St Andrew’s Day

– in the Scottish Parliament on 1 December 2015.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14714, in the name of Michael Russell, on St Andrew’s day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that it has long held the view that St Andrew’s day should be celebrated as a full national holiday; notes the view that Scotland’s national day should be used to send an inclusive message to the country, its neighbours and the world about the people and prospects of the ancient nation while giving an opportunity to showcase its modern achievements and take forward economic opportunities, and hopes that the day will also help draw attention to the contribution of Scots in many different countries across the globe and in many different fields of endeavour while expressing the desire for unity and celebration among the diversity of faiths, cultures and ethnic origins that it believes is the reality of the nation today.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the continuing aspiration of many—though clearly not many Tories or Liberals—to secure St Andrew’s day as a full public holiday for Scotland. I am grateful to MSPs across the chamber who have signed the motion—the topic has attracted support across the constitutional divide. Indeed, the issue attracts support around the world, and it was good to see Google celebrating St Andrew’s day with a Google doodle complete with a saltire and a winking Nessie.

We have some way to go before we hear in this building “Happy St Andrew’s day” greetings as much as we heard “Happy thanksgiving” greetings on every floor of the members block last Thursday, as our American interns took one of their national days overseas with good will and celebration. Yesterday, some people were a bit alienated when they saw that Facebook was using a Romanian flag to celebrate St Andrew’s day. Of course, St Andrew is also the patron saint of Romania, which decided in 2012 to declare a full public holiday on 30 November. St Andrew is—I do not need to remind you of this, Presiding Officer—also the patron saint of fishmongers, gout, singers, sore throats, spinsters, maidens, old maids and women wishing to become mothers.

St Andrew has been the patron saint of Romania only since 1997, whereas Scotland can claim him as its saint as far back as 1320 with the declaration of Arbroath. Scotland’s association with the saltire—the cross on which St Andrew was crucified—goes back even further, and probably to 832 AD and the battle at Athelstaneford, when the saltire appeared to the Pictish king. The relics of St Andrew were brought by St Regulus to St Andrews, which he described as being at the very ends of the earth. The association has stuck.

St Andrew is also the patron saint of Russia, Greece, Cyprus, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, San Andrés island, Colombia and Barbados. Barbados celebrates the day as a full public holiday. Some of the other places mark the day in different ways, usually because there are other public holidays around the same time. For example, in Russia, 27 November is a public holiday that is called naval infantry day, which marks the raising of the first naval regiment by Peter the Great.

Scotland needs to promote itself with vigour and unity. Public holidays do that if they are properly sold abroad. It is amazing that the first official St Patrick’s day festival was held in Dublin as recently as 1996. Now that festival is worldwide, and it acts as a strong promoter of Irishness. A holiday is observed north and south of the border.

Compared with other countries, Scotland has very few national public holidays, but it has a strong tradition of local holidays, such as the Lanimers in Lanark, the braw lads in Galashiels, Samhain in Inverness and Victoria day in five locations, including Edinburgh. As that marks Queen Victoria’s birthday, it is hardly of contemporary relevance.

Dennis Canavan first brought the issue of a national holiday on St Andrew’s day to the Parliament. His St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007 was approved unanimously and he deserves great credit for that. His aim was to have a national holiday on or around St Andrew’s day so that the people of Scotland would have the opportunity to celebrate their patron saint, national identity, cultural diversity and membership of the international community. That was a good aim then and it is a good aim now.

Dennis Canavan went on to establish a St Andrew’s day campaign committee, which still meets, with a distinguished membership including the Saltire Society, the St Andrew society, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, local government, churches, faith groups and a number of distinguished supporters including Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden, Sir Tom Farmer, Elaine C Smith and Craig Brown. That committee remains firmly of the view that, although the Parliament does not have the power to oblige all employers to give their employees a day off, it could and should do more to take forward the idea.

