Thousands of members of the Protestant Orange order marched through Edinburgh on Saturday in a show of strength against Scottish independence, as the final weekend of campaigning for the referendum got underway with everything to play for.
Up to 15,000 supporters of retaining the United Kingdom were expected to join the march, which has sparked fears of clashes with nationalists as tensions rise ahead of Thursday’s vote.
“We are proud to be part of Great Britain. We are passionate about the union. We are here to galvanise the ‘No’ vote,” Henry Dunbar, Grand Master of the order’s Grand Lodge of Scotland, told a rally in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
Across Scotland campaigners from both sides were pounding the streets, after a week that saw the unionists step up their efforts following a surge in support for independence that now puts the two camps neck and neck.
Orange members from Northern Ireland and England joined the march on Saturday in a push for the union, although it has caused tensions with the official “Better Together” campaign.
A working-class, fiercely pro-union Protestant fraternal organisation, the order has been accused of fuelling sectarianism and marches by member in Northern Ireland through Catholic areas often descend into violence.
After a 12-year-old spectator was hit in the face with a bottle at an Orange march in Glasgow in July, opposition Labour lawmaker Jim Murphy said: “I want nothing to do with them, ‘Better Together’ wants nothing to do with them.”
Organisers of Saturday’s march called for a peaceful event, urging members to “keep your cool and your dignity” when faced with any opposition from “Yes” campaigners.
Watching the streams of Orange order pipe bands and marchers singing “God Save The Queen” through the streets of Edinburgh, “No” voter Ginger Fraser said Scots were unlikely to be swayed by the event.
“There are people from ‘Better Together’ who look embarrassed by this parade, but I don’t think it will affect the vote. People make up their own mind,” he told AFP.
‘Day of reckoning’
Campaigning in Glasgow on Saturday, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), said momentum was still with the pro-independence camp despite a slight shift in the polls.
“The ‘Yes’ campaign has been carried along by a flourishing of self-confidence among people in Scotland,” she said.
“That momentum is still growing and will soon become unstoppable, as people reject the Downing Street-orchestrated campaign to talk Scotland down.”
After the “Yes” camp sensationally pulled ahead in an opinion poll last weekend, British Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband visited Scotland as part of a fresh push by the pro-UK camp.
Business leaders and economists issued a string of warnings about the economic risks of breaking from the 300-year-old union, and two polls by YouGov and ICM on Friday showed the unionists had retaken a small lead.
Banking giant RBS was among those to say they could re-register their headquarters in England following an independence vote but insisted such a move would not cause major job losses.
Global investment giant Deutsche Bank also warned that independence “would go down in history as a political and economic mistake” as large as those that caused the Great Depression.
Finance minister George Osborne and Bank of England chief Mark Carney on Friday said they had cancelled plans to attend a G20 meeting in Australia to deal with the economic fallout posed by a vote for independence.
But the “Yes” camp has said the warnings are “entirely speculative”.
And former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars said Friday that the “scaremongering” business leaders would face a “day of reckoning” if Scotland votes for independence.
He threatened energy giant BP with nationalisation and said the “casino days” of the big banks will be over.
“The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory prime minister, to keep Scotland’s poor poorer through lies and distortions,” he said.
“The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a ‘Yes’.”