We could debate who is churlish. I would accept that Annabel Goldie’s amendment is not a crude attempt to hijack the debate for constitutional purposes if she could list for me the whole range of events—if she cannot list a range of events, perhaps she could list a few—that will be taking place on Friday to celebrate Scotland’s place in the UK.
As a Government, we have worked hard to increase interest in Scotland’s national day. We continue to encourage all parts of Scotland—public bodies in particular—to recognise St Andrew’s day but, as a Government, we would be keen to see more participate. It is worth noting that the number of public holidays that Scotland recognises, which is currently nine days, is lower than the number recognised by many of our European neighbours—some have as many as 14 per year.
I mentioned earlier how St Andrew inspired a first flowering of higher education in Scotland. That began the great movement that led to our having four universities at a time when England had only two. Because of the graduates that they produced, we had enough teachers to establish the first universal public education system in the world, with a school in every parish. It is therefore entirely fitting for schools and pre-schools to celebrate Scotland and its culture by marking St Andrew’s day.
Edinburgh castle is running activities for pupils in primary classes 4 to 7 in the run-up to St Andrew’s day. Pupils are encouraged to visit one of Scotland’s most iconic castles to find out more about Scotland’s history.
The St Andrew’s day debating championship will take place on 3 December, with the final being chaired by the Deputy Presiding Officer. Education Scotland is working with the English-Speaking Union and the Scottish Parliament to take forward the debate, which will reflect the year of creative Scotland and the forthcoming year of natural Scotland in 2013. Around 20 secondary schools and seven universities will be represented.
We have been building up the offer of free access to key Scottish visitor attractions around St Andrew’s day, which is mentioned in Patricia Ferguson’s amendment. The initiative, over the St Andrew’s day weekend, has proved popular and returns this year. I am delighted to say that as well as St Andrews castle and Edinburgh castle, St Andrews cathedral, where the bones of the saint are said to be interred, will be open for free on St Andrew’s day itself.
For the first time this year, some of Scotland’s sports centres will take part in St Andrew’s day. For example, at Thurso swimming pool there will be free swimming for kids, while at Port Glasgow swimming pool there will be free swimming for those over 60. Many sports centres are offering discounts and free trials right across the weekend, starting on the 30th, in the lead-up to the Commonwealth games in 2014.
I set out a few minutes ago the importance of St Andrew’s legacy, which enabled Scotland to become the first country with universal public education. In turn, that led to Scotland becoming the first country with universal literacy. This year, for the first time, we will celebrate that legacy by using St Andrew’s day to launch a new initiative on literature. We are celebrating our literary heritage on St Andrew’s day through book week Scotland. Yesterday we delivered on one of our manifesto commitments by marking the start of book week, Scotland’s first national, inclusive celebration of reading. Supported by Creative Scotland, the initiative is being delivered by the Scottish Book Trust in partnership with many other organisations. I thank everyone involved for creating such an inclusive and diverse programme of activities for everyone to enjoy.
The book week programme of activities will encourage Scots of all backgrounds and all ages to embark or continue on a lifetime’s journey of reading. We have a great programme of activities and events taking place, engaging local communities across the country. For example, at 100 authors in 100 libraries events, authors will share their love of books with those attending the events across Scotland. The Scottish library service has created that national programme of writer events in libraries, which has been supported through the Scottish Library and Information Council.
RNIB Scotland will open its transcription service in Partick to show people how to make a book for someone with sight loss or create writing in Braille.
I encourage everyone to get a copy of the book “My Favourite Place”, which contains a collection of stories about Scotland’s best-loved places written by the public and some of our best-loved authors, such as Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead. Copies are available in bookshops, public libraries and National Trust for Scotland properties.