By Susan Aitken, Leader, Glasgow City Council

A WEEK ago a priest and his congregation in the city I lead were subjected to a vile, anti-Catholic attack. The perpetrators had attached themselves to the Orange Order’s biggest event in Scotland, Glasgow’s annual Boyne Parade.

Spat at, verbally abused and then lunged at with poles simply for their faith, that this happened in 21st century Glasgow, a cosmopolitan, vibrant, multi-ethnic city is abhorrent. Modern Scotland prides itself on tolerance. What we cannot tolerate is hate crime, sectarian, racist or otherwise.

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.

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.

In their repeated protestations of their religious and civil liberties, what about the religious and civil liberties of others? These parades are largely in honour of the Crown and take place “on the Queen’s Highway”. Those involved might want to ask themselves why the Queen has never attended any of their events or would she indeed feel remotely comfortable at one?

In the coming weeks and months several more parades are scheduled to pass St Alphonsus’ Church in the east end. If the organisers had any self-awareness they would re-route and avoid local potential flashpoint. I hope they voluntarily agree it is unacceptable for them to continue to pass these places of worship. If they do not, Glasgow City Council will insist.

We are ready and willing to strength-test existing laws and our own codes of conduct in relation to preventing horrendous incidents like the attack on Canon Tom White.

Were there an easy solution however to the wider issue of parades and processions it would have been found long ago. The issue has been explored and examined by local government, parliamentarians and chief constables at various stages in recent times. And the powers which councils have is extremely limited.

We are governed primarily by the European Convention on Human Rights. It permits freedom of assembly to all and any, including those we disagree with. And the key principle of the 2006 Scottish Parliament guidance on parades is that the role of councils is to facilitate, not to adjudicate on who can and can’t. Ideology and costs are not factors. The law is explicit in what applies to one parade, applies to all.

Only where the police have intelligence of significant and serious disorder do they object, allowing parades to be either prohibited or re-routed. And it’s worth stating that Orange parades are not the only marches where police action has been required in the past year.

Parliamentarians too might want to ask themselves whether they are satisfied the laws they put in place are fit for purpose. I have urged them to do just that. Importantly, incoming legislation providing a legal definition of a “sectarian aggravated offence” will allow us to accurately measure hate crime at these and other parades.

Organisations of all faiths kinds have the freedom to parade in Scotland. But with freedom comes responsibility. Marchers and their support need to show the public they get that.