St Andrew’s Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th November 2012.

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Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the continuing relevance of St Andrew’s day to contemporary Scotland. I signal that Scottish Labour will support the Government’s motion; I doubt that a single member would have any difficulty with the sentiments expressed in it.

I am pleased that the Government will support Labour’s addendum amendment, which will strengthen the Government’s motion—I am pleased that the cabinet secretary recognised that. We will also support the Conservative amendment, as we do not have the same difficulties with it as some others seem to.

We Scots cannot claim exclusivity for our nation’s patron saint. Greece, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Barbados and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople all claim St Andrew as their patron saint. Germany and Poland have also long celebrated St Andrew’s day.

We in Scotland have only recently begun to celebrate, at least in a co-ordinated and national way, St Andrew’s feast day as our national holiday, so we do not yet have the type of traditions attached to 30 November that can be found in many other countries. I was intrigued to read that many of those traditions seem to be associated with young women who are trying to find a husband or work out when they might be married, sometimes by following very complicated rituals that perhaps owe more to wishful thinking than to saintly intervention.

I intend to say more about our celebrations later in my speech, but for now I note that the Scottish Labour amendment is partly intended to stress that we think that St Andrew’s Day is an integral part of the Parliament’s promotion of a fair, inclusive and diverse Scottish society. In relation to the passing of the St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007, the former Minister for Communities Malcolm Chisholm remarked:

“Scotland is a place where we can all benefit from a diversity of cultures, religions and backgrounds. The contribution of everyone should be valued and the events taking place on St Andrew’s Day will remind us again of how rich our cultural influences are here in Scotland.”

The cabinet secretary has outlined all—or at least many—of the events that are taking place, which demonstrates how right Malcolm Chisholm was then and how relevant his words are today.

St Andrew’s day is not, and must never become, parochial; it must be about Scotland’s place in the world. It is a celebration of our diverse modern Scotland, which today welcomes people from many nations and different ethnic origins. We have as citizens people from a variety of cultures and faiths, as well as people of no faith. I welcome that, because I believe that it helps to make us all stronger.

I place on record my congratulations—and, I am sure, those of every member—to the Scottish Trades Union Congress on its continued and long-standing support for and organisation of the annual St Andrew’s day march and rally against racism and fascism. There can be no place for bigotry in 21st century Scotland. As the cabinet secretary rightly said, one Scotland, many cultures has been a statement of Scottish Government policy over two political Administrations and must remain our approach. Parliament must encourage and support such events to ensure that all citizens of Scotland have ownership of the St Andrew’s day celebrations and feel that they truly belong and are as relevant as anyone.

Just as Scots in the past went out into the world, our population is now growing partly because we are attracting more people to Scotland. A modern diverse Scotland welcomes people from across the world and embraces their enterprise, culture and ambition. On St Andrew’s day, we should celebrate not just shared Scottish traditions but our shared future.

Just as a broad definition of culture leads to the celebration of diversity, its narrower artistic definition inevitably leads us to the same conclusion. Indeed, as Scottish Labour’s amendment reminds us, the winter festival that begins on St Andrew’s day culminates in Burns night. Burns was an internationally recognised genius whose art is outward looking and encompasses universal themes that should be celebrated throughout the year, not just on 25 January.

How is Scotland celebrating its national day? I was pleased to find that Historic Scotland is giving free entry to many of its properties on the day. However, on looking again, I found that the offer this year seems to extend only to one day and not to the entire weekend as I recall happened last year. That may just be because of when St Andrew’s day happens to fall this year, but it would be helpful to have a weekend offer available for those who perhaps do not enjoy the holiday.

As one would expect, St Andrews is having a celebration, and the Edinburgh Storytelling Centre will host a singalong. Many of Edinburgh’s other attractions such as the Edinburgh Dungeon, Our Dynamic Earth, Mary King’s Close and—my personal favourite—the Camera Obscura all have special pricing arrangements over the weekend, which is to be welcomed.

The Scottish Book Trust has, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, put out a lovely book called “My Favourite Place”. I suspect that, as well as being available in local bookshops, it is probably available in an MSP’s office near you, thanks to the Book Trust, which provided copies to us for distribution. I am certainly grateful to the trust for that.

I was intrigued to see that East Lothian is holding a saltire festival, while Glasgow is branding its events under the heading “Glasgow loves St Andrew’s day”. Apparently there will be a party in George Square on Friday night, with pipes, drums and Highland dancing, and other events will carry on until Sunday. I noted that the organisers are promising that there will be mayhem and are warning that a kilted caricaturist will be on the loose. I am not sure why a kilted caricaturist should be particularly feared, but I take the warning in the spirit of generosity in which it is clearly meant.

I may be biased in saying this, but Glasgow has got the idea of the celebration better than some other areas—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I missed what Mrs MacDonald said, although I am sure that it was pithy. [Interruption.] Ah—she thinks that I am biased. I own up to that; I am guilty as charged.

Glasgow has put together a branded campaign and a coherent menu of new, themed activities over the weekend that are specific celebrations of St Andrew’s day, which ties into the point that Mrs MacDonald made during the cabinet secretary’s speech. I hope to carry on that theme. When EventScotland and VisitScotland come to review this year’s programme, I hope that they will think about what more they can do to badge and brand events around Scotland, so that those become a better known set of festivals and attract more visitors in the future.

I wonder whether more could be done to encourage retailers to become involved. Given that St Andrew’s day happens to fall in the run-up to Christmas, it seems to me that special events organised by traders and stores around 30 November would perhaps encourage shoppers to patronise participating stores more than they normally would during that weekend. Such schemes may be under way already, but if so, they have passed me by—and, as an avid shopper, there is not much in that direction that passes me by.