CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: Politics in Public - Freedom of Assembly and the right to Protest (Report No. 8)

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Politics in Public

Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Protest


The legal situation in Scotland differs from that in England and Wales. Under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, notification of a procession should be made to a local council official seven days in advance of the event. There is a provision for processions commonly or customarily held’ not to have to give formal notification hut councils ate empowered to waive this provision if they so wish. The council is required to notify the police of any planned parades. The council may prohibit the holding of a procession or impose conditions concerning the date, time and duration of the procession, the route to he taken or to prohibit it from particular public areas. For instance, organisers informed us that in Glasgow the police are keen that there should he no parades after 1.00pm and therefore most parades start before 11.00am and, unlike in Northern Ireland, the police in Glasgow were not keen on the carrying of symbolic weapons such as swords. The council is required to give notice of any restrictions to the organisers two days prior to the event and to publicise them in such a way that participants will be made aware of the conditions.

An appeal can be made to the Sheriff who can uphold the appeal if in his/her opinion the council 'erred in law’, had incorrect factual information, were unreasonable in exercising their discretion or acted beyond their powers. The Sheriff may return the case to the council for reconsideration, make an order him/herself or dismiss the appeal. An appeal against the Sheriffs decision, on a point of law, can be made to the Court of Session. A variety of offences exist to deal with individuals who disregard any order made by the authorities.

Perhaps the most significant difference with the situation in England and Wales is the involvement of the local council. The organiser of an event must complete a form in triplicate, one copy goes to the local authority, one to the police and the third, with a code of conduct on the reverse side, is retained by the organiser. The council officer informs the relevant members of the council that a parade is to be held in their area and they have the opportunity to raise any objections. In Glasgow the council has a Public Processions subcommittee to address any problems. The police can make their views known to the council officer and comment on objections, but it is the local authority that makes the formal decision over any restrictions on parades. However on the day the police can invoke public order concerns to change previous decisions.

All of those that we spoke to about the organisation of loyal order parades said that they gave plenty of notice, weeks if not months, before holding a parade. In the main they were perfectly happy with the relationship they had with the police and if necessary would discuss issues in advance.

Orange Parades

Orangeism was brought to Scotland at the end of the eighteenth century by military regiments returning from Ireland and lodges slowly spread through working class areas of Scotland. Just as in Ireland, outbreaks of disorder connected to processions were common.

The first Twelfth parade in Glasgow in 1821 ended in disturbances, as they did the following year. In 1823 the magistrates banned the march (Marshall 1996:12-14). The Orange Order expanded with the growth of industrialisation in the second half of the nineteenth century and, whilst the mass of Scottish Orangeism remained working class, it gained in respectability. In particular Orangeism became a distinctive part of political culture in Glasgow.

Changing political and economic circumstances have affected the Orange Order in Scotland and it now holds less political power than it did in the past. Nevertheless, there are still a large number of parades and the Twelfth remains a significant day in certain areas of Scotland. In the Strathclyde area alone the Orange Order held 504 processions and the Black Institution held 54 between 1 July 1995 and 30 June 1996. As in Northern Ireland many of these processions are church parades and most are held between June and August. Four Twelfth processions are held each year on one of the Saturdays preceding the Twelfth: Ayrshire, Glasgow, Central Scotland and East Scotland. The Orange Order estimates that up to 20,000 people attend the Glasgow Twelfth.

Some of the issues that have arisen over Orange parades in Northern Ireland have also created controversy in Scotland. The Twelfth parades have had a reputation for drunkenness and sectarianism. This has meant that attempt by the loyal orders to hold processions in new areas has been met with some opposition from local authorities, as was the case in Aberdeen in 1997. Whilst the right of Orangemen to hold processions in Glasgow is still governed by tradition, the route is not as highly valued as on processions in Northern Ireland. Consequently there have been few problems with residents objecting to the processions. Nevertheless, at least one commentator has suggested that if local authorities continue to restrict processions by republican bands (see below) then the call for greater restrictions on loyal order events, in the name of even-handedness, might grow (Marshall 1996:164). However, problems over the drinking of alcohol and the control of paramilitary displays by bands have been more prominent than the issue of controversial routes.

Alcohol and ‘hangers-on'

The consumption of alcohol is possibly more prevalent and has been more of a problem in Scotland than in Northern Ireland. Marshall suggests that ‘the Orders public image continues to be marred by the loutish and anti—social behaviour’ of supporters lining the streets and accompanying processions. He points out that the Scottish Order in many ways abandoned pretensions towards temperance when they sanctioned the licensing of Orange premises in the 1960s and an increasing number of District premises starred to sell alcohol. The allegiance of the clientele of particular pubs either to Orangeism, Unionism and Glasgow Rangers or Irish Republicanism and Glasgow Celtic has long been a distinctive part of Glasgow’s social scene. Whilst members of the Order are concerned about images of drunkenness, they feel that in the main it is up to the police to deal with drunken behaviour from anybody that is not actually in the parade itself.

