National Tree

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd May 2013.

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Photo of Jean Urquhart Jean Urquhart Independent

I thank Joan McAlpine for securing the debate.

I think that all members recognise the important role that symbols can play in the lives of the Scottish people. From the cross of St Andrew on the flag to the thistle on the jersey of our national rugby team, symbols can help to unite us across all society’s divisions. Given that 2013 has been declared the year of natural Scotland, it makes sense for the Parliament to add to the collection of the nation’s identifiable symbols by selecting a national tree.

I was fascinated to hear Joan McAlpine say that Canada adopted the maple as its national tree only in 1996. Like many Scots, I have relatives in Canada, and I proudly remember being five or six and wearing a wee brooch in the shape of a maple leaf, with the word “Canada” on it. I cannot believe that it has taken all this time for the maple to become the national tree of Canada, when the rest of the world already recognised that.

I was interested in how social media have picked up the idea of the tree. Radio Scotland’s “Out of Doors” programme some week ago discussed alternatives, including the rowan tree, the gean, and the hawthorn. There was no doubt that the views of the listeners, and the tweets sent during the programme showed that far in the lead was the Scots pine.

The Scots pine is instantly recognisable. There is no other tree like it. It is strong, straight, tall, wily, hardy and independent—just like the Scots. The small distinctive copses are photographed endlessly as an image of Scotland.

As a regional member for the Highlands and Islands, I drive through many parts of Scotland where there are few or, sometimes, no trees. However, if there are trees, they are always Scots pines. They get where no other trees go—they sometimes grow out of the stone on a mountainside.

From a cultural perspective, the Scots pine comes in many colours and shapes, which symbolises the multicultural nature of Scotland. There is a Scots pine in Glen Loyne that is estimated to be 520 years old. Although that may not be as impressive as the Fortingall yew, it serves as a symbol for the resilience of the Scottish people.

Approximately 75 nations have officially recognised or unofficially adopted national trees. Each of the 50 states in the USA has its own tree. There is no reason why Scotland cannot join other nations in recognising a national tree. If anybody is in any doubt, reading the “The Cone Gatherers” by Robin Jenkins will give them the imagery, the sense of the importance of the forest—literally, the seeding and reseeding of the tree—and how the Scots pine is important in our nation in so many ways. Here is to the Scots pine as our national tree.