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Orange Order's threat to take up arms


THE Orange Order in Scotland is threatening to transform itself into a Protestant paramilitary organisation if the SNP ever win a mandate for Scottish independence.

In a taped interview with the Sunday Herald, Jack Ramsay, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, claimed Orangemen who found themselves threatened with life in an independent Scotland would turn into an underground force, which would not rule out a recourse to arms, in a bid to preserve their Britishness.

When asked what would happen if Scotland moved to sever ties with the union, Ramsay said: 'The Orange Order would become a paramilitary force, if you like.'

He is now facing calls for a police inquiry into the statement, following a barrage of criticism from the Scottish National Party and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland that his comments may inflame sectarian tension in the run-up to the annual Twelfth of July celebrations in Ulster and Scotland.

Ramsay said the prospect of an independent Scotland would see the Orange Order become like 'a spy behind enemy lines' and turn into a rallying point for those bitterly opposed to independence. The SNP was a 'threat to Scotland and Britain,' he added. 'If people became disenchanted with Labour and turned to the SNP, the nationalists would start screaming that they have a mandate for separatism. That would be very dangerous.'

'We would find ourselves in difficulties,' he added. 'If that was the case I think we'd end up a proscribed organisation. The people who would join us then would not be those who would have joined if the Orange Order was legal.'

The likelihood of the Orange Order, which has around 50,000 members, being banned in the event of it turning to paramilitary activity did not seem to worry Ramsay. 'If you proscribe an organisation, you strengthen it', he said.

When asked a second time if his reference to a ''paramilitary organisation'' suggested terrorism, Ramsay said: 'It obviously implies a recourse to arms'. Asked a third time, he said he would prefer the description 'a more militant organisation''. He added: ''If we were separated from the UK, we would have a caucus of people who would be pro the union. The logical development of that would obviously mean some form of confrontation. If we were proscribed we would go underground, and anything that's underground surfaces.'

Ramsay emphasised that no violence was acceptable at the moment apart from actions taken by the RUC and the army, who he said 'had a licence to kill and acted with the legitimacy of the British state'.

Ironically, the sabre-rattling comes as the Orange Order in Scotland is planning to hire public relations consultants to overhaul its image.

The SNP's deputy leader and shadow justice minister Roseanna Cunningham savaged Ramsay and the Orange Order for the comments. She said: 'This is an extraordinary statement. Ramsay has done more in one sentence to destroy his organisation than years of political criticism ever could. Independence in Scotland will only come through the democratic process. To suggest that an organisation would go down the road towards terrorism if it was opposed to independence is unbelievable. Obviously this statement will have to be examined closely by the authorities to see if making these claims is a criminal offence.' Police sources said they would look at Ramsay's statement in the light of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Cunningham added: 'Given that everyone, including the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, has been very relaxed about the activities of the Orange Order, it is astonishing that this organisation can be so intolerant and threatening itself.'

Ramsay also defended Orangemen who joined paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the early 1970s, at the height of the Troubles. 'In those days men were joining paramilitary organisations for the right reasons. The UDA (Ulster Defence Association), when it started, was required for defence purposes from attacks on Protestant people from the IRA.

'A number of young men empathised with that and joined loyalist organisations. They weren't taking to the streets to murder people then -- now it's very different. Back then we were sympathetic to the problems faced by the Protestant community in Ulster. Today, it's gone to hell.'

He also revealed that at least one Scottish Orange Order member was a senior commander in a loyalist paramilitary organisation. 'He was encouraging young lads to join up, and then when they wanted out they were subjected to some pretty brutal treatment. It was then, in 1976, that we decided that we couldn't have any association or direct contact with paramilitaries.'

Ramsay said Catholic claims of discrimination in Scotland were nonsense. 'The Labour Party is filled with Catholic MPs and MSPs, and we haven't had a Protestant Lord Provost in Glasgow for nearly 20 years, so how can we talk about discrimination?'

In a bid to overhaul the disastrous public image of the Order, Ramsay has embarked on a three-part plan to convince the public that the organisation is not bigoted and violent. He has already consulted politicians including Donald Gorrie, who wants to see legislation outlawing sectarian abuse, and plans to talk to journalists about the reasons for the Order being constantly attacked in the press.

His final stage will be the hiring of PR consultants . 'Every organisation has PR people now and we realise we need one as well,' he said.

Peter Kearney, the Catholic Church in Scotland's official spokesman, said: 'Jack Ramsay's comments are utterly unbelievable. There is nothing to stop people defending their Britishness legally. Even the Boers in South Africa defend apartheid within legal boundaries.

'Orangemen are entitled to freedom of expression, but it often comes over as sectarian rhetoric and triumphalism to Roman Catholics and other Scottish people. It is this that demeans the organisation.'



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