St Andrew’s Day

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

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Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

I thank the member for that clarification, but if that is the best example that she can come up with, she is struggling to present her case.

The stories about St Andrew the apostle are many and varied. He was the first apostle and follower of Christ. As many members have said, we share him with many nations such as Greece, Russia and Ukraine. His relics are found in Scotland, Greece, Italy and Poland and are a crucial part of the Christian tradition of celebrating his feast day on 30 November. Some years ago, I had the pleasure of standing beneath the magnificent statue of St Andrew in the Vatican, which was unveiled in 1640 and above which is a relic from the cross on which he was martyred by the Romans. That led me to appreciate the close association that Scotland has with him.

It is interesting that the flag of the island of Tenerife looks similar to our Scottish saltire. One story is that it was adopted in recognition of the bravery of Scottish sailors at the battle of Santa Cruz in 1797. They were led by Admiral Nelson, but the battle ended in defeat for Nelson and he lost part of his arm as a consequence. That has nothing at all to do with St Andrew, but it has a possible link with Scotland. So every time that members see a picture of Admiral Nelson with his right arm inside his coat, they can proudly share the knowledge of how and when that happened and its connection with Scotland.

It is curious that, in many modern-day manifestations, the cross of St Andrew is depicted as dark blue when, in fact, it is azure blue—as close to the colour of the sky as we can get—and defined as such by the Parliament some years ago, including by colleagues who still serve here, as I understand.

I suspect that the adoption of dark blue had more to do with the limited early methods of producing dyes for colouring garments. Dark blue was easier to produce and provided a stark contrast with colours that opponents in other places adopted.

Andrew’s place as patron saint was established early in Scotland’s history and provides modern Scotland with not only an association with an apostle of Jesus, but a beautiful and, I hope, plausible explanation of how our flag came to be what it is.

In modern Scotland, we choose to commemorate St Andrew’s day in a rich variety of ways, including music, theatre and literary events throughout Scotland. Our schools bring his story to life, celebrate our connection with him and promote Scotland and the best that we have to offer.

Scotland’s first national book week, which was mentioned in the cabinet secretary’s motion and in her speech, features strongly in my constituency, with events taking place in Kilmarnock that involve contributions from local Ayrshire writers and others.

Something of a cultural renaissance is taking place in Kilmarnock and the town has been shortlisted for the creative places award. We have had some magnificent events at the Burns monument centre, the Dick institute and the beautifully restored Palace theatre and grand hall buildings. Some incredible work is also going on at the Centrestage music theatre in the town.

Visitor numbers are climbing, and a range of events involving music, the arts and literature has seen the town begin to reclaim its creative heritage. As members know, Robert Burns’s first book—the Kilmarnock edition—was printed in the town. We also have the only school in Scotland to have two Nobel prize winners as former pupils—Sir Alexander Fleming and John Boyd Orr.

We also have some contemporary writers—such as Willie McIlvanney or, more recently, Zoe Strachan and our fellow Ayrshire man Rab Wilson—who are making quite a contribution to the literary landscape. We should also not forget our local contemporary rock ‘n’ roll stars Biffy Clyro, who talk up the town whenever they get the chance.

East Ayrshire Council’s cultural development leader, Phillipa Aitken, says—rightly, in my view—that Kilmarnock has been a creative town for generations. Recent investment by the council and other organisations has certainly brought an exciting new era to that part of Ayrshire.

St Andrew’s day marks the start of Scotland’s winter festival and, as the cabinet secretary remarked, gives us a fantastic opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s people and history. I took the opportunity to look back and discover my own family history, using the impressive genealogy search facilities at the Burns monument centre. I discovered that my ancestors arrived in Kilmarnock from County Tipperary in Ireland in 1850, which was a turbulent time for Scotland and Ireland.

Significant past events can explain the present to us and give us a glimpse of our possible future. St Andrew the apostle knew nothing of Scotland and our nation was not yet born at his time. However, as each St Andrew’s day arrives, we can reach out to him, retell his story and retell the story of Scotland. In so doing, we can offer an enthusiastic world audience a closer look at the richness of what modern Scotland has to offer.