By a Newsnet reporter
The leader of the Labour group at Glasgow City Council is facing questions after it emerged he told the Orange Order that his party’s policy on reducing the number of Orange parades in Glasgow was wrong.
Confirmation of Gordon Matheson’s pre-election promises to the Order followed growing online speculation and rumour immediately after last week’s local elections.
According to one journalist, Mr Matheson appeared at Orange Order election hustings after polls suggested the SNP were ahead in the run-up to the local authority vote. There were claims that the Order had threatened to campaign against Labour.
In an article in the Herald, journalist Gerry Braiden who first broke the story on Twitter, claimed that Mr Matheson had pledged to “overhaul” Labour’s policy on Orange parades.
In the article, Mr Braiden wrote: ‘Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, was greeted with applause when he told a hustings of around 100 members of the Orange Order that he would “hold his hands up” and admit a groundbreaking approach to reducing marches in the city was flawed.’
Asked on Newsnight Scotland to comment on reports he was planning a ‘U’ turn, Mr Matheson denied it was anything more than an annual review.
However Mr Matheson’s denial was contradicted by comments from Robert McLean, executive officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, who backed up Mr Braiden’s claims that the Labour group leader had admitted the policy was wrong.
Mr McLean said: “Mr Matheson admitted the policy was wrong and we’re now hoping he will review the parades policy,”
The Labour leader’s pre-election pledge to the Orange Order that he will ‘review’ the policy has been met with dismay by some in the Catholic community who have pointed out that Glasgow City Council has repeatedly hailed its revised approach to parades as a success, with almost all disputes with march organisers resolved before events.
The police recently described the policy as a “template” for other local authorities.
Members of the Catholic community in Glasgow have expressed concern that the large number of Orange Order Marches in the city encourages and promotes sectarian behaviour.
Monsignor Peter Smith, the former chancellor of Glasgow Archdiocese, described the attitude of many marchers towards Catholics as ‘appalling.’
The policy was introduced 18 months ago and was aimed at reducing marches through the city centre and the duration of each march amid concerns over the impact on public resources, businesses and communities.
According to the Herald, any changes that will lead to an increase in parades was described as “perverse” by Police Chiefs.
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “Resources are finite and that’s why reform of the police and fire service is under way.
“It would seem perverse if some kind of action is taken to encourage an increase in parade activities. This deprives communities of police officers.”
SNP MSP Humza Yousaf said: “Gordon Matheson should urgently clarify whether he intends to allow more marches, with the implications that would have for policing resources.”
Speaking to the Herald, David Meikle, Glasgow’s sole Tory councillor, said: “Gordon Matheson pushed through the new parades code of conduct but it is now alleged he said he got it wrong.
“We need to find out from Mr Matheson what he got wrong and if he thinks the code of conduct should be changed. Clarity is needed so we know what the position is.”
Labour’s links to the Orange Order have been controversial and the party were reported to have benefited from members of the organisation canvasing at both the Glenrothes and Glasgow North East by-elections.