I, too, thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the debate to the Parliament. As someone who loves the countryside and wildlife, I am very supportive of any initiative that recognises and seeks to promote our distinctive and beautiful Scottish environment. I am therefore not unsympathetic to the concept of a national tree for Scotland, although perhaps Ms McAlpine should not be too wafted away by that endorsement—I shall explain why.
I have form when it comes to promoting national things. Although that may have stopped short of promoting the Scottish National Party, it extended some years ago to promoting a national bird for Scotland. I was asked to take under my wing, as it were, promotion of the golden eagle. At that time The Scotsman, in conjunction with the RSPB, asked a number of people to adopt different birds, culminating in a poll in 2004 that the golden eagle won. I hope that members will indulge me in my recounting of this cautionary tale, because it is instructive for any desire to establish a national tree.
On the back of the poll victory, a petition backed by the RSPB was presented to the Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to establish the golden eagle as our national bird. In November 2004, the committee decided to write to the Scottish Executive to clarify the process for establishing a national bird—and the months passed. In June 2005, the committee agreed to approach the relevant minister, expressing concern at the lack of a response—and the months passed. In January 2006, some response must have been received, because the committee went back to the petitioner. In September 2006, the committee referred the petition to the Enterprise and Culture Committee. In October 2006, that committee took evidence and agreed to write to the Lord Lyon, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport and VisitScotland to seek views on what effect the establishment of a national bird would have on tourism. I would have thought that the self-evident answer would be “pretty damn good”, but never mind.
On 5 December 2006, the Enterprise and Culture Committee agreed to take no further action on the petition and to notify the petitioners and inform the Public Petitions Committee of the decision.