The Scottish Government and the Parliament mark the day as a holiday, but only a handful of local authorities do that. The campaign committee wants the commitment to the holiday to be enshrined in all manifestos for the 2016 election, and it is fair to say that it wants action—I hope that the minister will reflect this in his closing remarks—to fulfil the pledge in the Scottish National Party manifesto of 2011 to assess the success of the 2014 St Andrew’s day in that year of homecoming before making further proposals. I hope that those proposals are on their way. All the party leaders committed themselves to the day as one of

“national celebration for the people of Scotland” in a declaration that was signed on 29 November 2011. We now need to make that happen.

The day would be good for us as friends, neighbours and fellow citizens. It would build a sense of solidarity among us. It could encourage cultural expression and it might give us a more rational and less materialistic alternative to black Friday and cyber Monday. It could also celebrate our internationalism—our links to other countries that mark the day and to other days that are celebrated at this time of year.

The debate will not end with a vote or a decision, but I hope that the message from it in support of Dennis Canavan and his St Andrew’s day committee will be heard. That committee wants to see action, and so does Scotland. The committee has recommended not only a high-level commitment from the parties and politicians but a range of practical things, including a national event to switch on Christmas lights on St Andrew’s day; the projection of a floodlit saltire on prominent Scottish landmarks; St Andrew’s day concerts with the aim of broadcasting around the world and involving the diaspora; a national school competition; a St Andrew’s day lecture; and more involvement of young people.

Community groups, schools and young people are increasingly coming together to celebrate the day. Political parties are doing that, too, of course. On Saturday night, I was at a St Andrew’s night dinner in Oban that was organised by the Oban and Lorn branch of the SNP. More than 200 people attended. They listened to speeches and songs and raised money for an excellent cause: my re-election.

I hope that the day and the celebrations continue to spread. They would do so best if we gave a lead from the Parliament.

I have a final suggestion. I hope that the Government will think about including a school holiday in the national circular on the number of days that pupils have to attend school. A single day will not make much difference to a child’s education, but it could make a lot of difference to that child’s sense of community and positive solidarity, and it could make a lot of difference to the future of the nation.

No matter what our constitutional stance is, we want for our country unity, purpose, generosity and a place in the world. Those are things that a national day can give us, so let us go about creating the national day that we need and want.

Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

I thank Michael Russell for the opportunity to speak in the debate and congratulate him on getting this far.

As we all know, St Andrew’s day is not just another day and it is not just another holiday. It is a special celebration of Scotland’s rich history and culture and it is a chance to celebrate our heritage. We trace back our lineage and revive our traditional foods, dances and performances in an effort to remember the cultural values on which our nation was built. We reflect on how those traditions exist in society today and remind ourselves of our roots.

Every year on 30 November, we take the time to appreciate all that is great about Scotland. We showcase our food, our music and our dance and show the world that Scotland is proud of its heritage and its communities. In many cities across our country, St Andrew’s day is celebrated with large parties, great musical entertainment, traditional ceilidh dancing and fundraisers for Mr Michael Russell. In my region—Glasgow—the entire city holds an annual celebration in George Square with a traditional Scotland-themed programme that includes live ceilidh bands, dancing and children’s activities. St Andrew’s day is an important moment for all our communities, large and small.

St Andrew has been known as the patron saint of Scotland since at least the ninth century and his crucifixion was the inspiration for our flag, which still flies high in Scotland today. The legend of the saltire dates as far back as 832 AD. As a revered saint in Scotland, St Andrew was the national symbol that Scotland needed to motivate the country as we became a nation many years ago and, in 2015, we celebrate the strength that St Andrew has inspired in us to this very day.

The saltire, which symbolises such inspiration, is rightly displayed in our towns and communities every year on 30 November. It is a show of great support for the nation. Even Google showed its support for St Andrew’s day yesterday by displaying the St Andrew’s flag on its home page.

