The Republican Bands March On!

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The rousing music of Scotland’s republican flute bands enlivens Irish marches in Scotland, England and the Occupied 6 Countiues. Many of them are organised by the West of Scotland Bands Alliance (wosba). The alliance is a product of the present phase of struggle in the 6 Counties, the first band, the James Connolly Flute Band, being formed in 1976.

Politically the flute bands represent a challenging alternative to the Catholic sectarianism of the Ancient Order of Hibernians which, until recent times, flourished as a “mirror image” of the Orange Order in Scotland. Republican flute bands reject the “mirror image” tag often levelled at them by the media and sections of the “Left”, pointing out that many members come from Protestant backgrounds. They insist that their politics have nothing to do with religion and reflect republican as opposed to Catholic values.

The bands’ frequent visits to the Six Counties have provided a welcome morale booster for the nationalist communities who act as their hosts. The visits also serve to further politicise band members who gain first hand experience of PSNI and British Army harassment and the hardships imposed by discrimination and poverty. Strong links develop between the bands and the communities they visit.

The bands also act as a vehicle for introducing working class youth to other political issues. The now defunct Edinburgh based Rising Phoenix Flute Band was, for example, affiliated to the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Rejecting Orange sectarian exclusivism, the republican bands often act as a catalyst for wider political involvement and commitment.

The influence of the Orange Order and Loyalism in Scotland, although arguably diminishing, is still strong, particularly strong on the west coast around Glasgow. Loyalism pervades large sections of the labour movement, in the trade unions, and the Labour Party itself. On the left there is often a distinct unwillingness to discuss issues relating to the conflict in Ireland. Even when this has been overcome and progressive policies adopted there is still a tendency to “keep it quiet”.

In light of this it is not surprising that young people committed to British withdrawal from Ireland feel the need to form independent organisations to express their views.

Band Alliance marches are often the subject of sectarian attack and council bans. A march planned to commemorate James Connolly in his native Edinburgh was banned by Labour-controlled Lothian Regional Council in 1988 after extensive intimidation of councillors by Loyalist thugs who even visited them at their surgeries. Orange parades, although often organised to deliberately cause the maximum of distress to Catholics, are rarely the subject of such bans.

Band members are regularly threatened and frequently attacked. The intimidation does not stop there, however, as the Rising Phoenix found out when they discovered that the Special Branch had blackmailed a young band member into acting as an informer in a carbon copy of PSNI recruitment.

Seamus Reader