Tartan Day Celebrations

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:08 pm on 27th June 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:08 pm, 27th June 2007

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-59, in the name of Andrew Welsh, on tartan day celebrations. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament compliments the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the Scottish Executive, Angus Council and other Scottish local authorities for their work in developing the concept of Tartan Day, which marks an annual celebration of the historical enactment of the Arbroath Declaration made on 6 April 1320 and seeks to renew the close historical, cultural, trading and other links between Scotland and the rest of the world, with particular attention being paid to countries where the Scottish diaspora is greatest and encourages the development of individual and international friendship and goodwill through Tartan Day celebrations.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party 5:14 pm, 27th June 2007

I wish to compliment the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the Scottish Executive, Angus Council and other Scottish local authorities for their work in developing the concept of tartan day, which is based on the annual celebration of the historical enactment of the Arbroath declaration made on 6 April 1320.

Tartan day, which is now truly a global celebration of Scottish influence and heritage, was originally conceived in Canada in 1991. United States Senator Trent Lott, who championed the idea of a day to celebrate the contribution made to the development of the US by emigrant Scots, also established tartan day as a public holiday in the US. In 1998, Senate resolution 155 was passed unanimously. In 2005, a similar motion passed through Congress, recognising that 6 April had a special significance for all Americans, especially those of Scottish descent, because the declaration of Arbroath—the Scottish declaration of nationhood, which was signed on 6 April 1320—inspired the American declaration of independence with its message of freedom.

Since then, the celebrations have grown, particularly in America, where they now include events in New York, Washington and Chicago. Many Scottish musicians, dancers, artists and businesses showcase at events in those cities; they also showcase at events in Australia and New Zealand, which have established their own tartan day festivals.

Arbroath abbey is the birthplace of the declaration of Arbroath, which inspired the first tartan day festivals in Canada, the United States and Australia. That encouraged Angus Council, in 2004, to establish the first tartan day celebration in Scotland, with a week-long programme of local events. That first tartan day programme tapped into a spirit of Scottishness throughout communities and political parties and highlighted the willingness of groups and organisations at local, national and international levels to work together to promote Scotland through a tartan day—indeed, a tartan week—festival. Thus, the vision for a celebration of tartan day throughout the country and beyond our borders was born—a national tartan day for Scotland that celebrates the heritage of the country's past and its unique contribution to the world, whether through culture, science or the economy.

Tartan day 2007 saw 36 events take place in Angus, across five of our main burghs and organised in each community, for each community. Around 6 April this year, five local authorities—Angus, Dundee, East Lothian, Stirling and Perth and Kinross—put on events. Over 2007 and 2008, there are plans to roll out Scotland's tartan day nationally and to encourage a buy-in from 14 local authorities, as well as the private sector. I hope that all MSPs will encourage their local authorities to join in and contribute to making tartan day a community celebration throughout the country.

Looking to the future, a business plan was produced that outlined financial indicators showing the evolution of the project from 2007 to 2020. Angus Council calls it its 20:20 vision. The business plan shows the economic impact that is possible if we work together. Angus Council has already produced positive tourism, economic and other benefits through activities such as the international golf challenge and products such as a Chinese-Scottish tartan, which has been very successful. Those initiatives show the potential for tartan day to achieve significantly higher levels of impact.

Figures just released by VisitScotland show an 11 per cent increase in visitors to Angus and Dundee during April 2007, in comparison with the same period in 2006. Tartan day was one of the top three reasons given by visitors for their visit. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the signing of Senate resolution 155, which made tartan day a national holiday in the USA, and plans are progressing for a number of key events throughout the participating local authority areas.

Tartan day activities are an evolutionary process that involves collaboration by local authorities, the private sector and national agencies and from which all parts of Scotland can benefit. I look forward to the Scottish Executive continuing to be part of that process.

