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Why I quit the Orange Order

My former colleagues in the leadership of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland are said to be ''amazed'' at my decision to leave the Orange Order over the Drumcree issue.

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It has been suggested it seems strange that after so many years of violence this one incident has sparked my decision. Inevitably, some will want to paint me as the bogey man and suggest I have resigned to further my career in the Church. Not so. So let me attempt to make my thinking clear. Until now I have been convinced that the Order has done its best to distance itself from the paramilitary groups. The major battle on that front was won by moderates in the Scottish Order back in the mid-1970s, even though the past grand master, Magnus Bain, was given a hard time by those with paramilitary sympathies, mainly, it must be said, in flute bands which are not directly connected with the Order. Sadly, on this occasion, and much to the consternation of the Scottish leadership, the Grand Lodge of Ireland has been unable to control Portadown District's actions nor contain ''hard-line'' characters like Joel Patton and his ''Spirit of Drumcree'' cronies who are intent, it seems, on destroying anything constructive. Two years ago, when tensions mounted previously at Drumcree, the hard men were dictating events, and I accepted that the Order's local leadership had unwittingly lost control to these hard-line elements. My problem now is that having had experience of this, they had not learned their lessons and have again provided a platform for sinister elements to come to the fore. The attacks on the RUC and our Squaddies are intolerable from any quarter. I expect them from Republican sources. They disgust me when they come from Loyalist sources, and I was particularly appalled to see men in the field at Drumcree, undoubtedly including some Orangemen, defiantly waving flags and cheering while a gunman moved into position and fired on the police lines. Did anyone try to stop him or help to identify him? Or like St Paul when the Apostle Stephen was murdered, did they ''approve''? The Orange Order has been ''seen'' by the general public to have ''approved'' of these actions, and lamenting a hostile press's failure to report its official opposition will not suffice. Actions speak louder than words. Though the leadership condemns the violence, the fact remains that the Orange Order played into the hands of the hard-liners and provided a ready-made propaganda coup for Republicans. The Scottish Grand Lodge, though equally opposed to the violence, is guilty by association, and I believe the Scottish leadership's hopes of influencing their Irish colleagues on the issue will prove futile. Ulster Unionism is the victim of its siege mentality. For the most part they are a people who feel under threat, and who when their backs are against the wall dig in their heels and cry ''No surrender''. The problem is that in doing so they have lost all sense of the way they are perceived on the British mainland. Professor Anthony Alcock, in his book Understanding Ulster makes the telling point that British opinion will only support the concept of Northern Ireland remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom on the basis of the democratic mandate. Most Ulster Unionists, and their Scottish sympathisers, don't see it that way. They think, wrongly, that the Union can be preserved by ''physical force'', ironically a Republican rather than Loyalist tradition. It cannot. Displays of militancy only alienate most Britons who see one side as being as bad as the other. This basic mentality also underlies my decision to quit the Orange Order. Sev-eral weeks back, at a meeting of the Scottish Grand Lodge Central Committee, I found myself in the midst of an informal discussion on the Stormont Agreement. It became apparent to me that I was out on a limb in supporting it. Furthermore, what disturbed me was the uncritical position being taken to support the Grand Lodge of Ireland's opposition to it. It was uncritical, and based on an emotional ''let's stick together'' mentality. But what does that achieve? If Orangeism in Scotland has anything to contribute to Irish politics it ought to be as a moderating influence, helping the Unionists there to see themselves as others see them.

Unfortunately, and ironically, in its bicentenary year, Scottish Orangeism is in real danger of losing the last remnants of its distinctive Scottish identity. From the outset, when Scots soldiers returned after the 171998 rebellion there was such a distinctive strand. Only as the industrial revolution advanced did the Irish dimension become more prominent, and at times seemed in danger of subsuming Scotland's distinct identity. That was to an extent resisted by indigenous influences, at least until the present Troubles in Ulster. I can well remember David Bryce, the past grand secretary, lamenting his predecessor in office, John Adam, as a ''Scot who spent his life wishing he had been an Ulsterman''. The present grand secretary, Jack Ramsay, a Harthill man of Ulster stock, also thinks Orangeism came from the Antrim shore simply because his own folk did. Scottish Orangeism has much broader roots and influences in its past, but they seem likely to disappear. Its religious dimension is fast giving way to a more overtly political dimension. At a time when Scotland is facing a new political future, can Orangeism in Scotland continue its obsession with Irish politics? Its deepest roots lie in the Protestant Reformation and the Covenanting traditions of Scotland, but if its self- perception and public identity become ''Irished'' and it has nothing positive to contribute to the future of Scotland then it really will be an irrelevance and may well disappear altogether as a strand of Scottish life for more than 200 years.

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