St Andrew’s day has impacted greatly on Scotland, but it is also essential to note that celebrations are held all around the world as Scots abroad observe the national holiday. St Andrew’s day allows Scots to share our heritage and culture with people all over the world.

When St Andrew’s day is celebrated on a global scale, it should be recognised. As St Andrew’s day becomes a representation of Scotland on the world scene, everyone should have the opportunity to participate in celebrations across the country that allow us to continue to show the world what a truly great nation we are.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I congratulate Mike Russell on securing this debate celebrating our national identity.

The increase in the celebration of St Andrew’s day is undoubtedly due in part to the Parliament reconvening 16 years ago, and not least to Dennis Canavan’s act, which raised the profile of St Andrew’s day—although not to anywhere near the status of St Patrick’s day or Burns night. However, there have been improvements over the years.

St Andrew gave us the saltire in 832 AD at Athelstaneford. That was the birth of the flag, and Scotland came about. It was also used on the nation’s coinage when it was introduced by David I in the 13th century. It has an ancient and honourable lineage, as has the Scottish nation.

Flags are the most powerful statements of nationhood: they are the beating heart of a nation. As the unexpected skirl of unseen bagpipes in a foreign land draws our curiosity, so the flag, wherever it is flown says, “Here is part of Scotland. There are Scottish people here.”

Michael Russell has suggested that the saltire should be projected across public buildings, and he can start with Edinburgh castle. On St Andrew’s day in our capital city, there is no saltire in a prominent position on the castle. As always, it defers to the union flag. Why not fly the saltire? There is the false argument that it is not flown because the castle is an Army garrison, but it is not—it ceased to be a garrison in 1920 and the Army is now there largely in a ceremonial capacity. If one were looking for a conspiracy, one might say that the garrison argument provides a fig leaf—or a flag leaf—for the supremacy of the union flag. However, when the Army wants to recruit our young men and women to fight in wars, it uses the saltire to do so. When the body bags come home, it is to “The Piper’s Lament”, and the weighted coffins are draped in the saltire. Yes—the union has its uses for the saltire.

Neither the Ministry of Defence nor Historic Scotland owns the castle. Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Scotland owns it; our ministers own it. Historic Scotland is simply a custodian and the Army is a tenant. I suggest that it is time that we enforced the terms of that tenancy. For the life of me I do not understand why this majority SNP Government, whose ministers own the castle, does not insist that the saltire flies there in pole position not just on 30 November but every day—and that it flies alone.

I therefore congratulate Scottish Borders Council, which flies the saltire and nothing but the saltire 365 days a year. Is not it extraordinary that Scotland, which is one of the most ancient nations in Europe—we have been a nation since the 11th century—does not really celebrate its nationhood on St Andrew’s day? It is also extraordinary that although there are saltire societies in Boston and elsewhere in the world, our Saltire Society had to fight to fly Scotland’s flag.

Symbols of nationhood such as our patron saint and the flag that is symbolic of his crucifixion have carried the hearts and hopes of Scots through good and bad, from the confrontations on football pitches to those on battle fields. How dare Alex Salmond wave the saltire for Andy Murray’s victory? We should know our place! When Andy wins he is British, but when he loses he is Scottish. There is some truth in that.

Of course there is money to be made from tourism opportunities. To lead on from St Andrew’s day to a winter festival would be no bad thing and I would welcome it. However, far more important for me is the symbolic reminder that we are the Scottish people, whether or not we were born here—many of us, including Mike Russell and me, were not—and that is what we should be proud of.

Photo of Cameron Buchanan Cameron Buchanan Conservative

It is that time of year again—time to celebrate St Andrew’s day. I am pleased to have this opportunity to join in the many celebrations, even if I am the lone Tory here.

The story of St Andrew is well known to some, but my historical thunder has been stolen by Mike Russell, and I am just delighted that Stewart Stevenson is not here to add to that. However, it is worth raising awareness of the origins of our celebrations and the international influence of the saint himself.