Tartan day is a vehicle through which modern Scotland's kinship, history, culture, skills and quality products can be shared and celebrated by people at home and throughout the world. Having seen that ideal successfully put into action by the Scottish Executive and various agencies, organisations and local authorities working together in the United States, I know that there is massive potential and opportunity for the development of tartan day activities and celebrations. Because tartan day seeks to encourage the development of individual and international friendship and goodwill—that is what tartan day activities are all about—it is a celebration of all things Scottish that can be enjoyed nationally and throughout the world. I hope that we can all co-operate in boosting that process, ensuring the improvement of tartan day and expanding the celebrations and the benefits of friendship and co-operation that they can bring.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 5:21 pm, 27th June 2007

As a member of the cross-party group in the Parliament on tartan day, it is a pleasure for me to make a short speech in the debate.

In my time as an MSP, I have twice had the honour of representing the Parliament at the tartan day celebrations in New York—in 2002 and 2004. Our delegation had opportunities not only to join Americans of Scottish descent in celebrating the contribution that they and their ancestors made to the foundation and development of the United States of America but to meet politicians and officials at different levels of government in the United States and Canada and explore issues of common concern and interest. Those included discussion of the relationships between the different tiers of government in a federal system, or a semi-federal system such as we now have, and the opportunity to see how New York city had set about tackling crime and antisocial behaviour in its neighbourhoods to great effect and to learn lessons for Scotland from that. It also gave us the opportunity to assist in the promotion of Scottish business in the United States and Canada and, in particular, to assist our universities, many of which enthusiastically promote Scotland as a place of study for students from those countries.

That is the international dimension. Andrew Welsh has set out some of the historical background to the development of the tartan day concept in Canada and the United States, but his motion draws our attention to the importance of celebrating 6 April—tartan day—in Scotland and using it as an anniversary around which we can both promote our country at home with a programme of events that have domestic and international appeal and help to foster business links and cultural and social relationships. I commend Angus Council for its imagination in that respect.

Although the political control of Angus Council has changed—for the better in some respects, I hope—it is to be hoped that the successor administration will build on its predecessor's work on tartan day, which has been recognised in the Parliament and by other local authorities. In my experience as a member who has supported the initiative since its outset, it has been conducted on a genuinely all-party, non-partisan, inclusive basis to high professional standards that reflect well on our country.

I look forward to the development of the tartan day concept in the years ahead and the expansion of the programme across Scotland. I hope that the City of Edinburgh Council will take it up—it shall have my full support, as shall others that promote the anniversary and celebrations.

Photo of Bashir Ahmad Bashir Ahmad Scottish National Party 5:24 pm, 27th June 2007

This is the first time that I have stood up to address the Parliament. It is appropriate that I address the topic of tartan day, because, even in its present form, it is about what it means to be Scottish.

I speak as someone who was born in India in 1940—in other words, on another continent and in another time, before partition and independence for India and Pakistan. Huge distance and many years separate that time from this debate. Today I speak as a member of a Parliament that did not exist in 1940, in a country of which I suspect I had not heard when I was growing up. I speak as a Scot who lives in and has the honour of representing the great city of Glasgow in which, until recently, I was a city councillor.

When we talk about tartan day and being Scottish, we talk about much more than most people think. We talk about people like me, new Scots who have moved here from south of the border, and a huge number of people worldwide who feel Scottish and identify with Scotland. As Andrew Welsh's motion makes clear, that makes tartan day important to every one of us, no matter our politics. Consequently, it is also important to ensure that tartan day represents the reality of Scotland to the world.

The opportunity that tartan day gives Scotland should not be focused merely across the Atlantic. We should turn east, not just west, and ensure that tartan day, or something like it, is used to project the reality of modern Scotland to Pakistan, China and all the places from which many have come to this nation and to which many still go. We have been immensely enriched by that exchange, which must continue and grow. Tartan day, as a global event, will make that happen.

Tartan day must reflect people's many experiences of Scotland. It is not about heather and haggis, or even software and silicone chips; it is about the reality for all the people I represent, be they first, second or third-generation members of the Asian community in Glasgow, refugees to whom my city provides shelter and the opportunity for a fresh start or the old and poor who are marginalised in sub-standard housing. Tartan day should allow us not just to tell the world what makes us special but to enlist the world in making Scotland a better place.

