Vile Orange marches prove Scots still have way to go on compassion

Vile Orange marches prove Scots still have way to go on compassion
Muriel Gray, Sunday Herald

What a weird week. US secretary of state Clinton phoned the SNP justice secretary, (probably while mouthing to an aid, ‘Kenny who?’) and went through the motions of imploring him to reconsider the release of Lockerbie bomber al Megrahi. It’s not terribly likely that she genuinely cares about the release, as it’s much more likely that she knows who actually blew up the plane. It was a PR thing. The SNP meanwhile pretended that they make the important, grown-up decisions, while the world’s press suggested bigger, more sinister beasts elsewhere were making those choices and keeping the Nats in line with convenient little deals. They stopped short of saying beads and mirrors, but you get the drift.

Regardless of the validity of any of that, a dream came true for the ferociously publicity-hungry Salmond, as the debate now rages globally as to whether Scotland is ahead on compassion and justice or just a snivelling appeaser of terrorism. How could that possibly get any better for a first minister whose self-aggrandising, attention-seeking behaviour suggests he would chew his own arm off if it got him into the Evening Times? Think what he would give to make the Washington Post.

‘Our relationship with America is a strong and enduring one,’ says Salmond, puffed up like a blow fish with a smirk drawn on in black marker pen. ‘It doesn’t depend on always reaching an agreement.’

No indeed it doesn’t, mostly because there is no relationship, other than the one that lets them top up their submarines’ fuel tanks and play a bit of golf. Besides that, they care little who Salmond is or what he’s for. Prior to last week the American administration was more likely to be able to name the Icelandic minister for knitting. However, this furore will certainly bump up old Alex’s Google hits. Might even overtake Jennifer Lopez. Trebles of Johnnie Walker all round at Camp Braveheart.

So what’s the verdict then? Since we’re in the international spotlight for a few weeks why don’t we ask ourselves if we are indeed a progressive, compassionate little country, way ahead of the developed world in our understanding of the genuine spirit of justice, or just parochial patsies? Should we happen to encounter a stray American tourist developing trench foot on our sodden streets, how would we explain to them the vast superiority of our wisdom and tolerance in comparison to that of the US?

It’s a tough one. Mostly, we’re a pretty fantastic country. That’s why we endure this Blade Runner climate and the inescapable cuisine of fatty brown stuff that fuels our cultural penchant for self-destruction. But, largely, we’re great. No, we really are. Our tiny population punches above our weight in most things that matter, and nowhere on Earth is more beautiful than our landscape. Yet defending ourselves to outsiders can sometimes be uncomfortable.

Consider this one. A few years ago, leaving the train at Edinburgh’s Haymarket station to attend the International Book Festival, I was unnerved by a massive police presence. Oh no! Must have been an incident. But on emerging onto the street, barriers had been erected, crowds were gathering and the streets were cleared of traffic. Hooray! It’s the festival. Of course, a parade! Then why all the police? And why did a large percentage of the gathering crowd resemble the slopping out queue at Barlinnie? It was the end of July. You’re probably way ahead of me already, dear reader. Yes, an Orange Walk, right in the centre of our cultured capital city of Edinburgh, at festival time. You really couldn’t make it up. As soon as the distant sound of flute bands started to float towards us, two nearby American tourists reached for their cameras and got ready to snap.

‘Excuse me, but what is this parade for?’ asked the gentle lady with a southern Texas accent. I glanced around at the collection of drunken lowlife, all but drooling on their tracksuits, and took a deep breath. After a quick historical precis of the Boyne and the Troubles, I cut to the chase. The people in this parade, I explained, hate people of a different religion, and this ‘celebration’ is to remind those people that they still hate them, and will always hate them. The ugly, disgusting, stupid, drunk people you see here to support the parade are hoping for a person of the religion they hate to show up so that they can assault them.

The lady was aghast. ‘Then why is it allowed?’ Now this is the bit, with regards to the Lockerbie controversy, where one would wish to reply thus. It’s because in morally superior Scotland, the country showing you Yanks a thing or two about tolerance, we believe in unbridled freedom of expression and broad-mindedness, in a society where all opinions can be liberally expressed and where others must restrain themselves, regardless of their offence, to allow such.

That’s what one might wish to say. But that’s not true is it? If it were we should be able to peacefully tolerate a celebration of the Crusaders having murdered Muslims by marching past a mosque every year, or celebrate the slaughter of infidels outside a church. We could have Nazis marching to celebrate killing Jews and tobacco companies holding steel band parades to celebrate the subjugation of black slaves. We, thankfully, don’t allow those things because they would be hateful, vile, divisive and sickening. But despite pleas this week from some enlightened members of Glasgow City Council to the Orange Order to stop their repugnant marches, they have no intention of doing so.

So this was my actual answer to our Texan visitor. Madam, it’s allowed because there are people from this band of simian, sectarian thugs in powerful positions in our police forces and our councils. Makes you proud, doesn’t it? And why doesn’t Salmond sort that out, apart, obviously, from the fact that it won’t get him onto the Oprah Winfrey show? I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess.