DUP leader criticised for unprecedented decision to attend Boyne march in Fife
The leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Arlene Foster, has been warned to be sensitive to Scottish politics after it emerged that she will lead an Orange Order parade in Fife at the end of June.
Robert McLean, the executive officer at the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, confirmed Foster would be attending the Boyne march in Cowdenbeath, Fife, on 30 June.
Arlene Foster is the guest speaker and will be at the front of the parade, McLean said. She will be the main speaker on the platform.
About 5,000 Orange Order members are expected to participate from across Fife and Lothian.
McLean said it was not unusual for Northern Irish politicians to join in Scottish events, noting that the former Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson had attended an Orange Order event in Ayrshire when he was the DUP leader.
But the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, cautioned Foster to tread with care, as Scottish politics is very different from that in Northern Ireland. Political parties in Scotland attract support from people who have different religious beliefs and that is the way it should be.
Rennie added: The visit does remind us that Arlene Fosters DUP have a big influence on the direction of the Conservative government, with their socially conservative views on gay rights and abortion, that is far from healthy.
With about 50,000 members and 600 lodges across Scotland, the Orange Order is a predominantly working-class organisation, strongest in the post-industrial areas across the central belt.
The Protestant fraternity, which is vehemently opposed to Scottish independence, is a familiar sight during the summer marching season, which will culminate this year with two parades of pipe and drum bands wearing full regalia on 7 July; one in Glasgow and the other in Shotts, North Lanarkshire.
Dave Scott, the director of the Scottish anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth, said Foster was entitled to attend, address or lead any legal gathering, but the move was pretty unprecedented and would be seen as significant by both friend and foe of the Orange Order in Scotland.
For its supporters, this visit will be seen as providing validation to the legitimacy of the order to play a part in public life, Scott said. To its many opponents, it will be seen as a politician who is becoming increasingly marginalised in Northern Ireland trying to remain visible and crudely playing to her political base by pitching up in Nicola Sturgeons patch.
Arlene Foster has shared power with republicans over most of the last decade so it will be interesting to hear if she chooses to reflect on that experience in any public statements she might make in Scotland and how that is received by her audience. Northern Irish politics has always been dominated by symbolism so there can be little doubt that Ms Foster wants to make some sort of point with this trip.
The DUP has most recently been in the spotlight after the vote to liberalise Irish abortion law prompted calls for a similar vote on Northern Irish legislation. Theresa May signalled she would not risk alienating DUP allies, who currently prop up her minority government, by letting MPs settle the matter with a parliamentary vote.