In this, my maiden speech, I pay tribute not only to those who previously represented Glasgow on the regional list but to those who worked with me and for me to ensure that it was the SNP that sent the first Scots Asian to Scotland's Parliament. To quote the famous Winnie Ewing—the great lady whose words opened this Parliament in 1999—I have come here not to settle down but to settle up. I have come here to ensure that all those who live in Scotland play a full part in creating a better Scotland, which can project itself to the world not just on tartan day but every day of the year.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 5:29 pm, 27th June 2007

I congratulate Bashir Ahmad on his maiden speech, particularly as he used it to promote the language and culture of his adopted country.

I support what Andrew Welsh's motion has to say about the concept of tartan day. We have a proud and great heritage to portray to the rest of the world. Why do we not do it more often and make it a great showcase?

Over many centuries, we have provided other countries with entrepreneurs, explorers, scientists, inventors and financiers who have made major contributions to the founding and development of many of the major countries of the world—I am thinking about Mackenzie and Fraser in Canada and Livingstone and other great explorers who spent time and energy exploring and developing countries. Further, we must not forget the great financier Andrew Carnegie, who made his fortune in the USA and Canada. He opened up those countries and changed their complexions by driving railways through to the west coast.

The tartan day celebrations in New York have attracted a wide audience. They have had international appeal and have attracted a certain type of tourist to Scotland. The Scottish Parliament must be complimented on its decision to send regular delegations to the festivities to promote Scotland's interests on the streets of the USA.

Tartan day has become a flagship for Scotland's history and culture, but the concept has been too restricted. It has involved only tourism, music, dance and those sorts of things, but there is an interested audience for all the other things that we have to offer. All that we have to do is present them to that audience. We have to extend the celebrations to include our proud heritage of invention and shipbuilding—the biggest liners in the world, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, were riveted together on the Clyde. There are many other great achievements, including the products of Scotland's engineering skills. We should not restrict ourselves to tourism and tartan. We should have far bigger ambitions. We are proud of our established heritage, our culture and our music, but let us broaden the stage and let the world know of our achievements and invite them to join us in promoting our proud nation.

The concept that has been promoted is that each council area should have a tartan day. However, we should broaden that out and have a central focus. Perhaps we could have something like the Royal National Mòd, which will be held in Inverness next year. I am sure that having a Scotland-wide tartan day celebration on such a basis would be acceptable. All the councils could participate and compete with one another on how well they promote Scotland.

Andrew Welsh's suggestion has a lot going for it. A couple of weeks ago, I met people from a school in the Highlands who play shinty, which is one of the popular games up there. They met up with a selection of teams from Northern Ireland and played a mixture of shinty and hurley at the University of Edinburgh's Peffermill sports field. Everyone had a great time—Scotland won, by the way—and they celebrated the event with a bit of music and so on at the Irish consulate. A great time was had by all. Little things like that promote Scotland to the world.

I am pleased to support the concept that Andrew Welsh brings to the Parliament.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 5:35 pm, 27th June 2007

I congratulate Andrew Welsh on securing this evening's debate. I know that the subject is dear to his heart, and it is a pleasure to support the motion. I have been asked to give apologies from members of the European and External Relations Committee who are meeting Westminster's International Development Committee and therefore cannot be in the chamber for a debate that many of them would like to observe and participate in.

Like David McLetchie and others in the chamber, I have attended tartan day. In fact, I possibly hold one or two records in connection with it. I might not go into those just now—or maybe I will, because there are no journalists in the gallery. On one occasion, I was called queen of the junkets because of my attendance at tartan day, but I will not go into that.

I have attended tartan day in America on four occasions, twice as Deputy Presiding Officer and twice as a minister in the Scottish Executive. When I first attended tartan day, in 2000, it was a small event that took place only in Washington. Over the years, it has grown to become very much part of the annual cycle of large events in New York, Washington and Chicago. Its appeal has begun to spread throughout the world.

