Community Impact of Public Processions

The study examined the community impact of public processions, with a particular focus on processions which were perceived to be 'problematic'. The research involved a multi-method approach and included qualitative and quantitative data collection. Although the research considered a wide range of processions (including community and political), its particular focus was on Loyalist and Irish Republican processions.

1 Introduction

Aims and objectives

1.1 This report aims to inform discussions about how to best balance three key aspects of a public procession in terms of: the celebration of identity and freedom of expression for those taking part; the protection of public safety and prevention of disorder and crime and the right of the communities affected by public processions to express their own thoughts and beliefs. The study, on which this report is based, develops previous research (Orr, 2005) by examining, in some depth, a carefully selected sample of public processions[5]. The research explored the experiences and attitudes of those involved in organising and participating in public processions and also those of the communities in which they took place. Particular attention was given to understanding any positive and/or negative impact which public processions have on different groups within communities, including (but not limited to) those from different religious or ethnic backgrounds.

1.2 The research objectives were:

i. To identify which organisations arrange and take part in processions on a regular basis in Scotland;
ii. To identify the aim of these events, and what those who take part in them, and the communities in which they take place, understand to be their cultural significance;
iii. To understand any impact public processions have on community life, fear, alarm or public disorder within the communities in which they take place;
iv. If any of these processions are associated with disruption to community life, fear, alarm or public disorder, to understand what factors contribute to this.


1.3 Civic life in Scotland can be characterised as richly populated with diverse forms of public gatherings. From protest processions, and political rallies, through to civic and community parades and festivals, hundreds of gatherings occur across Scotland every year. Regardless of the composition or objectives of these events however, they are all collectively covered in law as 'processions in public' (see the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982). In 2005 Sir John Orr was commissioned by Jack McConnell, the then First Minister, to undertake a review of all such processions in Scotland with a view to determining their characteristics and impacts, as well as to assess the adequacy of existing policing and administrative arrangements relating to the conduct of such processions. The subsequent review reported over 1700 processions taking place each year in Scotland (Orr, 2005: 3). Many of these could be characterised as communal celebrations, others as important demonstrations of political freedom and the right to express opinions and beliefs. The value of free speech, and with it the right to publicly voice opinions and beliefs, is strongly championed by social and political commentators (Etzioni 1977, Barendt 2007). Moreover, these rights and freedoms are strongly protected in national and international law, notably in Scotland through the European Convention on Human Rights (Mead 2010).

1.4 The approach taken to free speech when drafting and interpreting the European Convention, is partially premised on the argument that free speech, however mistaken the logic or truths under-pinning such speech, must necessarily be allowed to flourish (Fiss 1996). Yet, weak ideas, or untruths, or conversely strong ideas and unwelcome truths, also have the potential to cause dispute, anger, annoyance or distress. Consequently, the European Convention is robust in its protection of protest and free speech, even where others may choose to violently disagree with the sentiments being expressed. As Orr has reported, the Courts have actively upheld this principle, with judgements stating that 'processions that annoy or give offence' are still legitimate expression and that 'as long as the organisers' intention is for peaceful assembly, the possibility of violent counter-demonstrations is not reason alone for prohibiting processions.' (2005, p. 36). However, these rights are not absolute and courts and local authorities still have to weigh the probability of violence and disorder against the impingement of rights that would occur if a gathering is banned or restricted (e.g. see Scottish Executive 2006). Moreover, considerations regarding the right to free speech need to be considered alongside, but also separately from, consideration of the right to free assembly. With the latter, other considerations around health and safety (e.g. possible over-crowding or obstruction of other citizens going about their lawful business) may result in restrictions on public parades or rallies (Barendt 2007).

