St Andrew’s Day

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

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Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am delighted to open the debate, which I hope will give us the opportunity to discuss what is great about Scotland and how we can use St Andrew’s day to celebrate our history, our people, our culture and our world-famous food and drink.

It was a remarkable journey that took St Andrew from being a fisherman on the sea of Galilee to being patron saint of Scotland. St Andrew became a disciple of Jesus and later an apostle in Asia Minor, Macedonia and southern Russia, before being crucified in the year AD 70 in Patras, in Greece. His journey did not end there. After his death, legend has it that the monk St Regulus, or St Rule, was instructed in a dream to take St Andrew’s remains to the ends of the earth, for safe keeping. St Rule did as he was told, removing some of the bones and taking them to a town called Kilrymont, which is now called St Andrews.

Such was the veneration for St Andrew that St Andrews became the ecclesiastical centre of the medieval Scottish church, with a great cathedral. That, in turn, led to Bishop Wardlaw of St Andrews establishing a centre of learning and, 599 years ago, securing the papal bull that established the University of St Andrews, which is Scotland’s oldest university and the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

St Andrew’s journey can still speak to us today. In life, his missions brought people together across many lands, in new friendship and faith. In death, the journey of his remains to Scotland led, in time, to a flourishing of literacy and learning. I will touch on both themes in the debate.

St Andrew’s day is a thoroughly appropriate occasion for Scots and friends of Scotland, at home and abroad, to join together in fellowship to mark our national culture and heritage. The Government will be active on a number of fronts. Tomorrow, the First Minister will host the brave@heart St Andrew’s awards in Bute house, and Angela Constance, the Minister for Youth Employment, will host a St Andrew’s day concert by celebrated Scottish band Mànran in our European office in Brussels.

On St Andrew’s day itself, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Mike Russell, will attend a St Andrew’s day dinner at James Watt College in North Ayrshire and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice will be at Edinburgh castle to witness the St Andrew’s day event, which promises to be a carnival of contemporary dance, with a light show, fireworks and a unique twist on the Scottish pipes and drums. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth will attend an event in Perth as part of Scotland sings, which is a brand-new national event that brings together participants and audiences in community singing events—I do not know whether the cabinet secretary will sing, but if members attend they will find out.

I will be at the Saltire Society literary awards 2012 on St Andrew’s day. The event is being delivered in partnership with the Scottish Book Trust and the National Library of Scotland. I look forward to presenting the book of the year award.

That is just some of what the Government is doing to celebrate St Andrew’s day. I know that members of all parties will join together to celebrate Scotland on St Andrew’s day at events across the county. Last week I wrote to all MSPs, setting out a range of events that are taking place and giving details of the website. It is worth exploring the website to find out about the St Andrew’s day events that are happening in members’ areas and all over the world.

A good example of what happens internationally is the Alexandria Christmas parade. During my visit to the United States of America last November I was privileged to participate in the parade, which takes place over the St Andrew’s day weekend in the suburbs of Washington. It was a sight to behold. There were 30,000 walkers, massed pipes and drums and the largest collection of Scottie dogs that I have ever seen.

St Andrew’s day is not just important in itself; it fires the starting gun for Scotland’s winter festivals programme and a time when we welcome visitors from around the world to bring in the new year at the home of hogmanay and celebrate Burns night in the land of the bard’s birth. The Scottish Government will part-fund 17 events in nine local authority areas over the winter festivals period. Five of the events will take place around St Andrew’s day, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, St Andrews and East Lothian.

I welcome Patricia Ferguson’s amendment, the sentiment of which is absolutely right. All of us can and should share in the saltire and the celebrations that take place. However, I am rather bemused by Annabel Goldie’s amendment, which seems to be a crude attempt to hijack for unionist purposes what should be a celebratory debate.

I was in Cardiff yesterday. If I were to suggest to a Welshman that he could celebrate St David’s day only if it was as part of the United Kingdom, he would just laugh. Annabel Goldie should be comforted that it is perfectly possible for unionists to celebrate Scotland for its distinct and individual identity. There is room in the tent of celebration even for Annabel Goldie. I hope that she will take part.