It’s yer actual 12th of July today, the hotspot of Orange hate. Over the past few days Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland have been subjected to a celebration of “Loyalist culture”. It’s always a good and positive thing for any community to celebrate its culture, the problem is that what passes for Loyalist culture seemingly consists of burning symbols of all the communities that Loyalists despise. Those would be, Irish and Scottish Catholics in particular, Catholics in general, gay people, black people, Muslims, Eastern Europeans, Europeans in general especially the Catholic ones, Scottish independence supporters, Celtic language speakers, anyone who supports a Scottish fitba team that’s not Rangers, people who believe in dinosaurs which aren’t actually Scottish Tory or DUP policitians, and anyone who doesn’t tie up their budgie’s swing on a Sunday so that it can’t break the Sabbath. So if you’re a gay socialist from a Catholic Eastern European country with a season ticket to Parkhead and a free swinging budgie which isn’t a euphemism, you can expect an especially warm welcome in East Belfast. As in, a bit of a roasting.
The 12th of July is the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, when the Dutch King William of Orange defeated the supporters of King James VII and II and thus deposed a Catholic monarch. Ironically, it was Billy who enjoyed the support of the Vatican, and although he’s since become a symbol for sectarian homophobes, there is fairly substantial evidence that he had a series of male lovers. Pope Alexander VII was a close ally of William of Orange as the Papal States at the time were opposed to the attempts of France to establish its dominance in Europe and William was one of the papacy’s supporters. When he defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne, the Pope ordered the bells of the Vatican to ring in celebration.
What passes for Loyalist culture is a wrung out and dessicated version of historical truth, which has been cooked over the centuries so that only the hatred and resentment remain. One of the modern targets of Ulster Unionists is their implacable opposition to an Irish language Act in Northern Ireland, which would give legal protection and status to the Irish language which was once widespread across Northern Ireland just as it was elsewhere in the island. But the so called Loyalists of Northern Ireland are ignorant of their own history. The Irish language is as much the cultural property and patrimony of Ireland’s Protestants as it is of Irish Catholics. Language isn’t determined by religion. If you’re going to have an annual parade to celebrate your culture and history then maybe you should be arsed enough to find out what your culture and history actually is. It’s not like the information is difficult to find.
The Scots Presbyterians who settled in Northern Ireland during the Plantations in the 17th century came predominantly from Galloway and Ayrshire. At that time those parts of Scotland were mostly Gaelic speaking, and they spoke a dialect of Scottish Gaelic which had more in common with Irish than most of the surviving dialects of the language do. One of the first Presbyterian ministers ordained in Ireland, a certain Jeremiah O’Quin from Bushmills in the north of county Antrim, was a native Irish speaker who was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1647. Presbyterian services were conducted in the medium of Irish throughout the next two centuries. One of the first books for people who wished to teach themselves Irish was written and published by a Presbyterian minister. The Rev. William Neilson of Kilmore in County Down published An Introduction to the Irish Language in 1808. It was based on the speech of his own parishoners. In the 19th century there were Presbyterian schools in the Glens of Antrim and Tyrone and all across Northern Ireland which taught Irish speaking Presbyterians to read and write with the aid of the Irish language bible. For further information see http://www.presbyterianhistoryireland.com/history/presbyterians-and-the-irish-language/
Modern tribalist Loyalists are not loyal to their own history. They’re loyal to a perverted version of history from which uncomfortable truths have been expunged, leaving nothing but a barren wasteland on which a pile of wooden pallets bearing Irish flags, rainbow and EU flags, and racist slurs against black footballers is set alight once a year. It’s a culture which seeks to ingratiate itself with an establishment which treats it with contempt. It’s the culture of a sectarian statelet which was carved out of Ireland on the basis of bigotry and which systematically discriminated against the minority community in order to ensure that they remained a minority. Protestant preference in jobs, housing, education may be a thing of the past, but any community which has historically enjoyed privilege sees any equalisation of the playing field as a form of oppression. Those most likely to cry victimhood are those whose position depends upon the victimisation of others.
When they do embrace a symbol of something that they identify with other than the British establishment and its monarchy, it’s the flag of the racist American Southern Confederacy, or even a swastika. This is not a culture that looks outwards to embrace the world, it’s a culture that retreats from it and hides away behind a barricade of hatred and suspicion. Deep down, what passes for Loyalist culture is animated by the terror that if ever they concede that they are no longer dominant then Catholics will treat them the same way that they’ve treated the Catholic community.
This annual hatefest is condoned by Scotland’s Conservatives. They turn a blind eye to it. They dog-whistle in support of it. The Scottish Conservatives are riddled with sectarianism because historically they were the party of the Protestant Ascendancy in Scotland. For much of the twentieth century, the Conservatives in Scotland were able to secure working class votes on the basis of sectarianism. They were the party of Protestant preference. They were the political wing of the Orange Order and avid supporters of their annual walk of shame.
Over recent years, since the rise of the independence movement, the Scottish Conservatives have attempted to build on those roots in an attempt to create a bulwark against the rising tide of independence. So we get Scottish Tory MSPs tweeting about “the Queen’s Eleven”. We get Scottish Tory politicians with a history of sectarianism in social media. We get councillors who are members of the Orange Order. What we don’t get is an unambiguous statement from the Scottish Conservatives that they condemn and disavow Orangeism and its annual parade of ahistorical malevolent exclusionary bitterness. It’s time for the Tories to disassociate themselves clearly and unequivocally from the big drum of hatred, to apologise for their historical role in promoting and maintaining sectarianism, and condemn those amongst their elected representatives who indulge in the dog whistle of bigotry. When, and only when, that happens, will the Scottish Tories be able to preach to us about the evils of division and divisiveness. I’m not holding my breath.
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