THE former world leader of the Orange Order has been selected to stand for Scottish Labour in the local elections.

Henry Dunbar, who was also Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, will be a candidate for North Lanarkshire Council in May.

The move comes as Scottish Labour vies with the Scottish Tories for Unionist votes in the west of Scotland.

Labour insisted all its candidates would be open and tolerant, but the SNP said the party had opened the door to the former leader of a “deeply divisive organisation”.

The Orange Order describes itself as the “oldest and biggest Protestant fraternity in Scotland”, with members who are “bonded together to promote the ideals of our faith”. However it is regarded by some as anti-Catholic.

Anas Sarwar, who today opens his first in-person conference as Scottish Labour leader, has said anti-Catholic racism "is real and abhorrent" and must be confronted and challenged.

Mr Dunbar will be one of two Labour candidates in the four-member Airdrie North ward, where the party currently has one councillor, meaning his election is not assured.

Scottish Labour already has a senior orange man in neighbouring Airdrie South, Councillor Ian McNeil, who has been executive officer of the Orange Order in Scotland since 2019.

North Lanarkshire is run by a minority Labour administration, and is a key SNP target this spring.

Mr Dunbar, 66, was Scotland’s most senior orange man from 2010 to 2016 as Grand Master, and the most senior in the world from 2015 to 2018 after being elected its Imperial President.

A frequent visitor to Orange events in Northern Ireland, he helped organise the biggest anti-independence event of the 2014 referendum, a march of 15,000 orange men and women in Edinburgh on the weekend before the vote.

A Channel 4 News report of the gathering showed him telling the crowd: “Mister Salmond, you will not con the loyal Protestant people of Scotland. No to independence and no surrender to separatism."

The Herald:

The report included reporter Michael Crick challenging Mr Dunbar over a banner on the march saying “Protestant Action No Popery”.

Mr Dunbar replied: “Well, I didn’t see the banner No Popery, but we would suggest that banner shouldn’t have been there today.”

A retired salesman, Mr Dunbar told the Herald he had been asked by local people to stand and wanted to help the community first and foremost.

He said: “I do like the values of Labour and the leaders they have just now, Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar.

"I think the Labour party is all about equality and fairness. That’s sadly lacking in politics at the minute.

"Labour support the Union, and I personally support the Union because I think we’re stronger in the Union.”

Asked if his links to the Orange Order could influence how people will vote, he said: “The Orange Order as an institution doesn’t really get involved in politics. They don’t tell their members what to vote, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest to the members that they vote for me. They take me on my merit. I believe I can do a good job for the constituents of the Airdrie North area.”

He went on: “If I’m fortunate to be elected for the Scottish Labour party, all constituents will be the same to me. At the end of the day, I will support all the constituents.

“Nothing else comes into it. It’s all about supporting the communities. I don’t see why the Orange Order should come into it.

"I’m not standing for the Orange Order, I’m standing for Scottish Labour. I’m a member of the Labour party. I’m standing for the good of the constituents. I feel very passionate about that. I’m standing for these people and it doesn’t matter to me what creed or religion or colour they are, I’ll be standing 100 per cent for every single one of them.”

An SNP spokesperson said: "Anas Sarwar claims to promote tolerance in politics but in desperation for council candidates, Scottish Labour has opened its doors to the ex-leader of a deeply divisive organisation.

"Only the SNP has the positive vision to take Scotland forward. That's why on 5th May, there has to be a vote for the SNP."

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “All of Scottish Labour’s candidates have promised to reflect and uphold the party’s aims and values as a tolerant, open and democratic party for the people of Scotland. Mr Dunbar will be held to the same high standard as all Labour candidates across Scotland.”