St Andrew’s Day

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

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Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

There are many strong arguments for countries celebrating their national days: community cohesion, the celebration of diversity, the promotion of cultural heritage and the chance to turn a friendly face to the wider world.

I congratulate Tom Arthur on lodging his motion. I also thank the number of dedicated people—not least, Dennis Canavan—who have campaigned tirelessly for St Andrew’s day being celebrated more and more.

It is only fair to say that we have some way to go in Scotland to catch up with the way in which many other countries celebrate their national days. Ireland celebrates St Patrick’s day on a scale that rivals the celebrations of any other country’s national day, in terms of its sheer international reach. Each year, Norway celebrates constitution day on a huge scale, which involves probably every child in Norway taking part in enormous parades—not least in Oslo, where the streets outside the royal palace become a huge sea of Norwegian flags and national costumes.

Of course, the many countries around the world that have declared their independence from the United Kingdom all—very understandably—celebrate that fact in some style, taking their lead from the USA, which marks each 4th of July with fireworks, barbecues, parades and picnics. Interestingly, India celebrates both an independence day and a republic day with, among other things, public kite battles.

Although there have been many improvements, which I am sure other members will mention, why does comparatively little of that stuff happen in Scotland on our national day? The historical answer to that question is that, at the time of the reformation, all saints days, as well as Christmas and Easter, were disestablished by the state—in fact, by this Parliament. That led to Scots preferring to celebrate other festivals such as hogmanay. Christmas became a public holiday again in Scotland only in 1958. Since then, however, it has slightly overshadowed most of the winter, including St Andrew’s day.

All that said, interest in St Andrew’s day continues to grow. The lack of any obvious traditions around the day is perhaps an obstacle, but it is also an opportunity. It gives us the chance to do new things to celebrate the day. For instance, the Scottish Government has promoted a social media campaign entitled #onekindact, which has a presence on Instagram and Twitter. The campaign encourages people to post pictures of acts of kindness.

As we have heard, in a similar vein, the Government is partnering with the Fair Saturday Foundation, which is a non-profit-making organisation that focuses on supporting artists and cultural organisations to mark St Andrew’s weekend in ways that provide an interesting contrast with black Friday and the ethos that it has perhaps come to represent, as Tom Arthur said. Much now happens to mark St Andrew’s night in Scotland, as well as the St Andrew’s night dinners that take place in other parts of the world.

It must be said that there are still obstacles to overcome, not least the fact that we need to agree both a single day each year when there will be a public holiday for celebrations, and what form those will take. When I was the relevant minister, I remember running up against the “Yes Minister”-like reality that declaring a public holiday would probably require primary legislation, possibly from Westminster. Perhaps the current minister can offer his take on that and say whether I am wrong. Meanwhile, there must be things that we can do to ensure that we celebrate St Andrew’s day more.

I conclude as I began by saying that many arguments can be made for national days. Ultimately, a national festival should be about having fun and celebrating Scotland. For everyone who wants to do that, St Andrew’s day is a very good idea.

Là Naomh Anndrais sona dhuibh, nuair a thig e.