Six months ago a respected priest described how he was spat on and threatened during an Orange parade in Glasgow, outside his church, St Alphonsus.

For many this single event marked a watershed. The case, they said, was the tip of the iceberg, evidence of routine intimidation of Catholics when protestant loyal orders march though the city.

For others, it was a rarity, an anomaly. For them, Orangism is a fading and increasingly irrelevant force in Scottish life. But one that, desperate to keep marching, albeit in far smaller numbers, had sought to clean up its act.

Following the alleged assault on Canon Tom White – a man has been charged – there is a new mood of "enough is enough" among some churchgoers and their clergy.

But this has provoked a robust response. The Orange Order and similar groups have dubbed any restrictions on where they can march as the introduction of "religious no-go areas".

So there are those who insist loyal orders have the right to march past churches and those who insist they do not.

Local authorities since this summer have ordered five Orange or loyal parades to be rerouted, away from Canon White’s churches in the city’s Calton neighborhood. That is a tiny proportion of the 317 events – by all groups, not just loyalist or Orange ones – notified in Glasgow so far this year.

But some Orange groups were appalled. Restrictions, they say, are an infringement of their human rights. Some point out that Glasgow City Council is now run by the SNP – a party whose core aim of Scottish sovereignty is completely at odds of the wider Orange Order’s commitment to the British union and crown.

Loyalists, Orangemen, who once referred to themselves as "the people", now increasingly talk about being "a people", a constituent part of a wider community. Some have even come to think of themselves as a people who can be the victims of government or local government bias.

Susan Aitken, the SNP leader of the council, had set out her position in The Herald after St Alphonsus. “There is a growing public mood that we’ve reached tipping point with behaviours associated with this type of event.

“The Orange Order, its individual districts and lodges, and other Loyal Orders may want to ask themselves what message the attitudes of those aligning themselves with their events send out about Scotland, about Glasgow and indeed about themselves and their proclaimed values.”

She added: “Official participants may not be involved in sectarian and anti-social incidents around parades but it’s simply not enough to absolve themselves by pointing to hangers-on. They need to step up and take wider responsibility for those they attract and refer to as their wider support and networks when it suits. What happens on your watch happens on your watch.”

This did not go down well with the Orange Order, despite its own previous concerns about it calls the "long tail" on its parades, the followers rather than participants who are far more likely than its marshalled marchers to get in to trouble.

Last month the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland published an article on its website asking if there was a "sectarian agenda at the heart of Glasgow SNP".

It said: “Something is happening in Glasgow, and it seems the nationalists are at the core of the troubles. A dangerous alliance is forming to work against Protestant Orangemen and hidden hatred seems to now be crossing over into blatant bigotry.”

Sectarianism watchers are getting nervous about some of the rhetoric from marchers and those who oppose them.

There are whispered concerns about next year’s marching season. Nobody fears a Northern Ireland stand-off of the kind seen, most famously, in Drumcree. But there are concerns about increasingly entrenched positions as marching politics bleeds in to what one expert called "ethno-religious tribalism and identity politics".

Last month, on a Saturday when the council was closed, a group, almost all men, unfurled a banner which read “Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination – Equal rights for all" outside Glasgow City Chambers. Small in number, but vocal, they asked if there was an “SNP agenda against the protestant peoples of Glasgow".

The Herald: Canon Tom White was spat on, verbally abused and lunged at

Canon Tom White

Flying saltires fringed with gold and union flags, they made their stand. “We have assembled here today to highlight a clearly discriminatory situation that has arisen here in Glasgow under the current SNP-led administration,” said a spokesman speaking from prepared notes. “Glasgow is a city world famous for its cultural diversity. Yet in the 21 century equality for all seems to be more of a luxury afforded by some rather than a basic human right.”

He added: “Simply by the fact we follow a particular belief we are told we cannot be given the same rights as other members of the community. We are being told we cannot walk the same streets that other can pass along without being inhibited,

“We have been vilified for celebrating our culture while others are encouraged to do so freely.”


Jeanette Findlay throws her head back in a long throaty guffaw. The academic has just been asked if there is institutional discrimination against protestants in Scotland. It takes her a while to catch her breath.

“You can say I laughed, wheezed and spluttered my tea,” she says. “You can say I nearly died.” Eventually, still giggling, she gets to her answer: individual protestants, she reckons, may well suffer prejudice but there is no systemic bias against them.

Findlay chairs a new group, Call It Out. Her campaign plans, if it can, to protest against any loyalist or Orange parade that passes a Catholic Church this coming season.

But Call It Out also, for the first time, challenges the very concept of sectarianism and anybody who fails to recognise what Findlay and others see as the real issue: the closely intertwined concepts of anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism.

