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Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th January 2020.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20270, in the name of Richard Lyle, on the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament joins the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in celebrating its 130th anniversary; understands that the Guild was founded as the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association in 1889 Salford; believes that its formation was a key moment in the recognition of showmen having a lifestyle that is a culture rather than an occupation, leading to the idea of travelling showmen being recognised as a cultural group; understands that the principal objective of the Guild has remained the same since its inception, which is to protect the interests of its members, travelling showmen who gain their livelihoods by attending funfairs; notes that it does so both through its code of rules for members and by using the legal and constitutional processes that exist; congratulates Philip Paris, who has become the first Scot to be named as the President of the Guild since Jack Cullis in the 1950s, and thanks showmen across Scotland, including in the Uddingston and Bellshill constituency, and the rest of the UK, on their contribution to, and the significant and important part that they play, in public life.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

First, I thank the many members who signed the motion. Once again, a motion about showmen has gained support from members within a day. As an organisation, the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is more than 130 years old, and the guild has a proud history. I welcome to the Scottish Parliament the following chairs and vice-chairs from all the sections in Great Britain. In the gallery today are:

President Philip Paris and the president’s wife, Haley Paris; the senior vice-president, John Thurston; the junior vice-president, Keith Carroll; the sergeant at arms, Gordon Cook; past president John Culine; John Flack from the London section; William Percival from the Notts and Derby section; Tommy Charles from the western section; Arthur Newsome from the northern section; Albert Hill from the Lancashire section; Alex James Colquhoun of the Scottish section; and Gary Leach of the Yorkshire section.

The guild was founded in Salford in 1889 as the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association.

That was a key moment in the recognition of showmen having a lifestyle that is a culture rather than an occupation. Its formation was a key moment in the recognition of showmen as a cultural group, protecting the interests of its members, the travelling showmen who gained their livelihoods by attending funfairs.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am the convener of the cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild.

To explain how I gained such a cherished position I have to take us back to when this Parliament was first founded and to when I was first elected in 2011. In the early days of the Parliament, the Scottish section of the guild had many meetings with Scottish Government ministers and officials on many issues that showpeople faced. Most of those meetings were on public entertainment licence conditions, which were introduced in the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. That act was not widely used at first in Scotland but, as time went on, it became a bone of contention, which many showmen faced when they tried to apply for licences for funfairs in towns and villages.

In discussions with previous ministers it was felt that a cross-party group for showmen should be set up. Over the first years of the Parliament, Philip Paris, who was the vice-chair of the Scottish section at that time, from 1994 till 2001, and then the chairman of the section from 2001 to 2011, along with others, tried without success to establish a cross-party group in the Parliament. That was a fact that had to be addressed.

In 2011, that desire became a reality due to the work and the determination of Philip Paris who, along with others, approached my friend and colleague Christina McKelvie MSP to take forward the setting up of a cross-party group for showmen. Christina, in her usual way, knew what had to be done to make that happen and approached me as a new member to take that forward as I had previous council experience and had a major theme park in my constituency. I pay tribute to her drive and commitment to see the cross-party group set up.

I well remember the day that Christina introduced me to Philip Paris and his committee, and I was struck by his passion and commitment to the ideals of showmen. The information that he gave me helped in our desire to resolve showmen’s issues.

It has been a pleasure to have worked with Philip Paris and the other Scottish Showmen’s Guild chairmen over the years: George Henry Codona, who is in the public gallery; Alex James Colquhoun; and Billy Hammond. We made a commitment to establish a cross-party group and I now pay tribute to the help that the group has been given by the following people as both deputy conveners and members over the last nine years: Jackson Carlaw, Mary Fee, Andy Wightman, David Torrance, John Mason, Annabelle Ewing, Clare Adamson, Clare Haughey, Christina McKelvie, Maureen Watt, Maurice Corry, Anne McTaggart, Chic Brodie, Claire Baker, Jamie McGrigor, Siobhan McMahon and, of course, Annie Wells.

The help and support that each and every past and present MSP has given the cross-party group is appreciated by showmen and myself.

Over the past nine years, the CPG has discussed many issues with Government officials, ministers and other agencies. Over the past years we have held other various meetings with cabinet secretaries and ministers and I wish to thank in particular Michael Matheson, Annabelle Ewing and Ash Denham for their advice, support and help in getting the showmen’s case taken forward in the Parliament.

