THE largest Orange Lodge parade ever seen in Edinburgh is expected to see 10,000 people march through the city centre tomorrow.
Extra police have been drafted in to cope with the massive march which will include 80 bands.
The event has been organised to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, and the huge expected turnout is believed to be in part due to the prospect of an SNP election victory.
Only 5000 members were initially expected, but in recent weeks organisers have been told about a surge in support for the parade which could double that figure.
Organisation for the parade has been discussed for more than three months, with both the police and the council carrying out risk and traffic assessments.
Up to 160 coaches are expected to converge on the Meadows, to drop off lodge members from the west coast.
More than 160 police officers will be posted along the route. There has never been any significant trouble on Orange Lodge marches in Edinburgh, although none has been on this scale.
Under an agreement signed last year to tackle sectarian violence, parade organisers are now expected to eject marchers who are drunk, abusive or violent, as well as confiscating any paramilitary flags, symbols or other paraphernalia. A police spokeswoman said they hoped the event would be a peaceful one. "We have drafted in extra officers to police what we hope will be a peaceful event," said a police spokeswoman.
"We were expecting around 5000 marchers, but if there are more they will be facilitated. Edinburgh is used to hosting such large scale events, and so we can only hope that this event passes off without incident as so many others have."
However, she said there would obviously be an unavoidable knock-on effect on city-centre traffic as a result of the march, and advised motorists to stay away from the area if possible.
"Before the march there will be a large number of coaches coming into the city, which has the potential to cause significant congestion," said a police spokeswoman. "So at around 11.30am, if drivers can possibly avoid the area around the Meadows, they would be advise to do so."
Grand Masters from Scotland, England and Ireland will all attend and address members on the subject of the Union.
Ian Wilson, Grand Master of Scotland, Robert Saulters, Grand Master of Ireland and Ronald Bather, Grand Master of England will hold a service of worship and public meeting at the Meadows at 12.30pm. Following this, the members will form up for the parade,. which is expected to leave at around 1.30pm. The parade route will go up Middle Meadow Walk, travel down Forrest Road, George IV Bridge, High Street, Canongate and Abbeyhill with dispersal on Regent Road.
Mr Wilson said: "I believe the unprecedented number of members taking part in a parade in Edinburgh is an indicator of how strongly our members feel about preserving the Union.
"We expected around 3000-5000 members to attend but we have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from all parts of Scotland. Our estimates from the lodges around Scotland point to around 10,000 participants descending on Edinburgh in what we expect to be a fun, family, celebratory event.
"All members of the Orange Lodge care passionately about the Union and felt that the Anniversary of the Act of Union in 1707 should not pass unnoticed. It is ironic that in this historic year where we celebrate the Act of Union, we also face an election where that Union is under threat.
"In just over a month's time there is the real threat of a Nationalist victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. This would be the beginning of the end for the Union. At our parade we will be sending a clear message to the separatists that whilst we may all want to see a stronger, better government in Scotland, we won't tinker with the Union to achieve it."