That said, so much of St Andrew’s day is about getting into the spirit—in both senses of the word—so I am very happy to have the chance to plug some of the special events that are held in my area to mark the day.

It is said that St Andrew became identified with Scotland when King Óengus of the Picts, with the support of the Scots, won a battle over King Athelstan of Northumberland in 832 AD, which was fought in what is present-day East Lothian. Before the battle, King Óengus dreamed about St Andrew bearing his saltire cross and then, while fighting, he saw a cross of white clouds against a blue sky—hence the colours on the saltire. The Picts and the Scots went on to defeat the Northumbrians and the saltire became their flag and, of course, St Andrew became their saint.

Although we have our own story, as we have heard from others, the great man is also the patron saint in Greece, Russia, Romania and even as far afield as Barbados, which Mike Russell did not mention. I wonder whether there is scope for sharing celebration stories and ideas to add yet more vibrancy to our own festivities.

St Andrew is the patron saint of fishermen, which is particularly appropriate to us, given our long-established reputation as a seafaring nation, the eminence of our seafood and our status as one of the largest fishing nations in Europe. At the moment, it is difficult to mention fishing without making some comments about the European Union’s policies, but I will leave that to one aside for today and focus instead on the celebrations here at home that some locals have got stuck into.

As part of this year’s St Andrew’s day celebrations, Historic Environment Scotland gave away tickets to some of our best heritage attractions including, in the Lothian region, Edinburgh castle, Craigmillar castle and Linlithgow palace—to be used over the weekend of 28 and 29 November. I hope that families, enthusiasts and all interested members of the public took advantage of that. People could also enjoy a free offering of music, comedy, dance and literature at St Andrew Square, including Dean Owens and the Whisky Hearts. Most importantly, I am sure that a huge array of private parties and celebrations have been held that bring family and friends together in their own way.

Accordingly, I hope that we all continue to share in the festivities around St Andrew’s day. I share Mr Russell’s enthusiasm for making it a school holiday, too. As with many celebrations, it is important to remember the day’s origin, as well as to appreciate its wider connections. That said, the best thing that everyone can do is to enjoy the day in their own way: the more choices they have, the better.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I am delighted to respond to what has been an interesting and informative debate, and I thank Michael Russell for bringing it to the chamber. I also thank him for his history and geography lesson on St Andrew’s day. We will have to look at the Official Report to see whether he mentioned Barbados; I thought that he did.

I thank Anne McTaggart, too, for talking about the inspiration and legend of the saltire. As Christine Grahame mentioned, the symbol of that flag flying is of great importance to the Scottish nation. I thank Cameron Buchanan for adding a plug for Scotland’s seafood. Important talks are on-going and we are trying to ensure that we get the best deal for that industry, which is growing here in Scotland and worth more year on year. We all agree on its potential and hope that we can support it.

Eight years ago, the first Scottish National Party Government initiated the concept of Scotland’s winter festivals to boost the national and international celebration of St Andrew’s day, hogmanay and Burns night, and to showcase the many reasons why Scotland should be seen as a year-round visitor destination. Although those key cultural dates were always celebrated, the winter festival programme helps to harness their significant collective potential by showcasing, across the winter season, the exciting range of events and activities on offer that promote and celebrate our distinct traditions to the people of Scotland, to our visitors and to people from across the world who have an affinity for Scotland. Scotland’s winter festivals celebrate and showcase our unique culture and creativity at home and across the globe; boost tourism and the visitor economy; engage communities; and enhance national pride.

Since their introduction, the winter festivals have gone from strength to strength. This year, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs announced a record £390,000 to support 21 key cultural events as part of the 2015-16 programme. Cameron Buchanan referred to that. Some of the fund—£75,000—is being used to expand the reach of events across Scotland. I am delighted that 15 local authority areas are now involved, with new programme activity taking place this year in Aberdeen, Dundee, East Ayrshire and Falkirk.

