A realistic speech about the Order’s need to make alliances

Morning View
Morning View

The speech at the annual Boyne commemoration in Scotland on Saturday by the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order is of major significance.

The Rev Mervyn Gibson said that brethren need “to articulate what it means to be British in a changing United Kingdom. That may mean making strategic alliances with those who we may differ with morally, fiscally or even theologically for the sake of the UK”.

While Rev Gibson did not mention Ruth Davidson, the lesbian leader of the Conservatives in Scotland who has achieved a notable Tory revival, he was clearly referring to the cultural change that her meteoric rise illustrates.

Ms Davidson is a proud former member of the Territorial Army whose success is partly due to her defence of the Union against the ever-energetic Scottish National Party.

Rev Gibson referred to the demonisation of the Order, including “elements in the press are just plain bigoted against us”. This is true but he was right to say that self pity is not the response to such prejudice, but rather challenging of it.

Crucially, Rev Gibson said that the Order would not compromise on its core values. It would be a sad day if an institution, set up to defend Protestantism and the British link, was to do that. But all large organisations have to operate within the context of their wider society and to interact with it.

As the mere fact of his speech acknowledges, unionism is under threat in both Scotland and Northern Ireland with nationalism in both places rampant and this – for most unionists – trumps other political or cultural disagreements.

Rev Gibson’s landmark speech has been made the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when many things are in flux in the western world, but when Protestantism nonetheless remains strong.

There is much to be optimistic about, including the shared history and contribution to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to which Rev Gibson refers, and its potential for heritage tourism.