For those among us in the UK who are feeling fiercely inspired and moved by the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston being pulled from its plinth and thrown in Bristol harbour; I’d like to remind you all of a little sectarian march that happens every year in July in the Scotland and Ireland…
In fact, demonstrations take place throughout the year across the UK, but the largest one happens in July -the commemorative march for the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Traditionally speaking, it falls on 12th July.
You may remember the hilarious scene from Danny Boyle’s T:2, when Sick Boy and Renton travel through to Glasgow, attend an Orange Lodge party and steal the bank cards of all the attendees. They’re able to make some fast cash because they already know the pin codes… you guessed it 1690.
And if you don’t remember, or haven’t seen the adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s book, Porno, I have been kind enough to provide the link to the aforementioned scene below.
We Glaswegians have a mutual understanding of the collective sinking feeling when you hear the sound of marching, drums, and tin whistles; the morbid realisation that an Orange Walk is happening. Sadly, this incredible sound that should represent joy and celebration, instead, brings an element of dread and foreboding.
With an understanding that in a modern world there can be no cognitive dissonance for bigotry and racism, it makes it difficult to sit by year after year and allow the swarm of locusts to meander their way through our city in the name of Unionism and anti-Catholicism. This is all by way of commemorating and celebrating a slave owner winning a battle which led to the oppression of a majority of the Catholic people of Ireland.
This, as you can imagine, is a source of great discomfort for the people of Glasgow.
There is a connotation with Rangers football club, although many supporters of the club nowadays brand themselves as “not orange” in order to avoid being affiliated with The Orange Order and its reputation. They often end up being labelled as “traitors” by its members.
For many, the march itself adds to the archaic Rangers vs. Celtic narrative in Glasgow, which is counter-productive to us as a progressive, civilised society.
I have been asked that age-old question in some of the most bizarre places,
“Oh! you’re from Glasgow! Rangers or Celtic?”
I kid you not, I have been asked that in a bar in New York, a beach in Vietnam and even at a family BBQ in Catalunya. But for Glaswegians that question has connotations far deeper than a football team.
I mean, how does one explain the history of Glaswegian sectarian divide to an inebriated stranger? All whilst managing to convey its connections stemming from Ireland and explain why, for some reason, it still has relevance in Scotland in modern day.
Immediately, the easier option would be to brush yourself off as a Partick Thistle fan, if not wanting to get involved in a political discussion. I mean, logically speaking, it is not something broadcast outside of local press- so why would anyone outside the UK be aware that this ridiculous display of sectarianism exists?
But in 2020, there is no place for avoidance, it is time to talk about this.
Now, by 2020, this outdated commemorative parade seems nothing more than a chest-puffing exercise- with those actually participating having very little real knowledge about the history or its significance.
The march is widely regarded by locals as Glasgow’s dirty little secret.
After all, this is the same metropolitan city that boasts “beautiful architecture, a vibrant nightlife and world-famous art school”.
Yeah, That city.
Well, once a year (not including the dress-rehearsal), on Saturday morning, mid-July, there is a rampage of far-right, all-white, union flag waving, pro-brexiteers that plough through the city shouting “GoD sAvE tHe QuEen” and “KiNg BiLlYs On ThE wAlL” (don’t worry, I will get to King Billy later) banging drums, playing tin whistles and destroying everything in their path.
And it’s still allowed to happen.
7 years ago, a petition on change.org stated:
“Orange Walks are damaging to the city of Glasgow for a number of reasons.
They are a practice representative of sectarian attitudes, and do not reflect the beliefs of the majority of city residents.
They promote an atmosphere of alienation and intimidation.
They make travel around the city centre unnecessarily difficult.
They waste the time of emergency services, preventing them from reaching the people who may have a real need for them and wasting taxpayers’ money.
They are detrimental to tourism and promote a poor image of the city.”
Nothing has changed, the march still happens.
Regardless of the city, these parades- in both Scotland and Ireland- are known for deliberately walking past areas of Catholic significance in order to provoke and intimidate.
In 2019, loyalist groups in Glasgow were actually trying to overturn a ruling that was preventing them marching past St Alphonsus Catholic Church. The restriction itself was put in place because a priest was spat on the previous year, the culprit was jailed for 10 months after pleading guilty and the marchers, understandably, still remain restricted from taking the route past the church.