Why do we celebrate tartan day in that way? The original idea came from Canada, but it was particularly galvanised by the efforts of Trent Lott and the former United States Senate chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie. Interestingly, they were responsible for another resolution that the Senate passed—I do not think that they had to go to Congress for it—because when they arrived, resplendent in their kilts, to move the tartan day motion, they were almost debarred from doing so, because at that time the Senate's standing orders indicated that gentlemen had to wear trousers. They, of course, were wearing their kilts, and they almost caused an international incident.

Tartan day has grown. I remember being interviewed in 2000 by an American radio station. During the discussion, the interviewer mentioned that they estimated that there were 5 million Americans with Scots ancestry. The same radio station interviewed me the following year and put it to me that at least 20 million Americans have Scots ancestry. I do not know whether the emergence of tartan day had anything to do with the massive increase or whether there was an underestimation in the first place.

As Andrew Welsh rightly said, the reason why we have such a close affinity with America—and therefore tartan day—goes back to the declaration of Arbroath and the American declaration of independence. A lot of the language of the latter declaration comes from the declaration of Arbroath. That is probably not a surprise to us when we consider that at least 13 of the signatories were first or second-generation Scots who went to America to escape privation and other issues in Scotland.

Some of the proudest moments in my life are associated with tartan day. I was part of the celebration when 10,000 pipers marched down Fifth Avenue in New York, and I attended the opening of VisitScotland's Scottish village in Grand Central station, where I and the then provost of Stirling, Colin O'Brien, led the Wallace sword into the station. The police held back crowds of people who had gathered to see the sword. Apparently, they thought that it had been swung around by Mel Gibson, but we soon cleared up that misunderstanding. There was genuine feeling about that artefact from Scotland and its age and history. We sometimes underestimate that.

I congratulate Bashir Ahmad on his speech. Glasgow's relationship with America is interesting, because Glasgow is largely responsible for the relationship, particularly with Chicago. There were a lot of Scots in Chicago more than a century ago when a fire devastated the entire city. The people of Glasgow had a whip-round and sent the city what was at the time a considerable sum of money. That relationship has been maintained over the years.

I congratulate Angus Council on its work. I very much enjoyed taking part in the council's celebrations a year or so ago. I was also impressed by the council's comprehensive approach to developing tartan day. When I first attended tartan day there was an air of cynicism in Scotland about the event. Some ladies and gentlemen of the press, and perhaps even some of our colleagues, shared that cynicism. However, over the years, the cynicism has reduced—if not disappeared altogether—and the time is right for Scotland to recognise tartan day. I am glad that Angus Council is spreading its tentacles and sharing its good work.

David McLetchie was right to mention Angus Council's non-partisan approach to tartan day, which is echoed in Andrew Welsh's methods. I congratulate Andrew Welsh on that.

Many agencies are involved and many people work hard all year to make tartan day a success. I offer a special tribute to the volunteers in America and Scotland who are part of that international, almost global, effort. I hope that that effort will increase and that in a few years' time we will debate the issue again and hear from Andrew Welsh about the success of other local authorities in Scotland. I am sure that all members will encourage their local authorities to take part.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 5:41 pm, 27th June 2007

I thank my colleague Andrew Welsh for lodging the motion. He made a passionate speech on an issue that he strongly supports in his Angus constituency and in the United States, as everyone knows. He was part of Parliament's delegation to the 2006 celebrations and I have heard from many quarters that his speech at the University of Wisconsin's centre for Celtic studies was excellent and well received.

Parliament has rightly supported tartan week since its earliest years, because—apart from anything else—the US remains an important overseas market for us. The US is important for trade, investment and tourism and the country sends more overseas students to our universities than does any country except China. We also have a range of cultural links with the US, from the modern-day actors who are big stars stateside, like Alan Cumming, to the earliest Scots who left this land to settle in the new world, for whatever reason. John Farquhar Munro talked about the Scots who left our shores, from the explorers and pioneers to the people who had no choice but to leave. Such cultural links are not necessarily to do with the performing arts but are about identity and show us exactly who we are.

