MEMBERS of the Orange Order have won council seats in the local elections by standing for the Labour and Tory parties, the Sunday Herald can reveal. The Orange Order has boasted that its elected councillors will work to derail a second independence referendum, the organisation’s Scottish leader said.

Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland Grand Master Jim McHarg said the organisation now wanted to stir the Unionist population against independence.

A “huge number” of Lodge supporters are Tories, McHarg said, as he praised Ruth Davidson for basing her council election campaign on opposition to a second referendum.

However, McHarg said most of the Protestant Order’s members are Labour supporters as he revealed the organisation’s attempt to extend its political influence. He said the majority of Orange Lodge members who had successfully been elected as councillors were Labour, but added that at least one Tory had also been voted in.

McHarg said at least six of members had been elected as councillors, with dozens more sympathisers also returned in the local elections.

The Grand Master said the Orange Order now had more elected politicians in Scotland among its membership than at any time in nearly 20 years. He said the organisation had members on councils in North and East Ayrshire, as well as in South and North Lanarkshire.

Members of the Orange Order could now sit on council committees that will make decisions on local education policy, including the funding of Catholic schools.

Labour and the Conservatives may end up running some local authorities after they became the largest party in nine areas, including South Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland’s website describes state sponsored Catholic education as “a thorn in the flesh”. It also criticises legislation which “fully legitimised religious apartheid in Scottish schools by enriching the Catholic Church by paying the full price for its school buildings”.

McHarg refused to reveal the identities of those winning seats, but claimed the victories were a growing sign of pro-Union strength.

He said: “We’re delighted that our members are taking part in community life and I’m personally very proud that they are working for the community in this way. It can do no harm to the Unionist people.”

McHarg said the lodge had yet to find out the exact numbers of its members who had been elected and in which areas they had won. However, he added that Glasgow and the east of Scotland were likely be other places where the lodge had new councillors.

McHarg said: “We are still collating the numbers of members

elected, but we believe six members of the institution have been elected to councils and that various other friends have too.”

He added that there were “probably” dozens of other newly elected councillors who were sympathetic to the Lodge and that this was an increase on those in place after the 2012 local elections.

McHarg confirmed those standing had not explicitly stated in their election literature that they were Lodge members. However, he claimed they had not sought to hide their membership from the public.

He said: “They wouldn’t have hidden it from people. Everybody in

the community would know who they are.”

McHarg said the Orange Order

had intervened in politics to

prevent a second independence

referendum being held. He added that the organisation had shunned politics for decades, but that the rise of the independence movement had led to Orangemen deciding to get

involved again.

He said: “A lot of people were fed up with politics. We felt like a lot of people weren’t being listened to.”

McHarg added that the number of lodge members elected as councillors was now at its highest rate “certainly since 2000” just a year after the start of devolution.

McHarg said that he had voted for two Labour candidates and one Tory in the North Ayrshire council area, including one who attends the same church as him, adding that he had yet to decide which Unionist party to back in the General Election.

The Lodge leader also went out of his way to praise Ruth Davidson for her role in the campaign against independence, saying: “It’s probably helpful that the Tory Party has gone down that line. Ruth Davidson comes across well.”

Speaking about the political leanings of Lodge members, McHarg added: “Our members are very diverse. There are a huge number of Tories, but the majority are Labour.”

He said the lodge would now be suggesting that its members back

Unionist parties in the General Election on June 8. “We’ll never tell

people how to vote, but I’d guide people to support Unionist candidates,” he added.

McHarg also said the Lodge could stage another mass parade against independence like that held in Edinburgh days before the referendum on September 18 in 2014.

He said: “At the moment we’ve no desire to, but if we think there’s a need to stir the Unionist people we’d consider it.” McHarg said the Lodge may even consider encouraging Orangemen to seek election to Holyrood.

However, the Lodge’s intervention sparked concerns from SNP and Green members. Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie said: “Most people will view the Orange Lodge as an unpleasant organisation with a sectarian past. Any party that knowingly selected members of it would have some very difficult questions to answer.”

Scottish Greens’ local government spokesperson Andy Wightman added: “Residents will be very disappointed with councillors who feel that issues that have nothing to do with local politics are deemed important in local elections.”

An SNP source said: “The Orange Order has made claims before and any claim now that it has significant influence is certainly overestimated.”

In response to McHarg, a Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “Every Labour councillor elected will fight for their local communities, not a

divisive second independence referendum the people of Scotland don’t want.”

The Tories declined to comment

on McHarg’s claims that it had at least one councillor who is a Lodge member.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission, the independent body which oversees elections in the UK, confirmed it would have no locus over the Lodge’s activities in the event of any complaints being made.