IT was the biggest show of support yet for the Union in the referendum, but it left figures in Better Together red-faced and looking at their shoes.

Around 15,000 loyalists from across the UK, including ­Northern Ireland, took part in the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland's anti-independence march in Edinburgh yesterday

The gathering, which passed without any arrests, was distinctly off-message, with one senior Orangeman getting the biggest cheer with his "no surrender to separatism" call.

The Lodge is an official No campaigner, but is also shunned by Better Together, which believes the Protestant "fraternity" group is toxic and tarred by a sectarian brush.

Yesterday's "Proud To Be British" rally kicked off at the Meadows with a series of speeches from the group's male-only panel of speakers.

Ron Bather, grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of England and imperial grand master of the Imperial World Council, said he feared independence could have a knock-on effect in other parts of the UK: "If one brick is taken out of the wall, it will destabilise what we cherish."

He also insisted that "it is time to turn the clock back", but offered no more details.

Grand chaplain Henry Williamson went further: "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, also pitched in: "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."

Another male speaker told his audience that "we have a delusional First Minister" who provides "stupid, childish answers" to basic questions.

Sounding like a DJ, he shouted: "Here comes some passion today!"

The Orange Order's suspicion of the press also became evident during the speeches.

A bald-headed Orangeman, sporting an "Allanton No Surrender" badge, stood within centimetres of this reporter, fixed his gaze at the open notebook and placed his finger on words he clearly did not like. A "can I help you?" was followed by silence and more staring.

As the procession began, Edinburgh's city centre became a sea of orange, Union Jacks and white faces.

Although the referendum has focused on Scotland in the 21st century, some of the slogans seemed more focused on the 16th century.

Orange-related banners on show included "John Knox District no 5", "Daughters of the Reformation", "Black Skull Glasgow" and "Young Cowdenbeath Defenders".

The smaller lettering at the bottom of the "Protestant Action" banner was also unmistakable: "No popery."

Another banner harked back to 1688 with the words: "The Protestant Religion I Will Maintain."

Jim Prentice, a gardener who had travelled from south of Glasgow to join the march, explained why he had taken part: "It's your own history being taken away from you. What will you tell your grandchildren?"

Speaking afterwards, Henry Dunbar, the grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, said he believe 20,000 people had marched, watched by up to 50,000 spectators.

A Better Together spokesperson: "This organisation is not part of our campaign and never will be."