I thank the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham, for taking my breath away when she told me that the Government would be neutral on my proposing my members’ bill to right the wrong with regard to funfair licensing. We have seen several successes, which include showmen being, for the first time, able to record their ethnic background as showmen and show-women in the proposed 2021 census. I wish to record my personal thanks to the census team at National Records of Scotland for all their help in ensuring that showpeople are finally recognised. That will open up other records to showpeople.

That process was in fact started when the then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, and later Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, first met the education liaison officer for the Showmen’s Guild, Christine Stirling and the Deputy First Minister gave her his support in processing help for showmen’s children’s needs to be recognised in local schools.

In the recently passed Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, the Government acceded to showmen’s requests to be exempt from low-emission zones. I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, for listening to my submission on behalf of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild and I thank Alex James Colquhoun and Philip Paris for raising the issue in our CPG.

My member’s bill is presently being drafted to resolve the 38-year wrong regarding civic government licensing. In fact, my proposed bill has had the second highest level of support of MSPs in the Parliament’s history; hopefully it will pass all stages when it is finally debated in Parliament in the coming months—I am sure that it will. The help that this Government has given me and showmen in the past nine years has been tremendous and I thank each and every member of this Government for that.

Tonight, I want to place on record the achievements of Philip Paris, the president of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain. As I have said, Philip has been a member of the Showmen’s Guild since he was 18 and was first elected to the committee in 1984. He was vice-chairman from 1994 until 2001 and the Scottish chairman from 2001 until 2011.

Philip can trace his family links back to Napoli in Italy. His ancestors were ice-cream merchants who worked as porters on the North Eastern Railway. Some were lion tamers and horse dealers, and his family members fought with distinction in the first world war.

He was elected as junior vice-president of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain in 2013, then elected as senior vice-president and chair of safety for the guild in 2016. In 2019, Philip was elected as the national president of the guild. Philip is one of only three presidents from Scotland in the guild’s 130-year history, the others being the late T E Brownie, who was president from 1938 to 1941, and the late Jack Cullis, who was president from 1956 to 1958.

Philip continues to operate a ride in various fairgrounds in Scotland. Only last week, I met him and his wife at the Irn-Bru funfair in the Scottish Event Campus, where he was operating his teacup ride. The funfair celebrated its 100th anniversary in Glasgow this year, and I thank the staff of the SEC for inviting my wife—who is also in the gallery—to the opening of the funfair prior to Christmas.

Over the years, I have gotten to know that Philip Paris has all the qualities of an excellent showman. He cares about his heritage and what needs to be done to enrich showpeople’s quality of life, and he is not short in telling us what needs to be done. When Philip talks, we listen. I personally pay tribute to his commitment to showpeople throughout Great Britain and to the fact that he is the third Scot in the history of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain to be its president.

Later on tonight, the guild is holding a reception in the garden lobby, which I am very pleased to have sponsored. I take the opportunity again to invite each and every member here to attend and pay tribute to the work done in every part of Great Britain by showmen—and, of course, show-women—and to pay tribute to and celebrate the guild’s new president, Philip Paris. [

Interruption

.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before we move on, I request that our guests in the gallery do not show any appreciation—or otherwise—of future speeches. We now move to the open debate.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in this members’ business debate on the Showmen’s Guild, and I commend Richard Lyle for securing it. He has been a true champion of the guild, which is well known throughout Parliament and beyond. I, too, welcome to the gallery so many distinguished members of the Showmen’s Guild. They are all very welcome indeed.

I also congratulate Philip Paris on becoming only the third Scot to be named as president of the Showmen’s Guild, which is a great accolade for him. In respect of the Scottish section—it is the largest section by area—Philip has been very involved in ensuring that the Showmen’s Guild has been put on the map in Scotland throughout civic society and all matters politic. That has reaped a number of benefits that are down to the efforts of people such as Philip and his colleagues in the Scottish section.

One of the achievements has been the re-establishment of the annual Showmen’s Guild luncheon, which is held in Glasgow, usually in November. I have had the honour of attending that event on a number of occasions. I am not touting for an invitation to this year’s event, but I will look out for it, for it is a great opportunity to meet and hear from travelling show families from across Scotland and beyond, and to learn more about their important traditions and culture. I remember a conversation that I had at one of the luncheons with a travelling showman’s family. I will always remember their talking about how, when the spring came, they would be ready to go on the road again after their more sedentary lives through the winter months. That has always struck me as being an interesting way to live one’s life.