1.5 Only where processions actively seek to provoke, intimidate or violently confront others, or seek to confiscate or damage the property of others, or explicitly promote hatred of others, may the State intervene with relative assurance to curb or suppress a gathering. Whilst most processions within Scotland certainly do not fall into such categories, significant public concerns with some forms of processions nevertheless persist within Scotland. At one level, a fear of crowds and mass gatherings is historic and enduring. Regardless of the symbolic content of processions, or the explicit 'messages' that they may be trying to communicate, there is a long-held association between the formation of crowds and the danger of disorder. In the crowd, Le Bon (1895) suggests, the identity of individuals, and with that individual moral controls and norms of behaviour, can be swept away in the madness of the moment and in the 'irrationality' of the masses. However, more recent research into crowd behaviour has started to unravel this 'classical' construction of crowds and crowd disorder. Principally, in the work of Reicher, Adang, Stott and others, the conception of the crowd as an irrational and amoral force has been replaced with an alternative account:

we argue that individuals do not lose identity in the crowd but rather shift from personal identity to social identity. Correspondingly, they do not lose values and standards but rather shift to acting in terms of the values and standards associated with the relevant group. (Reicher et. al., 2004 pp. 559-560)

1.6 A group with a social identity, far from lacking moral standards and social control can in fact be very effective at policing itself, and imposing the standards of the group; albeit groups are never entirely homogeneous with ongoing interactions between personal and social identities. However, when the police, other officials, or competing groups mistreat such a group the reaction can be swift:

I may enter into a crowd event for the first time having never done anything to the other side. Yet, because of the shirt or the uniform I wear - that is, the group to which I belong - I may be treated with hostility. That makes me angry and resentful and supports the notion that the other group is inherently hostile and unreasonable. Consequently, I react with hostility and so the cycle continues. (Reicher et. al., 2004 p. 561)

1.7 These insights have proven influential and have helped redefine control strategies both around the policing of football and public order policing more generally. As social groups can have standards and values, key to successfully policing them is respecting their identity and values, communicating with them as a rational group, employing non-confrontational policing strategies that are premised on peaceful assembly and orderly conduct, and encouraging social groups to police themselves (Stott and Pearson 2008; Stott et. al., 2008). Such approaches have become widespread both in Scotland and in other Western Democracies. Mitchell and Staeheli (2005) document the transition in Washington DC from more confrontational policing strategies for managing political protests to approaches that can be characterised as 'negotiated management'. A less confrontational and more negotiated approach to protests and processions also characterises the approach of the authorities in Scotland. Though within Scotland some processions may present challenges, Scotland has a liberal and permissive tradition of approving processions and with working closely with procession organisers to find solutions if potential problems are identified (Orr 2005).

'Problematic' processions

1.8 In spite of this relatively liberal approach, significant public concern, and indeed opposition to some forms of procession remain. Some of these concerns are longstanding, others more recent. For instance, over the last few years there have been a notable number of processions by far-right groups, principally the English Defence League (see Treadwell and Garland 2010) and its partner organisation in Scotland, the Scottish Defence League (SDL). An application in 2011 by the Scottish Defence League to conduct a procession in Edinburgh was widely opposed by politicians and civic groups, principally on the grounds that such processions were believed to promote racial hatred and had led to disorder and disruption in the past (see papers for Item no. 3, City of Edinburgh Council, Licensing Sub-Committee, 20th April 2012).

1.9 The most dominant form of procession in Scotland, among those perceived by some as 'problematic', however, remains 'Loyalist' parades and processions that are associated with the Ulster-Scots. Loyalist organisations make up a significant number of processions in Scotland, in terms of both the numbers of processions and the number of participants. In 2003, processions by the loyal orders accounted for roughly half of all processions with the largest attracting up to 15,000 participants (Orr[6] 2005). Whilst loyal order parades occur across most of Scotland they are disproportionately concentrated in the West of Scotland, and in particular in Strathclyde[7]. In contrast, processions, described in the Orr Report as 'Catholic', and associated with Catholicism and/or Irish-Republicanism typically accounted year on year for no more than 1% of all processions in Scotland (Orr, 2005). While some Irish Republican organisations may associate themselves with 'Catholicism', this is not the case across the board. Republican organisations, which define themselves to be political and Irish, contest the description of their activities as 'sectarian' and indeed claim that they work to challenge both racism (particularly anti-Irish racism) and sectarianism in Scotland. Loyalist organisations also contest any claims of sectarianism, with both Loyalists and Irish Republicans pointing to the absence (until recently[8]) of any clear definition of sectarianism in contemporary Scottish society. Nevertheless, it would appear that both the loyal orders and Irish Republican organisations continue to be 'read', by the general public and authorities, as manifestations of sectarianism (NFO, 2003; Orr, 2005).

