Those of us in Scotland who want independence for our nation have always said that it is not about flags, anthems and symbols, but that is not to say that symbols have no significance. Symbols can serve to strengthen a nation’s identity in many ways: historically and culturally in particular, or as simple logos. Who could mistake the symbolic eagles of the United States or Germany, which have become unquestionable markers on dollars and the German euro coin respectively? Who could mistake the Welsh dragon or the Welsh leek, and who could deny that the maple tree is inextricably linked to Canada? The Canadian brand and the maple brand complement each other. When we think of maple syrup, we think of Canada, and vice versa.
Scotland is one of the oldest nations in Europe, and we have our fair share of symbols. Scotland can be identified by the lion rampant, the thistle, the unicorn or heather, to name but a few. At least three of those things are heraldic symbols that are connected with royalty or privilege, which arguably have much less influence and significance now.
In the digital age that we now live in, symbols can be easily transmitted and identified. I certainly do not subscribe to the view that a nation can have too many symbols—indeed, the more, the merrier. There is a good reason for having them. New symbols can bolster identity and a unique brand. We should not shy away from that in a globalised and increasingly homogenous world, particularly when the value of local, non-commercialised produce is being rediscovered by the public, for whom the once attractive mass-produced brand names are losing their charm.
It is clear to me that a strong case is being made for Scotland to formally adopt the Scots pine. In my North East Fife constituency, Tentsmuir forest and Tentsmuir national nature reserve border the coast between St Andrews and Leuchars. The area comprises some 50 square miles of woodland, which is predominantly made up of Scots pine and Corsican pine. Tentsmuir is perhaps one small pocket of something that is close to the ancient Caledonian pine forest habitat that once covered enormous swathes of Scotland, but which has sadly—in such cases, this is often inevitable—disappeared due to a combination of natural and man-made factors, most notably the clearance of woodland over the centuries for livestock grazing.
Tentsmuir forest is owned by the Forestry Commission, and the reserve is looked after by Scottish Natural Heritage. The area is used frequently by students of biology and geology at the University of St Andrews due to its rich biodiversity and preserved and restored sand dunes. The trees are home to a fascinating range of insects and birds, many of which are found only in Scotland and a few other places.
We know, of course, that in other parts of Scotland, Scots pine woodland is home to some of our rarest and most fascinating animals, such as the capercaillie. Without the environment that is provided by Scots pine forests, the capercaillie population, which is descended from birds reintroduced from Sweden, would possibly once again become extinct.
It may be a cliché, but the Scots pine is an inextricable part of the rugged mountainous beauty with which Scotland is identified—for better or worse—around the world. I know that the rowan tree has its admirers—some of us will remember the First Minister’s vocal rendition of “The Rowan Tree” on a CD a few years ago. Notwithstanding that, I am sure that adopting the Scots pine as our national tree would serve only to strengthen the made in Scotland brand. Given the prevalence of the species in every part of Scotland, it is right that it should be called our national tree.
I hope that the Scottish Government will give the matter further consideration, and I thank Joan McAlpine once again for bringing the debate to the chamber.