With the actual poll looming, this weekend sees the Orange Order make its on-street intervention into the #Indyref debate in Scotland. What will add an extra dimension to this is keeping an eye on how the media deal with events on the day, since, as Kilsally points out, #Indyref has created some unusual bedfellows.
The last few days have given a couple of stand out media moments of the campaign. At a wider level, Nick Robinson’s reporting yesterday was astonishing, not for it’s overt support of the No campaign (it was the BBC after all), but rather the extraordinarily amateurish crudeness of its execution (you can get more links in Mick’s piece but here’s the reply Robinson said he didn’t get). More parochially, Ruth Dudley Edwards discovered the danger of stepping out of the local media filter bubble (or having others step in). She was ripped apart live on air, for claims she was making about sectarianism and Scotland, by Prof Sir Tom Devine, an actual expert on, yes, sectarianism and Scotland.
Dudley Edward’s conviction about her own opinions, that Devine exposed as completely uninformed, will mean that even mainstream media here will now be considering the validity of her contributions on Irish issues. Only joking, it just wouldn’t occur to them. Like Chef is told, when confronted by a tiger in the Vietnamese jungle in Apocalypse Now, the lesson from this will be “Never get out of the boat”.
When the Orange Order demonstrations hit town on Saturday, it certainly isn’t at the express invitation of the No campaign who fear the Order could do more damage than good to the campaign. During July’s Orange parade in Glasgow, there were 18 arrests for drunk and disorderly behaviour and a 12 year old girl was injured, all very far away from the alleged epicentres of a mythical culture war the Orders and Unionist claim to face in Ireland and that is responsible for any negative perceptions of Orange culture. Interestingly, in July, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Eddie Hyde, was claiming the Order “respect everyone’s faith”, a point echoed more recently by the Assistant Grand Master of the Lodge of Ireland, Rev Mervyn Gibson, who said “The Orange Order stands for the United Kingdom of all religions.” Presumably neither were referring to the Orangemen who protested against lifting the ban on a Catholic being monarch, or summoned members to a disciplinary hearing for attending the funeral of a Catholic policeman, the Orange Order slush fund to stop Catholics buying land, or the Famine Song being played outside Catholic churches (in Belfast, ironically) during Orange marches (without startng on the more traditional view of Orders attitude to Catholicism). So, strictly speaking that should be all faiths and religions but not Catholics (and possibly not muslims, either, if the current First Minister’s views are widely shared).
The playing of the Famine Song outside Catholic churches has received some comical defences from the Orange Order and unionist politicians, being completely hollowed out by clips like this one of the Orange Order’s Belfast No 1 District and the Pride of Ardoyne band singing it together for the camera. The video gives some pointers of details to look for on Saturday. The richly decorated banners and drums of the bands tend to be more revealing than the more anodyne lodge banners. If you check out the clip (around 2m15), you can see band members commemorated on the Pride of Ardoyne banner, including the likes of UVF man Sam Rockett killed by the UFF (you can search listings in the Sutton Index online for names you find). Spotting celebrities from the unionist firmament, like Shankill Butchers who are Orangemen, might be more difficult, but can be equally revealing as to some of its membership and the company it keeps.
One last point of interest, will be the extent to which the Orange Order observes Police Scotland’s call for “no militaristic uniforms”, a ban on placards, flags and posters “bearing inflammatory images or words”, and no playing of musical instruments outside a church service. Since the Orders refuse to accept, and often flagrantly breach, restrictions from the Parades Commission, observance in Edinburgh of restrictions would have the reek of hypocrisy. With fairly tight margins in the opinion polls, both the angle media take on events like Saturday’s Orange Order demonstration in Edinburgh and the more traditional problems of accidents, incidents and mistakes, could still have a significant bearing on the referendum outcome. As the Orange Order ventures on to the Larne and Belfast ferries and out from the comfort of it’s conventional local media bubble, come Saturday evening the whole Better Together campaign may end up wishing it never got out of the boat.