In this, the year of the 130th anniversary of the guild, it is fitting that we debate its important role. It is, in effect, the trade body for travelling showmen, the key function of which is the protection and promotion of the interests of its members. A priority is to safeguard the annual calendar of fairs, participation in which enables them to earn a living. That is an important element of the entrepreneurial approach of the travelling showmen families.

I understand that there are about 400 member businesses in the Scottish section of the guild, which equates to the involvement of around 2,000 individual showpeople. As we know, the jurisdiction of the Scottish section of the guild stretches from John O’Groats to south of the border.

A key focus is on the safety of equipment. The guild ensures that all equipment is inspected annually, with a view to issuing of safety certificates by independent inspection bodies that are approved by the Showmen’s Guild and the Health and Safety Executive.

Richard Lyle rightly referred to the member’s bill on licensing of funfairs that he has been determined to see being introduced in Parliament. I had some involvement in that on the dark side—the ministerial side. However, I was happy to add my signature, as MSP for the Cowdenbeath constituency, in support of Mr Lyle’s bill, which would seek to introduce a new licensing system for travelling funfairs in Scotland so that greater proportionality and consistency would be secured in the applicable licensing scheme. It is fair to acknowledge that there is, at the present time, a lot of red tape, and that the charges vary widely across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

To be fair, I say that although the Scottish Government has sought to make incremental improvements, including by way of guidance that was issued in 2017, there remains frustration on the part of many travelling show families that some local authorities do not pay much heed to the guidance.

In conclusion, I congratulate the Showmen’s Guild on its 130th anniversary. Travelling showmen and their families are an important part of Scotland’s history and culture. They enhance our lives in Scotland, and their contribution is welcomed.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

I, too, congratulate Richard Lyle on having secured this members’ debate and, on behalf of my party, I congratulate the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain on its 130th anniversary and welcome its members to the gallery. The anniversary is a tremendous achievement and is testament to the fact that funfairs continue to appeal, despite the backdrop of theme parks, Xboxes and smart televisions.

My parents first took me to the funfair at the Meadows, here in Edinburgh, as a child, and I quickly became hooked. I discovered that the shows were a wonderful assault on the senses. I loved the sights, the thrill of the rides, the smell of frying onions and the candy floss. I easily blew my pocket money on the dodgems, waltzers, jets, ghost trains, hooplas and arcades. I still have that sense of excitement when I see that the shows have arrived, and I am pleased to report that my daughters have inherited my enthusiasm for the funfair, which ensures that family visits to the shows continue.

The motion refers to

“showmen having a lifestyle that is a culture rather than an occupation”.

That became clear in my research on the history of the Showmen’s Guild for the debate. I discovered that being a showman is very much a family affair. Other members have already mentioned Philip Paris, who is a Scottish showman and president of the guild. I gave up counting the generations of his family that have been in the business. It is not unusual for five, six or even seven generations of a family to be travelling showmen. It truly is a family business, and the expectation is that the whole family—from the small children to the women, men, brothers, sisters and uncles—will contribute to the life of the fair. It is acknowledged that combining domestic life with the accountancy, admin and safety work that is required is a tough life.

Showmen are not considered to be an ethnic group. Most frequently, they identify as travelling businessmen and women who feel that they are part of a society. A number of families now live on permanent showmen’s yards but, for some, up to eight months of the year can be spent on the road, living out of a touring caravan and setting up shop at fairs at which their families have traditionally held pitches.

The lives of showmen have changed over the years, and are less fragmented than they once were. However, it is inevitable that, for family life to continue while they are on the road, the classroom experience of the children of some travelling showmen is intermittent. In recognition of that, each section of the guild has an education liaison officer, who liaises with the local education authority, the National Association of Teachers of Travellers and their partners. Education is valued, because much of the showman’s business cannot be conducted without it, but Travellers’ educational outcomes are still among the worst in Scottish education. That is a challenge for everyone in and outwith Parliament.

An action plan that was published in 2019 by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities aims to improve the lives of Travellers. It includes plans to develop partnerships with young people and their families to improve the understanding of the barriers to taking part in learning, and to develop strategies that will help to address those barriers and improve outcomes.

The guild is primarily a business-focused association that is run by showmen on behalf of showmen, and it is right that the safety of members’ rides is a top priority for it. Following a number of high-profile accidents in theme parks across the United Kingdom, when fun days out turned to tragedy, it is imperative that members of the public are confident that they are attending safe funfairs. I welcome and applaud the guild’s attention to safety, which ensures that annual inspections of members’ equipment are carried out by independent engineers and stop orders are immediately applied to rides that fail a safety test.