1.10 As with other displays of 'sectarian' allegiance such as chants and singing at football (see Hamilton-Smith and McArdle, 2013), controversy persists over whether such processions associated with sectarianism are problematic, and if they are, whether the problems they cause are relatively immediate and superficial, or are more systemic and profound. Whilst processions may cause immediate annoyance, nuisance or disruption to community members or casual spectators, the extent to which they echo or reinforce a more substantive sectarian divide in Scottish society is strongly contested (e.g. Devine (ed.) 2000; Bruce et. al., 2004). The resolution of this debate has not been helped by relatively thin empirical evidence (until recently[9]) on the continuing impact of sectarian prejudices, though earlier evidence suggested that more formal forms of prejudice (e.g. in terms of discrimination in the labour market or treatment by public officials) had waned (see Flint 2008) and was perceived to have waned by the public at large (NFO, 2003). But that same public in the NFO survey for Glasgow City Council still found other forms of sectarian prejudice to be widespread, with for instance two thirds of the sample judging sectarian violence still to be 'quite common' or 'very common' (ibid., p. 8) and a majority of respondents more generally believing that sectarian prejudice was still a problem in Glasgow (ibid., p. 9). However the study showed a stark contrast between perception of prevalence and reported experience of different forms of sectarian behaviour (ibid. 59). This pattern was echoed in a more recent study (conducted in 2014) of Scottish attitudes to sectarianism which found that while substantial proportions of people in Scotland believe that religious prejudice against Catholics and Protestants exists, with more people thinking Catholics are the subject of prejudice (54%) than Protestants (41%), a lower proportion (14%) said they had experienced some form of religious discrimination or exclusion at some point in their lives[10].

1.11 Care must be taken in simply transposing the purposes and symbolism of the Loyalist organisations such as the Orange Order in Northern Ireland, with the Orange Order in Scotland. While the parading season in Northern Ireland (2013) was characterised by significant public disorder, this was not replicated in Scotland. Nevertheless in Bradley's (1996) survey of Orange Order members, Orange lodges in Scotland clearly shared a pre-occupation with Unionism and with maintaining a British identity; (as do the other loyal orders such as the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Royal Black Institution). Bradley depicts this as coming to take precedence over the Order's other traditional emphasis on opposing Catholicism. Moreover, in the West of Scotland in particular, the Order also fulfils other purposes, notably in providing a setting and a focus for working class identity and socialising, with Orange Districts comprising male, female, and juvenile lodges which provide facilities for social pursuits. In addition to formal lodge membership, the Orange Order attracts a wide number of additional supporters who may turn out as spectators for processions, or who may participate as members of associated bands.

To many Orange people, politics is culture; that is, it is particularly relevant in terms of attitudinal and symbolic displays, rather than electoral expression[11]. In this sense, both for the Orange community and for many Catholics [….], the visual and symbolic language of flags, banners, uniforms, football strips, songs, territory and street demonstrations are politically important. (Bradley, 2005: 21)

1.12 Irish Republican and loyal order processions include participants of all ages although gendered representation can vary. While organisations such as the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Royal Black Institution are all-male Protestant organisations, they will engage bands for their processions which frequently include women participants. The Orange Order is made up of both men and women, with women having their own lodges and a strong representation at Orange processions, as processors, stewards and band members. Women are similarly present at Irish Republican events in all capacities, although often outnumbered by men.

1.13 In research undertaken as part of the Orr Review, respondents whilst being disproportionately less involved in processions perceived to be Loyalist or Irish Republican than other types of processions were much more likely to claim to be negatively affected by them. Whilst, only 3% of respondents had participated in such processions, 24% had been a spectator and 47% had been 'otherwise affected'. In terms of negative impacts, 20% of respondents reported that they had felt in 'physical danger' from such processions, compared with only 5% associated with political processions and 2% with other processions. 40% of respondents indicated they felt angry, offended or upset, compared with 20% for political processions and 7% for other processions. 32% felt angry or annoyed by the noise compared with only 8% respectively for political and other processions (Orr, 2005:110-112). Though views were mixed as to whether on-balance Loyalist and/or Irish Republican processions benefited respondent's communities or not, in the area where they were most common (Strathclyde), the majority of respondents cited in the Orr Report viewed these processions as having a divisive impact on their communities.

