o’clock and there are already people starting to gather outside the local Orange Hall, in Patna.

On the way into the village, an ex-mining community 45 miles south of Glasgow, I had counted at least three houses displaying Union flags alongside the Scottish saltire. This is a place where unionism is part of the culture.

The poster in the window of the plain stone hall, hidden behind a steel security grill, carries the slogan “Scotland says no to separatism”.

Ian Wilson, who convenes the Orange Order’s strategy group on the referendum describes Saturday’s Edinbugh rally as the culmination of an 18-month campaign to galvanise the membership.

When the bus starts to move, local leader Billy Chalmers reads out a letter by Henry Dunbar, a “command of the most worthy grand master”.

“This is no ordinary Orange rally. The future of our country is at stake and today’s parade aims to raise the spirits of all true unionists and turn the tide against Alex Salmond and his plan to destroy the union.”

The letter also warned that Edinburgh would be bristling with journalists and behaviour must be totally above reproach.

“That means no boozing, no urinating in public and no foul language.”

His message gets a loud clap. A 12-year-old girl was hit with a bottle during an Orange walk in Glasgow in July and nobody wants to see more violence.

The official No campaign has refused to support the march because they fear that the Orange Order’s reputation for anti-Catholic bigotry and the potential for trouble could push undecided voters towards Yes.

Michael Rosie, a sociologist at Edinburgh University, says they are seen as toxic by other kinds of unionists.

But in former mining villages, like Patna, that have never fully recovered from the loss of jobs in the 1980s, the lodge can offer a link to the past and a sense of identity.

“For young men from communities where opportunities may be severely limited it offers a sense of belonging and purpose and comradeship,” said Rosie.

“The Miners Welfare has probably closed and the Orange Hall is the only thing left.”

Jackie Knox is the secretary of the Ladies Lodge.

Dressed in a bright orange dress with a blue and white rosette, and a sparkly bag emblazoned with the Union flag, she describes how taking part in the Orange walk gives her a great sense of pride.

“The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You feel the adrenaline. I’ve got arthritis but when the band starts to play it feels like I could walk for miles, it fills you with pride and off you go.”

It is also very much a family affair. Her 19-year-old daughter, Hannah, is a third-year history student at Glasgow University and hopes to be a teacher. She has been involved with the lodge since she was eight or nine and plays the snare drum in the band.

“For the younger kids who come in they think it’s like a club, it gives them something to do, it gives all the kids something to do, you’ve got parties, fundraisers, days out and things like that. When there is nothing else to do it makes sense to join the Dunty.”

The Dunty is the name of a local gang that has been adopted by Patna’s flute band. They describe themselves as “the wee band with a big heart”.

At the Meadows in Edinburgh there are 110 Orange lodge bands and several thousand spectators from all over the UK and Northern Ireland, who have come to support the Scots.

Peter Donaldson travelled up with the Colonel Saunderson Memorial Band from Liverpool.

He said, “We believe in the union as a whole, we think the union is a beautiful thing. It brings all kinds of different people together.”

Ruth Gateley, who came from Stockport in the north of England, said, “I really like the music. It is really good to see people who are bible believers marching to defend the union that has protected us for a long time.”

Many of the marchers were feeling downhearted by the recent surge in the polls for independence and Saturday’s strong turnout has given them renewed hope. It was a raucous, colourful and loud show of support for Scotland to remain part of the UK.

However, with names like ‘Bridgeton No Surrender’ and ‘Castlemilk Protestant Boys’ it is also a celebration of a distinct tradition that owes as much to Northern Ireland as it does to Scotland and looks to the past rather than the future.

One band member from Govan shouted “Rule Britannia” as he marched down the Royal Mile.

David Cameron, who was serving coffee and sandwiches in a nearby shop, scathingly dismissed them as “bigots, fascists and stormtroopers”.

His comments are unfair on the marchers from Patna who simply want to make their voice heard in the debate. But they also hint at a growing cultural schism between modern secular Scotland and working class post-industrial communities that feel left behind and ignored.

One elderly Orange man, John Hunter, summed it up saying simply, “We are people who care.”

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