It is my great pleasure and privilege to lead this year’s St Andrew’s day debate in our national Parliament. I thank all the members from across the chamber who supported my motion, and I thank the minister, Ben Macpherson, for his engagement with members before the debate and for providing information on how the Scottish Government is supporting the celebration of St Andrew’s day across Scotland.
This is the 10th St Andrew’s day debate that we have had since the Parliament reconvened in 1999. The first time that we debated our national day was in March 2004, in a members’ business debate that the late Donald Gorrie secured. As we approach the 20th anniversary of devolution, it is perhaps revealing about the Parliament’s early years that it took until almost the second year of the second parliamentary session to recognise St Andrew’s day in a parliamentary debate. Donald Gorrie was, of course, an independent-minded MSP who, ahead of the 2007 elections, famously advised his Liberal Democrat colleagues to “never say never” to an independence referendum. I am sure that my colleagues are grateful that his colleagues did not take his advice.
It is an interesting coincidence of history that the first St Andrew’s day debate on or around the day itself was led by Dennis Canavan, some eight months after Mr Gorrie’s members’ business debate. It is fair to say that no Scottish politician of recent times has done as much as Dennis Canavan to promote participation in St Andrew’s day. His most enduring legacy in this area is, of course, the St Andrews Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007. However, he has also been a driving force on the St Andrew’s day campaign committee and is now the secretary of the cross-party group on St Andrew’s day, of which I am honoured to be the convener. That group rightly commands support from across the chamber, and I encourage members to engage with the group over the coming 12 months ahead of St Andrew’s day 2019.
I also wish to recognise the contribution of the Scottish Government and other colleagues who have secured St Andrew’s day debates over recent years. The record holder—if that is the appropriate term—is, of course, Linda Fabiani, who, as a Government minister, led debates in 2007 and in 2008. On the day on which the latter debate was held, almost exactly 10 years ago, there was also a debate on fishery negotiations with Europe—some things never change. More recently, debates have been secured and led by Kevin Stewart, Annabelle Ewing, Bruce Crawford and Michael Russell. Those debates have generally been consensual and have served to remind us that we have more in common than divides us.
The debates also serve as an opportunity to reaffirm our inclusive sense of Scottish identity. In a previous debate, you yourself, Presiding Officer, framed the issue succinctly by stating that St Andrew’s day serves as a
“symbolic reminder that we are the Scottish people, whether or not we were born here.”—[
, 21 December 2015; c 70.]
That spirit of inclusiveness is carried into this year’s celebrations.
The theme for St Andrew’s day 2018 is
—a message that is not only relevant but necessary. This year, our national day falls at the end of a month in which children were tear-gassed by the world’s only superpower and our fellow European Union citizens were described as queue jumpers. It falls in a year in which, in the man-made tragedy of Yemen, the largest documented outbreak of cholera in history continues. Further, it falls at a time of unprecedented wildfires, floods and extreme weather, which affirm that we are on the brink of climate catastrophe.
In an era of such darkening skies, a sense of fatalism and despair can become overpowering, which is eagerly exploited by those who wish to fan the flames of intolerance and hatred. Therefore, it is at such times that simple acts of kindness, decency and humanity become essential. Every interaction that we have with another human being is a small pebble dropped into the pool of our collective experience. We do not know how far the ripples will travel, but we each determine by our actions whether we send them with good will or malicious intent.
Communities, societies and nations are ultimately the sum of a complex web of relationships between individuals, and it is the strength of each of those innumerable connecting threads that determines the health of the whole. By taking time to think of others—to make someone’s day—we can each generate sparks of light that together will illuminate the darkened skies that we currently face. In that spirit, I very much look forward to attending Barrhead men’s shed’s fifth birthday party tomorrow, before joining Lochwinnoch elderly forum for its annual St Andrew’s day lunch. Those two groups work all year long to make someone’s day.
This weekend, we will again celebrate small business Saturday, and I know that I am not the only member who will be sampling the produce of many of our small and independent traders, which I will also do as I visit Christmas fairs across my constituency. This year’s small business Saturday is particularly special as, for the first time, we will also be celebrating St Andrew’s fair Saturday.
The fair Saturday movement originated in Bilbao, in the Basque Country in northern Spain. It started in 2015 as a positive cultural response to the excessive consumerism of black Friday. Since then, the movement has grown, year on year. Last year, events took place in 114 cities, with more than 140,000 artists and members of the public participating. Those events generated almost €200,000 for local social causes. I am sure that, this year, there will be further increases in participation, and I look forward to learning how communities throughout Scotland will embrace the fair Saturday movement.
I also look forward to seeing how the events will complement many other more established St Andrew’s day events, such as the work that is led by BEMIS Scotland to celebrate our diversity, the famous St Andrew’s conga, which was pioneered by Glasgow the Caring City, and the St Andrew’s day debating tournament grand final, which will take place in this chamber.
St Andrew’s day offers a chance for all Scots—new and old, near and far—to come together to celebrate our unique contribution to the world and to recommit ourselves to our values of fairness, equality and compassion. Some cynics might level a charge of Scottish exceptionalism; so, in concluding, let me respond with this: as individuals, as communities and as a nation, our actions follow from our values and only we can define our values. This St Andrew’s day, let us recommit to the values that we choose and, in doing so, make someone’s day.