I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate. When I read the motion as I sat down to write my speech last night, I wondered where to begin in seeking to cover, in six minutes, a celebration of Scotland’s people and history, our food and drink and our traditional and contemporary culture. There is so much to talk about and so much will be happening on the day itself.
Just the other week, the members’ business debate on Scotland’s film and television industry highlighted the excellent locations and production talent that we have here. That industry perhaps offers the most effective way for us to celebrate and showcase our traditional and contemporary culture to the rest of the world. In this year of creative Scotland, I am sure that our film and television industry will continue to flourish.
Another area that I want to touch on is our food and drink industry, which we should rightly celebrate and promote as it has tremendous potential for growth and already contributes massively to the economy. Historically, our national drink has been the big-ticket export item, but recently a much more modern drinks company called BrewDog has been grabbing many of the headlines. Within a few years of being set up as a company in 2007, BrewDog was competing strongly in the international drinks market and had become one of the best-selling beers in Scandinavia. In 2010, one of the company’s founding members became Scotland’s youngest ever entrepreneur of the year.
Scotland’s food industry has always performed well and has a good international reputation—as soon as we get past things such as deep-fried confectionery and other caricatures of the Scottish diet—because of our wide range of high-quality produce. For example, Scotland’s restaurant sector has successfully blended historical and contemporary influences. With immigration from Europe and Asia, inevitably restaurants have popped up that reflect the cooking styles and foods used by other cultures, but one does not have to look too closely at the menus of our Italian and Indian restaurants and Spanish tapas bars to see the Scottish influence on their cuisine and how they have been successfully blended.
As a country, we also have a rich sporting history to celebrate. In football, the Scottish cup is the world’s oldest national trophy and was first contested in 1873. Although the national team often fails to live up to the expectations of a sometimes sport-obsessed nation, our domestic teams often punch above their weight in European competitions. Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers have all achieved notable success. On that front, some of us—those of a certain persuasion—can only hope that history might repeat itself at Wembley next May.
People say that Scotland’s national sport is football, but I worry that it has moved on to become complaining about football. Our national pastime seems to be to complain about the performance of the Scotland football team rather than to become more active and involved in the sport. So much time and column inches are dedicated to debating issues about the Scotland team rather than boosting the levels of physical activity to what we have historically known in Scotland. I hope that the Olympics and a successful Commonwealth games will provide both the inspiration and the facilities that many people need.
The motion mentions the launch of book week Scotland, Scotland’s first celebration of reading, which takes place around St Andrew’s day and which will contribute to the celebration of Scotland’s traditional and contemporary culture. Last night, there was an event in Cumbernauld library—unfortunately, I was unable to attend—at which Harry the Polis, or Harry Morris, gave readings from a series of books. Harry, who calls himself an “observer of life”, was a police officer in Glasgow and Strathclyde for 30 years. I have read some of his funny short stories about situations that he found himself in during his time in the job, so I am sure that it was a fantastic night in Cumbernauld and a great way to start book week Scotland.
Book week Scotland and the local events that are planned for the next few weeks highlight the importance of our local libraries to documenting our people and history and making it possible for everyone in the community to research that, regardless of the ability to access the internet, which many of us take for granted. The other month, I attended an event in Kilsyth library that showcased the contribution that ordinary people from Scotland made to the international brigades that went to fight fascism in the Spanish civil war.
That local demonstration was enough to stimulate debate and to start people researching to find out whether anyone from Kilsyth joined the international brigades. A number of local people have been identified and work has started to erect a memorial to them in Kilsyth. Without the local library as a hub for that sort of activity in historical documentation and research, it would have been impossible for us to come together as a community for the project. I highlight the contribution that our libraries and their staff make to celebrating our people, history and culture.