The celebration on and around St Andrew’s day is a key element of the winter festivals, and those celebrations are growing year on year. This year, 10 events in Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, East Lothian, Dundee, Fife, Glasgow and Perth and Kinross have received £141,000 of funding support for their winter festivals. Through the St Andrew’s day out programme, partners throughout the country offered free and discounted entry to attractions. As Mr Buchanan mentioned, that included Edinburgh castle.

Although data for 2015 is still being collected, to give members a sense of the growing impact of the celebration of our national day I will share some information from 2014, when Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s day celebrations attracted more than 43,000 people. More than 12,000 people attended a new event to mark St Andrew’s day in St Andrews itself. That year, 127 organisations signed up to be St Andrew’s day out partners and offer free and discounted entry to their attractions. Historic Scotland received more than 37,000 applications for its annual ticket giveaway to mark St Andrew’s day—an increase from 26,000 in 2013. Scotland-themed St Andrew’s day materials were provided to 20 British embassies and to events held in Portugal, Estonia, Bangladesh, the USA and Canada. We can see how wide the reach is of our national day.

This day is also about Scotland. St Andrew’s day and the winter festivals have provided a fantastic vehicle to enhance community engagement and empowerment. To that end, we were delighted to provide BEMIS Scotland with a funding contribution of £46,000 this year to help further engage Scotland’s multicultural communities in the 2015 year of food and drink and the 2015-16 winter festivals. The programme has been a great success, delivering 65 events across the country and engaging thousands of people from multicultural communities, their friends and their neighbours. We will continue to work with BEMIS Scotland and other partners to explore how we can build on our achievements in 2015.

Michael Russell mentioned the St Andrew’s day campaign committee, chaired by Dennis Canavan, which has been formed to explore opportunities to further boost the celebration of St Andrew’s day. Over the past few months, the committee has worked with Scottish Government to help enhance the St Andrew’s day celebration. As Michael Russell said, it has been keen on St Andrew’s day being designated as a national holiday. Scottish Government officials have confirmed that the concept of a national holiday has no legal basis in the UK. The St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007 modified the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 to make St Andrew’s day a bank holiday in Scotland—any holidays that might be regarded as “national” or “public” holidays are, in fact, bank holidays.

That being the case, the focus of our on-going activities has been to work collectively to further embed the tradition of the St Andrew’s day celebration across the country and across the world, through events and promotional activities that build on our significant successes to date and engage people in the meaning of St Andrew’s day.

The St Andrew’s day campaign committee has come up with a number of ideas to help achieve that. For example, members might have been aware that attractions across Scotland were lit blue last night to mark St Andrew’s day. That idea was initiated by the committee and developed by the Scottish Government with support from organisations such as the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions. We hope that that initiative grows, bringing St Andrew’s day and Scotland’s unique buildings and landscapes to a worldwide audience.

Another suggestion of the committee was an interfaith service to mark St Andrew’s day. Again, we were delighted to support that with a £1,500 funding contribution to support an interfaith service that took place at Old Cathcart church in Glasgow on Sunday, led by Rev Neil Galbraith. An interfaith service for St Andrew’s day helpfully complements the activity that is being led by BEMIS Scotland, and we will explore opportunities with partners to grow that model in future years.

From today’s debate, it is clear that there is support to boost the celebration of St Andrew’s day. We support that whole-heartedly and are working to help to boost the celebration on a number of fronts, as well playing our particular role in terms of international engagement. However, the responsibility for engagement in St Andrew’s day does not rest with any one body, and the key to its success is partnership. I therefore encourage members to look to how their own constituencies and local partners can further add to the celebrations.

With the help of members of the Scottish Parliament, and in partnership with organisations and communities across the country, it is clear that we can grow the celebration of St Andrew’s day, enhancing the wider celebration of the winter festivals and boosting our economy, our international profile and the engagement, cohesion and empowerment of our communities.

Meeting closed at 17:28.