Now, as previously mentioned, the origins of the 12th July parade come from a celebration of The Battle of the Boyne. This happened in Ireland in 1690, James II – the catholic ruler and last catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, was defeated by the Protestant King William of Orange– aka King Billy.
Over three hundred years later, the entirely white march feels less associated with liberation and freedom, and more like a far-right, white supremacy march.
Theoretically, traditionally speaking, the commemoration of the battle represented overthrowing Catholic rule and being allowed to practice whatever religion of your choosing- at least that is what England encouraged them to believe.
The old British divide and rule means that institutions like the Orange Order (implemented by England) was able to divide the working class at a vital time and deter a majority from embracing socialism. This tactic is still used to this day.
I’m under the impression everyone thinks that if we don’t talk about it, it will eventually go away.
2020 has shown us how to take action and stand up for what is right. There is no place for the Orange Walk in a modern, vibrant, Glasgow.
So, this march happens every year in celebration of King William of Orange’s victory.
And how did he win?
He had a larger army than the opposition, paid for with slave money, he also had help from the Netherlands and Denmark, two countries renowned for their wealth from slavery.
In 1689- a year before the Battle of the Boyne, Edward Colston (of toppled statue fame) sold his shares in the Royal African Company to King William of Orange. He funded the battle and armies with money made directly from the slave trade, in fact, both sides fighting did.
Taking into account that The Royal African Company was actually set up by the Stuart Monarchy, when William overthrew James (Stuart) and took the crown he then inherited the largest slaving company the world would ever know.
So, considering that James was the previous owner of the RAC-it is worth speculating the entire Battle of the Boyne was funded by the flesh of stolen Africans.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The RAC was a trading company set up by the monarchs of Britain at that time. It was their second attempt at getting involved in the slave trade and the shipping was used as a tool to exploit Africa for profit.
They monopolised the trading market because, being the monarchy and in charge, they wrote a law to state that their company was the only one allowed to trade in the English colonies.
However, eventually they could not keep up with demand and they allowed others to use these trade routes.
It is estimated that they took 5000 slaves a year to The Caribbean and North America, the company ran from 1660-1752, that’s 92 years, so by rough estimation there were 460,000 stolen Africans that had the letters RAC branded into their chests.
It is estimated that about 12 million slaves entered the Atlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th century, and about 1.5 million died on board ship or overboard because 10.5 of the 12 million slaves taken arrived in the Americas.
That is how little the lives of the Africans meant to these battling Kings. Both parties involved in the battle had investments in not just the slave trade, BUT THE SAME COMPANY.
They didn’t care about capitalising on the stolen lives of the black people of Africa- as long as it generated enough wealth to fund their war and politics.
In fact, many “great achievements” were funded off the back of innocent, black slaves- but we are rarely taught this in our education curriculum.
Glasgow University has been in the press in recent years after admitting that it benefitted directly from the slave trade and is now paying reparations.
In 1693, three years after the Battle of the Boyne, King Billy opened The College of William and Mary, in Virginia, where the plantations were. It is the second oldest institution of higher education in America, Harvard is the oldest.
It boasts three American Presidents in its alumni; Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler. And, you guessed it, it was built on money from the slave trade.
Glasgow, Bristol and Liverpool were built from slave money and money from the Triangular Trade.
Research the Glasgow Tobacco Lords, a name which does not begin to convey the atrocities they committed to slaves taken to the Americas. A more appropriate name would be something like “The Glasgow Slave Lords” or “The Glasgow Slavers”.
Pay attention to the street names around the Glasgow’s merchant city, the city flourished with money made oversees, Jamaica Street…Kingston Docks…Virginia Place.
Both banking and religion in Scotland profited immensely from the slave trade.
There were plenty banks started by these merchants, in order to maintain control of their extremely vast wealth, e.g. the “Thistle Bank“, the “Old Ship Bank” or the “Arms Bank” directly linked to Glasgow. There are actually more, but over a few hundred years they collapsed or merged, eventually becoming the Union Bank of Scotland and now known as The Bank of Scotland.
The very economy of the country that we know was birthed from the brutal theft and exploitation of the people of West Africa.
For a country that built its wealth on trade and slavery, the people of Scotland seem to have a lack of real knowledge of its role in the slave trade.
Did you know that many Scottish slave masters were considered among the most brutal? with life expectancy on their plantations averaging only four years.
MODERN DAY ORANGE WALK
Back to the present day issue, you may be wondering who arranges these marches?
Glasgow march is specifically organised by The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.
