Twelfth VIDEO: Fifers call tune in Ballymena

Orangemen in Ballymena have been told that Scotland is not ‘sliding out of the Union’.

The pledge was made during the parade which was dominated by the sound of drums and fifes, by former Scottish Orange Gramdaster, Iain Wilson, who addressed the traditional gathering at ‘the field’ in Ballymena.

He was speaking after taking part in the only orange parade outside Belfast which is staged at the same venue every year.

Some 30 lodges with bands and the usual lambeg drumming parties marched through the streets of Ballymena before crossing Harryville Bridge and into the south end of the town which was bedecked in bunting and flags.

The parade took about 35 minutes to pass any given spot on the route which was well lined by onlookers.

At the field, Ian Wilson, principal speaker at the Ballymena Twelfth, cautioned his listeners against rushing to judgement “on the irrational tide of tartan sentimentality that has infected Scottish politics.

He said: “The Scottish nationalists (SNP) may have won a landslide victory in the General Election but this was greatly helped by widespread disillusionment with the Scottish Labour Party and by the peculiarities of the electoral system.

“Less than half the votes cast in Scotland were for the SNP, yet netted them 56 MPs. More than half did not vote SNP yet, because their votes were split over several parties, resulted in just three MPs.

“You’d be hard pressed to consider that fair or democratic” he told his listeners, “but that’s currently how UK General Elections are decided. Nigel Farage’s UKIP got 12½ million votes but just one MP. The SNP got just 1½ million votes and 56 MPs - you really couldn’t make it up!”

Mr Wilson described the SNP’s appeal to voters as “hogwash wrapped up in a saltire. They offered no credible programme, demanded fiscal powers that would be suicidal if granted and had a record in government at Holyrood that was totally abysmal. It’s shaming that a million and half Scots fell for it.”

Yet “unionists should not dwell on the SNP’s election windfall, but concentrate instead on the trouncing they received in last September’s referendum on Scottish independence. It was a victory that the Scottish Orange Order contributed to hugely”, he said. “We ran a polished and professional campaign in defence of the Union - a campaign to be proud of. With a campaigning website and magazine and thousands of leaflets, posters and stickers, our commitment was certainly not lacking. And at the eleventh hour, just 4 days before the referendum, the Order injected some much-needed passion into the debate by putting a massive patriotic show of strength onto the streets of Edinburgh.”

Mr Wilson claimed that the growth in nationalism – and in particular the ill-tempered argument and abuse it was generating – was causing a reaction that had seen rising membership for the Order in Scotland with several new lodges formed. “And just a few weeks ago there was an Orangefest cultural exhibition in George Square, Glasgow. It was a big affair, well organised, with a performance arena and tented areas with guest speakers and static displays. Despite poor weather, over 10,000 visitors were clocked through the gates – a remarkable level of interest.”