Members talked about the contribution of Scots to the American declaration of independence, which was signed by descendants of Scots and inspired by the ambitions that were set out in the declaration of Arbroath. Students of the Scottish enlightenment tell us that the US electoral college, which elects US presidents, was devised by David Hume, whose grave is only a few hundred yards from this chamber. John Paul Jones, the founder of the US navy, was also a Scot. I could mention many others.

People in Scotland have had a long and mostly harmonious relationship with people in America. We should foster and enhance that relationship. Tartan week offers an opportunity to put Scotland on the map in the US and in Canada. This Government will make the most of that opportunity and any others that we find. The First Minister has made it clear in Parliament that his Government will be the most outward-looking one that Scotland has had. Tartan week offers us an opportunity to make progress in that regard.

As Patricia Ferguson said, tartan week has had a chequered history and has not always attracted positive comments. We have come to a natural hiatus; Grand central station will not be available in 2008, so we have an opportunity to sit back and think about what we want to do with tartan week in the future. For good reasons, the focus of the previous Administration's activities was, predominantly, New York. Perhaps that was the best approach while the event was being built, but perhaps we should now look at other areas that are equally important to us. Boston and California spring to mind, and Canada, where the origins of tartan day lie—we have heard about that—offers big opportunities to increase our profile. Doing so could pay high dividends.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I want to reinforce a point that was made earlier. Icons are extremely important to someone who has travelled to New York with the Wallace sword and looked after it for 10 days and 10 sleepless nights. The minister mentioned Canada and California. Is there a possible link with Alexander Graham Bell, who is another Scottish icon? I think that there are two Alexander Graham Bell visitor centres in Canada and one in the United States. Is Alexander Graham Bell a possible theme to consider for next year's tartan week?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

We are open to ideas about tartan week because we want to include Parliament in the process. I urge members please to get in touch with me if they have ideas.

I was particularly interested in Bashir Ahmad's maiden speech—well done to him. As he said, tartan day is an example that shows what it means to be Scottish. All strands of society and people throughout our nation should be involved in it because it can be seen as representing our Scotland, our own tartan land, in which cultures are interwoven to make a fine pattern.

Andrew Welsh and other members talked about celebrating tartan day throughout Scotland, but perhaps we should also look outward. The Government is working with several Scottish organisations that are organising events to celebrate the 60th anniversary of India's independence and the founding of Pakistan. That is interesting. Those events will celebrate links between Scotland and India and Pakistan. For those who are interested in that work, we will soon publish details of it on the Government's website.

Last year, more events than ever in New York showcased Scottish literature, theatre, music, history and design, but we want to work to make its celebrations better. It is a grand triumph, for example, that the National Theatre of Scotland will tour America with "Black Watch" and "The Wolves in the Walls". John Farquhar Munro said that we should move beyond the performing arts. I am interested in that idea. I love the idea of an event that is centred on shinty and shipbuilding. That could work well.

An independent evaluation of tartan week is being finalised. The report will go into the mix in order to help us to make the right decisions.

Andrew Welsh's motion recognises the work of Parliament, the Government and Angus Council in establishing tartan day. I want that successful work to continue. It is much more likely that a united Scotland approach to the United States will be more successful than a disjointed approach. I commend Angus Council for its work in establishing its own tartan day events, of which there are many—indeed, I was amazed by the number of them. I also commend it for its vision for 2020, which is an inspiration to other local authorities. I applaud its long view through to the 700th anniversary of the declaration of Arbroath.

We should recognise the Scottish diaspora's hugely important contribution to establishing tartan day—people who have left our shores have been mentioned. In the many countries in which tartan day is commemorated—Australia and New Zealand are another two such countries—Scots and people of Scottish descent have voluntarily used 6 April to celebrate their ancestry and this country's contribution to their new homelands. Without them, this country would be culturally and spiritually poorer.

It is often said that our people are our greatest asset, but it could also be said that our overseas people are potentially our greatest asset. We must engage more with them and provide them with a reason to continue their efforts.

The debate has been useful and constructive, and again, I thank Andrew Welsh for securing it. I want our approach to tartan week in 2008 and beyond it to be useful and constructive, so I am working towards that.

Meeting closed at 17:49.