The Orange Order has vowed to mobilise its 50,000 members in Scotland to oppose the Scottish independence at the next general election and shore up the vote in favour of retaining Scotland’s union with England.
The openly sectarian and increasingly political organisation has announced it would renounce its traditional dislike of the British Labour Party to provide practical support for its pro-Union campaign.
The order will encourage its members to volunteer for election campaigns, to act as footsoldiers for the Labour Party as well as the Conservative Party.
Scottish Grand Master Ian Wilson said the order would do anything in its power to save Scotland’s 302-year-old union with England, even if that meant “getting into bed with Labour”.
Wilson claimed that local Orange lodges had played a key role in campaigning for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s party in last year’s by-election, which Labour won despite an expected victory for the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party).
Labour is expected to struggle to mobilise its disillusioned membership, officially just under 20,000, to fight off the SNP challenge next year. Insiders say the party will secretly accept any practical support from the Orangemen.
Wilson said: “There is no question in my mind that the biggest problem facing Scotland at the moment is the growth in Scottish nationalism. And the order - as one of Scotland’s biggest unionist organisations - has got to get real about protecting the Union.
“The reality is the only party you can do that through in Scotland is the Labour Party.”
The Orange Order declaration will open up fault lines in traditional support for political parties in Scotland.
Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council, for example, has said it would like to see an end to nine out of ten of the hundreds of Orange Order parades through the west of Scotland every year.
The order mustered between 8,000 and 12,000 people to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union in Edinburgh in 2007. It has already printed tens of thousands of pro-Union leaflets and plans to distribute more.