It is clear that showmen are determined to hold on tightly to the life that they have been taught to live by generations of family before them. I commend the work of the guild and its members, and I hope that it will continue to work with key stakeholders, including local authorities, education authorities, the police and local communities, to ensure the long-term future of that way of life.

I congratulate the guild on its anniversary and commend it to members.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I congratulate Richard Lyle on securing this debate on the 130th anniversary of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I welcome the president of the guild, Philip Paris, members of the guild and distinguished guests to the public gallery.

There were several attempts to establish an organisation to represent the interests of showmen, such as in Yorkshire in 1870, but they were short lived and the organisations disappeared within a few years of being founded. It was not until 1889 that the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain was founded as the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association.

The formation of the guild was a turning point in the history of showmen. It identified their lifestyle as a culture rather than an occupation, and it led to and promoted the idea of travelling showmen and their families being a cultural group.

The people whom the guild represents earn their livelihoods by running entertainment at funfairs and they come from a wide variety of historical backgrounds. Some members can trace their roots back to strolling players and entertainers, but most are descendants of people who were attracted into fairgrounds during the period of great expansion that followed the introduction of steam-powered rides in the 19th century and the introduction of bank holidays under the Bank Holidays Act 1871. They have their own traditions and customs and, in some cases, their own language. They identify separately from any other travelling groups, and their roots, cultures, traditions and identities are separate and distinct.

The first meeting of the showmen took place in the Black Lion hotel in Salford to discuss how they might oppose a bill that threatened their lifestyle and culture. They enlisted the support of members of both houses of Parliament and of civil liberty groups to fight the bill. The campaign lasted five years but resulted in victory when George Smith’s bill was rejected by Parliament in 1893.

In 1911 the association decided to drop its lengthy title in favour of the Showmen’s Guild and its president, Pat Collins, transformed the guild into a strong, influential national body. In 1917 the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain was recognised as the trade association for travelling funfairs and acquired the right to represent those businesses at local and national levels.

The present day Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is divided into 10 sections, has a code of rules and has around 4,700 members. It still exists to promote and protect the showmen’s way of life and to preserve the unique cultural heritage of travelling fairs and circuses.

We must look at the Scottish section of the guild and how it has engaged with this Parliament through the Scottish showmen’s guild cross-party working group. As a member of the group for the past eight years, I have seen the dedication and commitment of its members in raising issues that confront showmen across Scotland each day and how they work tirelessly to bring about changes to resolve national and local issues.

I would also like to thank Richard Lyle, the chair of the cross-party group, for all his hard work and commitment over the years. His persistence will result in a member’s bill being brought to Parliament to tackle the problem of requiring a public entertainment licence to operate fairground equipment, and of the wide-ranging charges for that licence across 32 local authorities.

On such a historic occasion as an anniversary celebrating an impressive 130 years, it seems proper to note the relationship that Kirkcaldy in particular has with the showmen. Kirkcaldy’s links market is an important event in the showmen’s diary, taking place on the town’s esplanade from the third Wednesday of April every year. It has a history stretching back to 1305 and has entertained the residents of the Lang Toun and surrounding areas for centuries. The links market can boast of being the longest street fair in Europe, and the length of time for which our community in Kirkcaldy has benefited from the showmen’s involvement demonstrates that they are an integral part of the town and should be celebrated accordingly.

Although this is the 130th anniversary of the showmen’s guild, showmen have been entertaining at the links market for over 700 years. That centuries-old tie to our community has become an important part of the town’s heritage and gives me great confidence that the work of the showmen’s guild will continue to bring the links market to Kirkcaldy for years to come. It also undoubtedly continues to raise the national profile of the Lang Toun every year.

The Burntisland fair also takes place within my constituency and is another of the most important events in the showmen’s calendar. Burntisland links becomes home to the showmen for 13 weeks in summer, and that dates back to the 1500s.

Beryl Gamble from Glasgow illustrates how showmen and women have become an important part of local communities. Beryl has been visiting Burntisland since she was two years old, and can recall when her grandfather drove a steam engine along the town’s Cromwell Road, lost control, and knocked over the town’s iconic fountain. She says: “Burntisland has always been part and parcel of my life. I went to school here. I still see pensioners up and down the town whom I went to school with. My son runs Novelli’s ice cream shop. It’s just home to me.”