1.14 Whether processions actually motivate and/or sustain sectarian prejudices either amongst participant or observers is contested. Similarly the potential for disruption by large groups of people on the street is a factor which is clearly exacerbated before, during and after public processions. Moreover, the extent to which any increases in crime, disorder, or anti-social behaviour can be attributed to the specific content of processions is also unclear. Goulding and Cavanagh (2012 and 2013) show that in 2011-12, the number of charges of religiously aggravated offending linked to public processions constituted only 2% (18 charges) of all charges[12]. This increased significantly in 2012-13, to 12.4% of charges (85), where this increase was partly attributed by Goulding and Cavanagh (2013) to a procession in Glasgow where 57 charges were recorded in one incident (Islam was the target of abuse) associated with the Scottish Defence League (SDL) which subsequently skewed the overall statistical data[13].


1.15 Public processions have been the focus of policy considerations for a number of years with three key principles underpinning responses to them:

  • The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights should be open to all;
  • These rights are not absolute and must be balanced by the responsibilities to ensure that the rights of others are not infringed;
  • The exercise of those rights bring specific responsibilities both to those organising and participating in processions especially in relation to those residents whose lives may be disrupted by a particular procession.

1.16 The review undertaken by John Orr, commissioned in 2004, provided a rigorous overview of current arrangements regarding public processions in Scotland, focusing particularly on: notification processes; the best way to ensure greater community involvement in decisions about public processions; the basis for determining when to restrict, refuse or reroute processions; the number of processions taking place in communities and the effects these have; and the policing of processions.

1.17 Orr made 38 recommendations in the subsequent report of the review (Orr, 2005) all of which were accepted by the (then) Scottish Executive. The implementation of some of these recommendations led to amendments to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, as contained in the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006; the amendments came into effect from 1st April 2007.

1.18 Key features of the legislative changes were:

  • An increase in the minimum amount of notice that organisers must give to a local authority from seven to 28 days[14];
  • Local authorities could no longer exempt certain processions from the requirement to give notice;
  • Local authorities were required to consider a range of issues when deciding whether to prevent a procession taking place or to place conditions on it;
  • Account should be taken by local authorities of the burden the procession may impose on the police;
  • The effect of previous processions by the same organisers should be taken into account in terms of public safety issues and any failure by the organisers to keep to a code of conduct or guidance;
  • Local authorities should keep a record of notifications submitted in their area.

1.19 Local authorities were expected to adopt the good practices set out in the guidance on marches and parades which included:

  • Debrief meetings to be held with the police and march organisers;
  • Guides and codes of conduct to be issued to procession organisers;
  • 'Single gateways' identified for access to consistent advice;
  • Sharing of information and experiences between local authorities;
  • Consultation with community bodies and businesses in the area.

1.20 Orr (2005) also recommended that police should improve their liaison with and understanding of organisations arranging marches by ensuring police officers received appropriate briefings about the reasons for the procession and background to the organisation.

Implementing Orr's recommendations

1.21 Draft guidance was produced by the Scottish Executive on the implementation of these recommendations for local authorities. Public consultation was sought on the draft guidance in 2006; views were specifically sought from local authorities, police and processing organisations. The subsequent guidance, Review of Marches and Parades in Scotland: Guidance for Scottish Local Authorities (One Scotland 2006a) (hereafter referred to as the Guidance) provided local authorities with information on how key legislative reforms were to be implemented; information on key good practice areas which could be adopted across all 32 local authority areas; a step-by-step guide; examples of letters and forms that could be used by local authorities. A report was also produced by the Working Group aimed at supplementing the Guidance which set out action expected of all the partners in this process, information with regard to changes to the legislation, and advice on how recommendations should be taken forward. An overview of monitoring processes introduced to enable the Scottish Executive to consider how the new measures were being taken forward by local authorities and the police was also provided, alongside a timetable intended to illustrate the decision-making process and an indication of the enforcement powers available to the police.

