St Andrew’s Day

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

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Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

The idea behind celebrating St Andrew’s day on 30 November was partly handed down to us by the old church, and we are stumped with that, in a way. We cannot really change the date, although St Columba’s day on 9 June is slightly more attractive time at which to celebrate. However, let us brighten up the day.

A friend of mine who is teaching English as a foreign language in Paris said to me yesterday in an e-mail that she has found that all the students who are learning English with her have an incredible appetite for Scottish culture. We should recognise that international view on St Andrew’s day. That shows that, although people are awakened to the possibilities of using the universal language of English, they see Scottish culture through and beyond that prism.

I will discuss our national day in terms of identities. I was interested to note that, earlier this month, Mike Russell gave a lecture in the Neil Gunn centre. I did not manage to attend it, but its theme was “The Writer in a Time of Change: Gunn, Walsh and the Process of Independence”. Mike Russell said that he shared Neil Gunn’s belief that internationalism is richer when nationalisms come together. The writer of a review of the lecture said:

“As an SNP politician, it would have been easy for Mr Russell to distort this interest of Neil Gunn’s to his contemporary advantage. Instead, he stuck to his brief, indicating that Gunn’s political perspective was as an internationalist as much as a nationalist.”

That is a great thing for us to bear in mind today. We should recognise and celebrate how Scotland is seen around the world and how people here recognise what they see.

In a debate at the weekend, Alex Salmond talked about the fact that people are entitled to have as many layers of identity as they wish. That is another way of saying that we are celebrating a identity now and let us not mistake other identities with it at the moment. Alex Salmond was responding to Bill Clinton, who had said that what we have in common matters more. Yes, it matters—but if people are not themselves, how can they contribute to that “more”? Today, we are discussing what matters.

On reasons to celebrate, we also have reasons to remember with gratitude some of the people who cannot celebrate with us now. There is David Morrison, who was a librarian in Wick. He went up there from Glasgow and was the author of the Scotia Review. He was a great facilitator of arts activities and he died a few months ago. Among the musicians, Ian Hardie and Derek Hoy will not be playing today, nor will the great Michael Marra.

We must celebrate the fact that our music in particular attracts people to Scotland. The new year celebrations are part of the attraction, but St Andrew’s day allows us to think why our music has become even more popular. I thank Donald Shaw, who is the director of the Celtic Connections festival, which is part of our winter festival, for enlightening us. He said:

“Partly that is about the changing face of the way the music has been presented. Swapping white heather and kilts for Doc Martens and T-shirts has helped, as has the way the music itself has loosened some of its shackles. Celtic Connections has been at the heart of that process.”

Scottish music today is cool. It has always been cool, but it is being heard in many more places where people can judge it against everyone else’s music. What Donald Shaw said means that the many people who want to celebrate St Andrew’s day throughout our country will do so through poetry and song. I hope to contribute to that, myself. When we talk about the outlook for Scots on St Andrew’s day, we should recognise that people from five continents come to play in this country at Celtic Connections. They are preparing to do so now.

Scots are seen around the world as a welcoming people. I think that the winter is not off-putting. St Andrew’s day is a national day and is worth giving a lot more weight to, and I certainly think that people in here singing traditional music of whatever kind they like would be one of the best things that could happen. I see that today’s Daily Record talks about people who say how they feel much healthier by singing. That was, of course, included in the motion that I lodged on the Scotland sings project, which runs from St Andrew’s day to 2 December. That project considers that singing is good for people and that it should make them smile. I hope that St Andrew’s day makes us smile and that I can personally add to the contribution that allows us to feel good about ourselves in this country.

If the Parliament does not feel that, we can get bogged down in analyses that might look at such things through the prism of the UK. There is not British literature or British traditional music; there is Scottish literature and Scottish music. Those are means by which we will celebrate our national day, and I hope that even the Tories will recognise that.