National Tree

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

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Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Joan McAlpine on securing the debate. I also congratulate Alex Hamilton, who is one of my constituents, on lodging the petition that inspired the debate.

As has been mentioned, RSPB Scotland, Trees for Life, the Woodland Trust, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the John Muir Trust—I could go on—are just some of the groups and organisations that have backed Mr Hamilton’s request. Clearly, he has a knack of getting people and organisations with similar interests and passions together to achieve change. That fact that he has got me—an unreconstructed city boy who, in my earlier years, did not pay much attention to nature—speaking in the debate shows the strength of the idea of a national tree. I will say more about that later.

Rod Campbell talked about the importance of symbols. As a multinational state, the symbols of the United Kingdom’s constituent countries tend to be recognised by general public agreement, rather than in any official way. The example of the national anthem is an obvious one. “Flower of Scotland” is widely recognised as Scotland’s national anthem, although officially we share—for the moment—“God Save the Queen” with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. England and United Kingdom also share a national tree—the pedunculate oak, which is more commonly known as the royal oak.

I am one of the MSPs who have made representations on behalf of Mr Hamilton to Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change. I am sure that we will hear from him shortly on how he wants to progress the matter. Although there is no formal mechanism in place for designating an official national tree, that is not a reason not to do it. It can be done and it should be done, and with willingness it will be done.

The process to date has been constructive. It has certainly got people thinking about our natural world, and appreciating the wonderful wildlife and scenery of Scotland, which are two of our most internationally recognised assets. At times, some of us—as I said at the start of the debate, that includes me—can easily take that for granted.

Joan McAlpine mentioned the boost to our timber industry that having a national tree would bring, and others have said that it will reinforce Scotland the brand. I think that the process by which we choose a national tree is just as important as the tree that we choose, so I would like to say a little about that.

As we have heard already, the Woodland Trust conducted a poll about what tree Scots would go for; two thirds went for the Scots pine, with the rowan coming second. I understand that the winner got 414 votes. I commend the Woodland Trust for that initiative, but I think that we will be talking about thousands of votes when we take the debate forward nationally on a structured and engaged level. That is the key bit that I would like to talk about. After we eventually decide on what our national tree will be, why not reaffirm that, say, every 10 years and let the people decide whether they wish to stay with the Scots pine, which seems to be the favourite, or whether they wish to replace that? In the time that I have left I want to talk about that process.

I would like to see our schoolchildren, for example, deciding what they prefer. Would they prefer the Scots pine, or would they think that perhaps it should be the birch, because the birch covers twice the area of Scotland that the Scots pine covers?