1.22 Assessment of the implementation and effectiveness of this recommendation was to be ongoing, with the Scottish Executive, Accounts Commission and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary working in partnership to do this. Key procession organisers were also brought together with the Minister for Justice, (then) Strathclyde Police and local authority representatives in 2006 to find a way forward to tackle abusive behaviour at processions, with the intention of minimising the disruption caused to communities. Much of the activity surrounding the attention to public processions originated from strategies to address sectarianism in Scotland and this issue has featured consistently in the Scottish Executive's Action Plans for tackling sectarianism in Scotland (for example One Scotland, 2006b)

Review of policing

1.23 The impact of public processions in certain local authority areas has resulted in more detailed examinations of local impact and response. Given concerns about the 'unsustainable burden' that public processions were placing on police resources, a review of the policing model in place for large scale processions was undertaken under the instructions of Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan. The purpose of this review was to identify opportunities to safely reduce police numbers (Territorial Policing, 2010).

1.24 This review focused on the impact of Irish Republican and Loyalist processions on communities served by (then) Strathclyde Police. These groups were identified as the 'most challenging in relation to community impact and burden' (Territorial Policing, 2010: 4). The review made a number of recommendations intended to improve: the application process; parade conditions of conduct, stewarding arrangements and ensuring the best use of police resources in light of these arrangements; working with the local authority and parade organisers to reduce the number and frequency of parades; to ensure that effective responses were in place to address sectarianism; reduce disruption to the community through the collation of data in order to assess burden on police resources, utilise alcohol testing strips to detect concealed public drinking, to work with the local authority and parade organisers to achieve 'a reduction in outward and cessation of return parades' (2010: 7).

Glasgow City Council Review

1.25 Bailie Aileen Colleran's report for Glasgow City Council (2013) advised the Executive Committee of the council about the experience of implementing their Code of Conduct and Policy on Public Processions; the responses received from a recent stakeholder consultation and made recommendations regarding an amended Public Processions policy. The report followed an annual review of the Code of Conduct and subsequent discussion by the Public Petitions and General Purposes Policy Development Committee in October 2012.

1.26 The Glasgow City Council review examined procession notifications over the previous three years. During the first year of the policy, only two notifications had been referred to the Public Processions Committee, both being decided in favour of the police and council. Overall there had been a decrease in all processions between 2009/10 and 2011/12 in Glasgow; with the exception of processions by Bands[15] which was unchanged. The two largest concentrations of processions on a single day in Glasgow were the Annual Boyne procession by the Orange Order and the Annual Commemoration Parade of the Grand Black Chapter, both of which consisted of a number of individual processions and large numbers of participants.

1.27 The steward training programme undertaken by the Orange Order, and facilitated by Strathclyde Police, was noted to have contributed to an overall cost reduction of over £250,000 over the last three years in policing the Boyne Procession (Colleran, 2013: 4). The number of arrests and Fixed Penalty Notices was also noted to be in decline.

1.28 The issue of cumulative impact (the frequent and repeated use of particular routes) of public processions was considered under the Code of Conduct and Policy (i.e. should be taken into account when assessing procession notifications) however, it was noted that this had proven 'a challenge to implement and may require further clarification' (Colleran, 2013: 5). Furthermore, the stakeholder consultation had shown differing views on this issue, with processing organisations who were opposed to any attempt to take cumulative impact into account, and other respondents, notably retail and transport respondents, who considered the impact on processions in the city centre to have a significant impact on business.

1.29 A similar divergence of opinion was evident in relation to attempts to reduce feeder and return processions. Suggestions that major processions combine all processions into an Event Management Plan, agreed for a period of time (five years was posited) also met with differing reactions. The use of parks as a location for assembly and dispersal was not universally welcomed although the aim of this was to reduce disruption to local residents and businesses. However, it could increase costs for organisers (arranging for facilities to be available in parks) and could extend the procession.

Advisory Group Report

1.30 The Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism (2013) paid attention to activities which brought large numbers of people onto the streets, including public processions, indicating that parade organisers "must actively and publicly disassociate themselves from anything which would appear to give license to violence, or other forms of unlawful and abusive behaviour, and must be willing to take active steps to prevent the development or recurrence of such behaviour" (paragraph 6.8.3); that local authorities should respond with 'dialogue and co-operation' where the balance of rights between procession participants and local communities was not achieved (paragraph 6.64.2). Other points referred to by the Advisory Group, in relation to public processions, covered the importance of developing and implementing codes of conduct for action to be taken in response to sectarian behaviour (para 6.64.3) and the continued development of steward training within processing organisations (para 6.37.1 and 6.64.4).


Email: Linzie Liddell

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