She has just been showing The Herald on Sunday around at stunning and historic St Mary’s, on the eastern edge of the Calton – one of churches where Canon White preaches. This is a potential point of dispute for march routes.

The Herald: St. Mary's Church, Abercromby Street, Calton..

St Mary's Calton

Findlay is one of those who had an "enough is enough" moment after St Alphonsus. She and her campaign have told the police they will protest against parades that pass Catholic churches. On each occasion they have done so, bar one, such marches have been rerouted.

She said: “What our organisation wants is a wee bit of give and take. We don’t want to ban anybody. There are something like 2164 streets in Glasgow. Fewer than 60 have a Catholic church on them.

"What we are saying is that you can march anywhere you like except those 60 streets. And if you do march on those streets we will come and protest against you.”

How does she feel about the Orange Order? “You can think what you like,” she says. “But you can’t make it my problem. They can hate me if they want. But they can’t spit in my face.

“If people were asking the far right not to march past a mosque or a synagogue, it would just be normal.”

Findlay, a Labour supporter, is also critical of some Scottish online attitudes to the Order. “They think ‘we don’t want this nasty business tainting our Tartan nirvana’,” she says.

The 58-year-old does not feel Scottish, though she was born and bred in the country. She feels Irish. And she says the Irish community is not only invisible but its very distinctiveness is often denied, despite its visible music, dance, language and sporting traditions.

She says: “We are overrepresented among the prison population, overrepresented among the poor, overrepresented among people with alcohol issues.

“We are dying younger and are poorer. To me that is because we are an immigrant population which has never been accepted. If we did not exist as distinct population, we would not be statistically distinguishable and we are.

“The reaction to that is either to deny there is a problem or to suggest that somehow we are the problem. So when you want to deal with the problem with attacks on us you say it is 'sectarianism', we lump it together with other things to just look away.”

What does she think of the now traditional approach to tackling sectarianism? “It’s a cover-up. It’s a determined and sustained campaign by successive administrations to refuse to identify what is happening to our community.

“People have peddled this false equivalence for too long. Why are we called Call It Out? We are saying ‘call it what it is’. Equally, if you see an example of anti-protestant bigotry, call it out, call it was it is. Don’t lump it together.”

This new mood dislikes the old messaging, that anti-Catholic and anti-protestant prejudice are, as characterised by Findlay, "two cheeks of the one arse". Findlay is scathing about charities such as Nil by Mouth, which she believes have misdiagnosed what used to be called Scotland’s Shame. The charity, she said, has had a "poisonous impact on all of this debate".

She sounds more angry about Nil by Mouth than than the Orange Order? “I am," she replies. “Because they should know better.”


Dave Scott worries about Findlay’s views. The Irishman runs Nil by Mouth. He tries to avoid overstating sectarianism – Scott sticks by the term – while working for a campaign that tries to root out the last of the bigotry it can inspire.

Scott, however, recognises there is a change in mood. “Scotland has never succumbed to the levels of madness my own part of the world has,” he says. “There are still pockets of people who have sectarian attitudes. You can find them at schools, workplaces and communities and football clubs.

“In the last couple of years we have seen the rise of identity politics and these kind of ethno-religious tribes have become something people talk about more loudly.

“You have more parades in Strathclyde than you have in Belfast. When it comes to the Orange Order, marching is pretty much the thing they do.”

The Herald: Nil By Mouth campaign director Dave Scott said the charity had been working with offenders, victims and families over recent years

Dave Scott

And feelings among Catholics, he acknowledges, have hardened after that St Alphonsus events.

But Scott is skeptical about the way Findlay highlights the Irish in Scotland as "other". He says: "As an Irish person myself, is there an Irish community in Scotland? I think the Irish are very well integrated in to Scottish society."

And he defends efforts to tackle sectarian bigotry in general rather than its component parts. He says: “Of course there is an issue with anti-Catholicism and anti-Irishism. It is a big and significant piece of the puzzle. But if it is the only one you reach for, you are not going to solve the jigsaw.

“What you are then at risk of doing is saying that it is only something that happens to us or it is not something that people like us do.

“At Nil by Mouth we recognise sectarianism has its roots in religion and that it shoots off in to politics and themes of identity. We will take that on. We were criticized for providing a moral equivalence between anti-Catholicism and anti-Protestantism. I am quite happy with that. That is exactly what our organisation is supposed to do. We are being accused of doing what we are meant to be doing, which is treating things seriously.”

Figures for religiously aggravated offending can fluctuate but routinely show far more victims of anti-Catholicism than anti-Protestantism.

Anti-sectarianism campaigners like Scott stress that saying the problem is a two-way street is not the same as saying traffic is as heavy in both directions.

Scott sums up his concerns about focusing on just one direction: “There is an element of it is not us, it’s them. And I don’t think the world is that simple.”