The Orange Order has various sub-divisions (lodges) responsible for organising events in their own city.
They actively campaign against Scottish Independence
The Order was formed in Ireland in 1795 by English Conservative elites’ intent on keeping a divide between the Protestant workers and their Catholic Neighbours. This was in direct opposition to the Theobald Wolfe Tone’s socialist image for Ireland’s future.
In a nutshell, the Torys had invested interest in creating a divide in Ireland. That old divide and conquer technique the dastardly British Empire are so famous for, they had a hand in The Troubles, and they continue their involvement with Ireland to this day, but in recent months -and with Westminsters poor handling of the COVID-19 situation and Brexit-there has been calls for United Ireland.
In a fantastic article titled; “Orange Order: Enemy of the Working Class?” the author sums it up perfectly,
“The purpose of the Orange Order is to manipulate Protestants into becoming an insular community so as to nullify socialist thought; asserting sectarian unity destabilises community solidarity and actively harms a worker’s fight for progressive change.”
Read that statement again.
IS IT STILL A RELIGIOUS MARCH?
Glaswegians will label themselves “Protestant” or “Catholic” without ever having set foot in a church, and as church numbers have rapidly dwindled in Scotland, 80% since the 1950s, therefore it is hard to believe that any of those involved in these religious based marches are practicing Christians. So, what does this march and really signify?
These labels have now lost any truly- religious significance and are now, in a less practicing-Christian Scotland, obsolete. Leaving them solely representative of a divide of the working class- those for Unionism of the UK, and those for Scottish Independence.
Perhaps these religious labels are more indicative of the often-blurred lines between religion and politics, even though the two now go less hand-in-hand in modern day Scotland, it is evident how intertwined their roots are.
WHERE DOES THE MARCH FIT IN, IN 2020?
In short, it doesn’t, and it becomes more inappropriate as each year passes.
There is absolutely no place for a bigoted march that, not only celebrates the victory of a man who made his fortune in slavery, but also encourages a sectarian divide in a metropolitan city.
The people of Glasgow showed their support this weekend at the Black Lives Matter protest, proving how much we stand together in solidarity against racism.
If the statue situation in Bristol has taught us anything, it is that the media will spin a story in whichever way the Government tells them. This bronze statue has been hated, petitioned and discussed for decades.
We are in the middle of the largest civil rights movement of our generation, and the removal of a statue commemorating a man who built his wealth on the enslavement of others has been reported in the press and on television as “destruction”. The British Prime Minister labelled it as a “criminal act”.
It is absolutely fundamental that we stop using biased and corrupt news sources, especially those influenced by government agenda. The media are choosing how to portray marchers to benefit government agenda. Why are BLM marchers “thugs” but far-right, violent bigots not being called out?
Do your research people.
Bristol’s BLM protest was peaceful, there was no violence or arrests, just a crowd of the public making history by returning an oppressor to the same harbour that his slave ships used to dock.
Call it poetic justice, call it a revolution- but you have no right to call it destructive.
If you think it is time to abolish the Orange Walk in Glasgow, I have set up direct links below:
Find contact details of your local MSP to raise this issue with them.
As Scots, we can change the narrative. Robert Burns did!
Did you know that he intended on leaving Scotland for Jamaica to work as a slave driver? He even wrote a poem about it- On A Scotch Bard Gone to the West Indies.
He then changed his mind, and eventually his poems and words would go on to be used in the abolishment of slavery movement.
There is a lesson in this.
Abolitionist, Frederick Douglass loved the late Burns’ work and even visited his old home when he toured Britain raising awareness of abolitionism. His final home is now a museum containing his most precious possessions, which includes a treasured copy of the Complete Works of Robert Burns.
Its. Okay. To. Educate. Yourself. And. Change.
Louder for the people in the back… if we inform and educate ourselves and realise that our entire belief system goes against our moral fibre as humans…
I cannot speak for the Black people of Glasgow, but I can speak for myself -a white Glaswegian.
I can speak about the shame I feel for my home city, the fact that the council allows a parade to happen that causes such racism and divide, that makes so many uncomfortable.
I can speak about my embarrassment that my fellow Scots, who happen to be Black, have to witness this outdated and inappropriate representation of our city.
And I can try to change it.
If you want to do more and get involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, I have added some great links for you to check out:
The Black Scottish Business Fund has been recently set up and I URGE you to support this charity. It has been long overdue.