Paramilitary Displays

Over recent years the issue that has received most attention inside and outside Scottish Orangeism has been the relationship of the Institution and hands to loyalist paramilitary groups (Bruce 1985; Marshall 1996). In the early l970s significant numbers of Scottish Orangemen became at least nominal members of the UDA, which at that point was not an illegal organisation. This eventually led to a very divisive split in the Grand Lodge in 1976 resulting in an unequivocal condemnation of ‘terrorist organisations. Concern over the image of Orangeism in Scotland has remained an issue within the Orange Order and the dispute surfaced again over displays of paramilitarism by loyalist bands taking part in Orange processions. During a Twelfth parade in Buxhurn in 1989 the Young Cowdenbeath Volunteers Flute Band appeared in replica uniforms of the Young Citizens Volunteers, the youth section of the UVF. The band were banned from participating in any further Orange parades and in the resulting dispute a lodge had its warrant suspended. In similar disputes in the following years, other lodges were suspended for hiring paramilitary style bands. Those lodges have now formed the Independent Orange Order in Scotland.

One of the reasons for the hard line taken by the Orange Order is due to concern over the possibility of restrictions on parades by the police who, in Glasgow at least, make their officers well aware of the flags of proscribed organisations. The Order has dealt with the problem in two ways. First, all bands taking part in parades tinder Grand Lodge jurisdiction must he members of either the Scottish Amateur Flute Band Association, the Scottish Accordion Band Association or one of the four sections of the First Flute Band Association which is effectively run by the Orange Order. Bands from outside jurisdictions, such as Northern Ireland, can only take part by producing a letter of recommendation from a private or district Orange lodge in their area. In recent years at least one band from Belfast has been banned because of its conduct on a parade in Scotland.

In effect the Orange Order in Scotland run a band registration system to control the behaviour of bands and also the symbolic content of Orange parades. It has been suggested that a similar system should be set tip in Northern Ireland and there has long been provision within legislation for the registration of bands. Experience in Scotland suggests that if organisers of events are to take responsibility for their parades, then they should act to register participants.

The second way the Scottish Orange Order have sought to improve the control of their events is by using a detailed hand contract. The contract designates the type of uniforms bands should wear; that there should be only one bass drummer; the size of bass drum; the types of flags to be displayed - with a maximum of three flags (of which one must be the Union flag and the second either the Scottish Soltire or the flag of the bands jurisdiction); that there should he no paramilitary insignia; a band cannot have a name with the initials YCV; the tune The Wild Colonial Boy should never be played; that there should be no unseemly shouting; that only regulation marching step should he used; that there should be no drinking or playing of music by bands at the Field, that bands should nor carry deacon poles or batons; and that bands on church parades must attend the service and only play hymns. The Orange Order in Northern Ireland has a similar contract, although it is not quite as specific as that used by the brethren in Scotland.

The Grand Lodge also controls the fees that the bands get for being engaged by the lodges, which some might see as a bit of localised restrictive practice. Such a degree of control has not been popular with all the bands nor with all members of the Order. Nevertheless, the overall effect of the use of band associations and band contracts has been to allow the Grand Lodge the ability to control better what rakes place in Orange parades.

Apprentice Boys

The Apprentice Boys Clubs were first established in Scotland in 1903, but the development of the association in Scotland was slow compared to that of Orangeism. The first Apprentice Boys parade appears not to have taken place until 1959 and an annual parade has since taken place on the third Saturday of May. The number of clubs has increased since the start of the troubles in Northern Ireland and they are now formed under Scottish Amalgamated Committee. Most, but not all, members of the Apprentice Boys will be in the Orange Order, however, the two institutions have no official links and the Apprentice Boys have a reputation for supporting more militant loyalism, whereas the Orange Order does nor. Between 1 July 1995 and 30 June 1996 there were 55 Apprentice Boys Parades in the Strathclyde area.

One of the principal differences between the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Order in Scotland has been over the treatment of bands. The Apprentice Boys do not dictate to bands what flags they may or may not carry, and they are prepared to let bands that have been banned by the Orange Order into their parades. For instance, the Apprentice Buys allow flags connected to the 36th Ulster Division to be flown whereas the Orange Order acknowledges the importance of the Ulster Division, but does not see it as relevant to Scottish Orangeism. Apprentice Boys that we spoke to take the position that if the police did not have a problem with particular flags, then it was nor for the loyal orders to dictate what was carried.

