St Andrew’s Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 28th November 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I thank all members who signed my motion to enable the debate to take place, and I thank everyone who will contribute to it.

I have brought the debate to the chamber in recognition of St Andrew’s day on 30 November, which is Saturday. As the convener of the cross-party group on St Andrew’s day, I think that it is very important that we take time as politicians to reflect on what St Andrew’s day means and, more widely, what “being Scottish” means to us in all senses of the term.

It is my normal practice in debates to speak from a few notes or bullet points and, if I speak later in a debate, I often reflect on comments that other members have made. However, I will take a slightly different approach in this speech. I have the privilege of having a young man named Kyle from the United States interning for me as part of a university programme—I know that many other members have interns, too. I was keen to get his reflections—as someone visiting Scotland from the United States—on St Andrew’s day, so much of what I will say has been prepared in conjunction with him and informed by his reflections and understanding of St Andrew’s day.

As many people know, St Andrew’s day is a day to celebrate the patron saint of Scotland, from whom the holiday derives its name. According to Catholic teachings, or Christian teachings more generally, St Andrew was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee and served as one of Jesus’s 12 disciples along with his brother Simon Peter. Little is known about the life of St Andrew, but it is believed that he died while bound to an X-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. That was the inspiration behind our beloved flag.

It is unclear how St Andrew became our patron saint, as he never stepped foot in Scotland. There are, of course, many different stories and traditions. Some sources say that, in the ninth century, King Angus had a dream about the aforementioned X-shaped cross before a battle with England. He vowed that, if he won against the English in that battle, he would anoint St Andrew as Scotland’s patron saint. As fortune had it, King Angus won, and the rest is history.

Beyond the distinctly scriptural definition of the holiday, St Andrew’s day is a celebration of what it means to be Scottish. It has been suggested to me that, to many around the world, Scotland is symbolised by magnificent bens covered in powdery snow, Highland cows with majestic manes, expansive lochs that may or may not contain certain mythical creatures, whisky that warms the soul, and, as Kyle put it, kilted men on street corners playing bagpipes with varying levels of success. In recent years, Scotland has also been associated with a certain wizard who has a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead and learns his craft at a school set in the Scottish Highlands.

Kyle’s reflections on Scottishness are interesting. He feels that to be truly Scottish, one must embrace the country’s unique spirit. He tells me that he thinks that anyone who visits Scotland will quickly be struck by the compassion of the Scottish people and the kindness that is just built into Scottish society, in that we help others when they are in need even if we ourselves are down on our luck.

To be Scottish also means to be inclusive of others. Kyle says that if the make-up of this Parliament is not sufficient proof of that—with five party leaders who represent the different viewpoints of the Scottish people—he does not know what is. Further, he notes that it was not long ago that nearly all the parties in the chamber were led by women and that half of the party leaders were members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community—a situation that is unheard of anywhere else and of which we can be very proud.

It is in that spirit that St Andrew’s day fittingly coincides with fair Saturday. For those who are not aware of it, St Andrew’s fair Saturday is, to some extent, the polar opposite of black Friday, which takes place tomorrow. Each year, black Friday marks the peak of consumerism as people around the world capitalise on sharp discounts to mark the start of the Christmas season. To counteract that rush of consumerism, fair Saturday is a worldwide movement that encourages people to give to charity by participating in a variety of community and cultural activities. I am delighted to see that, this year, 32 communities around Scotland and across all our local authority areas are participating in fair Saturday. The many events planned include plays, arts and crafts, film screenings, live music and, of course, local St Andrew’s day festivals.

In support of fair Saturday, I would like to highlight some events that will be happening in my Renfrewshire South constituency. The first is an awfy Scottish winter wonderland, which is an annual event that takes place in Barrhead. It features live Christmas music, pony rides, a Santa express train, a fireworks display and opportunities to take photos with Santa himself. Entrance to the event is free of charge, but a small donation is requested in return for having such photos taken. All the proceeds will go towards making Christmas dinner packs for less fortunate families in East Renfrewshire. Secondly, I would like to mention Johnstone’s Christmas lights switch-on. During the event, a host of local bands will play on a centre stage. At 5 pm the music will stop for the lighting of the Christmas tree, which will be followed by more Christmas-related events. All the proceeds will go to St Vincent’s Hospice and to Active Communities, which is an organisation that promotes physical activity and wellbeing across Renfrewshire. Those are all excellent examples of people coming together in celebration of St Andrew’s day and fair Saturday and to benefit local communities.

The last point that I wish to make is about the genuinely international spirit of St Andrew’s day, which, of course, is not limited to Scotland. As Kyle notes, organisations around the world are preserving and celebrating their Scottish heritage. One such place that displays exceptional Scottish spirit is in the United States, in Kyle’s home state of Maine. I have been trained in how to pronounce the name of his home town correctly, but I will probably still get it wrong. It is Bangor, which is pronounced “Bang-ore” and not “Banger”. The town is home to the Anah Highlanders—a pipe band that plays to raise money for the Anah Shriners hospitals for children, which treat children who need specialised care, such as those with cleft palates, cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Maine also has its own St Andrew’s Society, which hosts events such as an annual Highland games and a Robert Burns dinner to raise money for a fund that awards scholarships to students who are studying subjects related to Scottish culture and heritage.

I thank Kyle for his help in preparing my remarks. It is illustrative of the international aspect of St Andrew’s day that two individuals from such different parts of the world can meet and, after just a few hours of discussion, discover all those connections through St Andrew’s day. That symbolises the way in which the day binds not just the Scottish diaspora but people from across the world through their shared values.

I very much look forward to hearing other members’ contributions to the debate. I also encourage all members to engage with their local communities over the weekend and to celebrate fair Saturday and St Andrew’s day.