So what does Scott think should happen with Glasgow marches after St Alphonsus?

He says: “I think we need to come up with a criterion for what constitutes a legitimate march. Perhaps we need some kind of fair use policy. That is not saying to people that you can’t march. But if there is a perception that there could be violence? We need to look at what songs and played and where marches go.

“We realise people can get very scared by marching and very upset about t. We should talk about ways of allow the Order freedom of expression but not in such a way that alarms people.

“There is a clearly an issue around this particular church. I don’t think a blanket ban would be the right response.”

Some of those advocating a hard line on marching compare the Orange Order to the English Defence League or racists. Loyalist or orange groups find this extemely offensive and equate such remarks sectarian abuse. What does Scott think? Is the orange order a hate group? “There is not a simple Yes or no answer to that,” he says. “I have met Orangemen who hate catholics. I have also met Orangemen who would regard themselves as having very positive relationships with Catholics.

The Herald: Members of the Orange Order march through Glasgow during Orangefest, June 2015. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

Orange Order

He adds: "Personally I feel their mindset is a bit outdated. The world has changed. Their role has evolved. Does it have to marry itself to anti-Catholicism? Sometimes it is about recognising that at some time history has to stop. And we can start with the present and start moving on.”


There are those who believe they see a way through both the dispute over how to define the wider problem – and how to tackle any disputes over marching.

One is the Labour MSP James Kelly. “I think there is a need for a campaign against anti-Catholic prejudice," he says. "But there continues to be a general issue with hateful behaviour in Scotland, whether it is against Catholics or Protestants or against people on the base of their other religion or race.

“So I think there is room for specific campaigns and wider ones.”

The Herald: James Kelly MSP

James Kelly MSP

Mr Kelly said he opposed calls for parades to be banned. But he said the Orange Order should march "sensitively and respectfully" and try to avoid passing Catholic places of worship.

He added: “If they think they have a legitimate reason to pass by a Catholic church they should be asked to demonstrate what that is.”


Michael Rosie has been watching parades for years. The Edinburgh University academic advises government on the issue. For him, what happened during the Orange Order’s Boyne parade earlier this year was shocking because it was unusual, not because it was commonplace.

“These things generally don’t happen very often at parades,” Rosie explains. "There was a palpable sense of ‘wow, what just happened?' ‘What do we do about this?’”

Rosie sees Orangism’s historic decline. Before July 7, the movement was probably, he suggests, having a feel good summer. It had hosted the DUP leader Arlene Fraser in Cowdenbeath. Even early reports of the Boyne parades had been positive – until news of an incident at St Alphonsus.

But the big picture, he says, was decline. “In 1950 there was a parade in Edinburgh which had 50,000 Orangemen and women. They were marching up both sides of Princes Street. In Glasgow, in 2018, the biggest of the parades had 4000.

“Councils have told me they are much happier dealing with a parade with one of these groups because they know what they are doing. They are going to turn up when they say they are going to turn up and they are going to march where they say they are going to march.”

So what has changed since the summer? Until July, Rosie says, people saw marches as a nuisance. “Probably a strong majority of people are uncomfortable with loyal order parades,’ he says. “People would see it as a pest. An annoyance, an inconvenience.”

Now there is a different mood, he admits. “We have a widespread sensation that these parades are deeply problematic. That they cause severe division and dislocation in our society. That they may provoke violence, deeply offensive grotesque behaviour.

“There is a sense of both Irish Republican and loyalism being out of step, out of place, out of time. Of ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘What as this got to do with 21st century Scotland why are you here?’ Especially outside Glasgow.”

Rosie, however, is worried about parts of this new mood, and some of the politics around it.

He says: “I think there has been an unhelpful politicisation of sectarianism since about 2016 when the SNP lost its majority. There was a great desire among other parties ‘to give the Nats a bloody nose’.

“Unfortunately, it was the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which was the focus of that bloody nose. I say ‘unfortunately’ not because of the act – people were quite right to see that as open to criticism. But because the act is so wrapped up with issues around sectarianism and football and two particular clubs.

“It meant that the for the first time in five years people in politics were taking positions on things that impact concerns about sectarianism.

“At the moment we are not in a great place, We are back to to the days when there was a lot of posturing politics around this. Rather than a willingness to sit down and have difficult conversations, there is a retreat in to simple formulas.

“I have never once met a person who said ‘See this sectarian stuff, I am part of that.” It is always someone else. It is always the other lot down the road.”

Rosie is concerned about polarisation, of one side no longer seeing the other’s view. “If you think the Orange Order is beyond the pale, you can never accept them walking down the road or passed a school or a church. But if they are not breaking the law, it is dangerous to put limitations on their freedoms.”