The police usually did not stop the traffic for their parades so it was important they kept to the correct side of the road. The Apprentice Boys appointed marshals to stop people going through the ranks and to keep the parade on the correct part of the road. Any problems with ‘hangers on they felt were for the police to deal with.

Republican Parades

There have long been events reflecting Irish nationalism in Scotland, often displayed through processions organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. However, since the 1970s a number of specifically republican events have been held regularly. We were told that there are around twelve republican bands in the Glasgow area within the Irish Scottish Bands Association (ISBA). Most events take place within areas which are broadly Roman Catholic and, unlike the Orange Order, they would not, generally, be allowed into Glasgow city centre. Nevertheless, some of the republican parades have been attracting the attention of militant loyalists who are prepared to try to stop such events.

Police in Strathclyde said that they had had relatively few problems. On one occasion when loyalist and republican parades wanted to organise in the same area, it was sorted out by changing the starting times; the longer-established loyalist parade was not given precedent. However, there have been more serious problems in other areas. In 1995 the ISBA were refused a parade in Blantyre on the basis that there had been trouble in previous years. ISBA then applied filed for a parade each week for some months, invoking their right to march, and causing some administrative problems. They were asked to stop applying on the basis that after a bit of time they would be given a parade, which eventually took place. In 1996 republican bands in Paisley, Renfrewshire made an application to march tinder the heading ‘Ban the RUC’. Neither the local council nor the police objected, but after the local paper suggested that there might be sectarian clashes, the council withdrew approval. The ISBA did not appeal to the Sheriff. In Edinburgh, where an annual march for republican socialist James Connolly takes place, there have probably been more problems with both republican and loyalist events than in Glasgow (Marshall 1996: 164). A number of local authorities have refused permission to republican groups partly because of the threat of counter demonstrations from militant loyalists. Marshall believes that there has been a deliberate attempt by a group of loyalists to target republican parades, however he points out that this could have the effect of reducing tolerance towards Orange parades in Scotland.


Scotland, and specifically Glasgow, provided some of the most obvious comparisons with Northern Ireland over the type of parades that rake place. Yet the legal provisions for controlling parades offer interesting contrasts with those in England and Northern Ireland. In England the police are principal decision-makers over parades, whereas in Scotland a council official co-ordinates the decision making process on behalf of the local authority and there is a clear line of appeal if a decision is disputed.

The differing relationships with the state have also influenced attitudes to the right to parade. In Northern Ireland the relationship of the Orange Order with the Unionist Party and the RUC enabled Orange parades to establish and maintain ‘traditional’ routes. The present disputes over such routes are seen as a threat to sovereignty and power. In Scotland the Order had some political power, but not on the same scale as in Northern Ireland, and furthermore there is no threat of any sort of Catholic state. Orangeism has therefore been less forceful in demanding ‘traditional’ rights. Alteration to a route is not so easily perceived as a reduction in the civil rights of Orangemen, who have never dominated the public sphere in the way that their brethren have in Northern Ireland.

Holding parades is a part of Scottish political culture and the authorities accept that some parades, such as the Twelfth, should have precedent because they are long established or traditional’. Nevertheless, both organisers and the authorities accept that specific roads are not sacrosanct and the right to hold a parade on a particular day does not mean the right to march over the same route every year. The right to hold a traditional parade is important, nor the right to use a traditional route.

Issues of the right to parade have nor loomed large in Scottish politics. The loyal orders have accepted those occasions when local authorities have refused permission for parades to take place and the small number of republican events have in the main not demanded routes that were likely to create an issue. However, there have been attempts by loyalists to stop republican events and concern has been expressed that this might reduce public toleration of Orange parades.

The loyal orders have had problems with public perceptions of their events, particularly given the prevalence of the consumption of alcohol on occasions such as the Twelfth. A cursory review suggests that the situation may be worse than it is in Northern Ireland due in part to the more relaxed attitude of the Scottish Orangeism to the licensing of their premises.

Disputes over paramilitary symbols and insignia have been more prevalent in Scotland than in Northern Ireland. The police have taken a harder line than their counterparts in Northern Ireland and senior Orangemen have argued against the carrying of paramilitary insignia in Orange parades. The Orange Order in Scotland has played a more pro-active role in controlling the symbols within its parades.

An important difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland has been the control of bands. In Scotland the registration of bands has been organised by the Orange Order, allowing them to expel any band not conforming to codes of behaviour and dress. Loyalist bands in Northern Ireland probably play a more dominant role in street political culture than do their counterparts in Scotland and senior Orangemen in Northern Ireland have felt unable to take some of the steps to control the bands that they claim should be made and have tended to argue that it is the responsibility of the state to deal with this issue rather than the organisers of the relevant event.

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