I congratulate Philip Paris on becoming the first Scot in over 60 years to serve as president of the guild, and I thank the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and all its sections for their hard work in protecting and promoting the interests of its members. I thank them also for the excitement, fun and enjoyment that the links market brought me as a child and teenager, which has carried on into my adult years and has filled my life with some wonderful memories.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I thank Richard Lyle for securing this debate on the 130th anniversary of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I also congratulate Philip Paris on becoming the first Scottish president of the guild since the 1950s. I offer a very warm welcome to the showmen in the gallery. I hope that they enjoy the celebration of their history and culture in Parliament.

It is an honour to take part as deputy convener of the cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild; I appreciate the opportunity to praise the contribution of the showmen in Scottish society.

Today we celebrate 130 years of the showmen’s guild, a group that seeks to defend and promote the interests of its members. The guild has a rich tradition that many people are completely unaware of. The second world war saw it working with the Government to ensure that morale was kept high among those at home, whose loved ones had been sent away to fight. The showmen dedicated their lives to giving people joy and putting smiles on their faces. In 1940, T E Browne, the then Scottish chairman of the guild, introduced the Spitfire fund—a charitable programme that saw the showmen raise £5,000 in four months to purchase a Spitfire for the nation. The showmen still carry out such fundraising, and it is fantastic that their commitment to charitable causes continues to this day.

Showmen should also be celebrated for their contribution to the Scottish economy and our culture. The guild’s Scottish section is the largest in the UK, and the entertainment that its members bring to our streets and fairs provides fantastic memories for each and every one of us. For so many communities, shows are the highlight of the summer and are often annual events that people look forward to. As we have just heard from David Torrance—who takes every opportunity proudly to tell his colleagues about it—in Scotland the season opens with the Kirkcaldy links market, which is the longest street fair in Europe, extending for one mile down the esplanade.

Shows bring joy to many children and families during the summer months here in Scotland, and I am sure that we all have fond memories of visiting them as children. I can remember the thrill of walking into the showground, knowing that what lay ahead would be full of joy, laughter and most likely the type of sweets that could be got only at the fair. As a child, I enjoyed many a summer in St Andrews. The highlight of my holiday was always the Lammas market, with the carousel—or galloper—being my personal favourite. Not many people in the chamber will be able to see the little badge that I am wearing, which shows the carousel and which was very kindly given to me by a showman who is sitting in the public gallery. I assure him that I take every opportunity to wear my galloper badge proudly.

It is important to point out that we need to give the showmen more support. So many fairs can no longer take place due to the exorbitant and hugely varying charges that some local authorities impose. They are often inconsistent, extortionate and, quite frankly, unfair. Indeed, my local authority in Renfrewshire charges one of the highest rates in Scotland. We need to ensure that fairs can still take place in every area and for every community. That is why I was happy to support Richard Lyle and the guild in introducing a member’s bill to introduce parity and equality in charging—and, as Mr Lyle has said, to right a wrong.

We also need to tackle the discrimination and prejudice to which showpeople are subject. As elected representatives we have a responsibility to call out racism and discrimination and to help to break down the barriers that the showpeople’s community faces.

I again congratulate the Showmen’s Guild on its 130th anniversary. I hope that we can continue to enjoy fairs in Scotland for many years to come.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Richard Lyle for bringing the debate to the chamber, for all his work in convening the cross-party group on showmen, of which I am a member, and for raising the issues that showpeople in Scotland face as they try to go about their daily business. I hope that he achieves progress on his member’s bill, because it is only fair that showpeople be able to operate on a level playing field throughout the whole of Scotland.

We spent this afternoon debating the positive contribution of Gypsy Travellers to Scottish society, while recognising the very great barriers and discrimination that they face, and the action that we must take to ensure that their lives are made better. I agree with Mary Fee that showpeople also face much discrimination, rather than recognition of the positive contribution that they make.

I said in the earlier debate that, as a farmer’s daughter, I welcomed the visit of Gypsy Travellers to our house. As a farmer’s daughter, I also recognise the huge contribution of showpeople to rural life. Anyone who has a relative who is involved in agricultural shows, Highland games, fairs or festivals will know that the event would not be complete without the funfairs—or showies, as we call them in the north-east. I am sure that many townsfolk would not go to an agricultural show if their children did not badger them about going to the showies.

I therefore welcome to the gallery all the men and women who are involved in the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, who are resplendent in their chains of office. This is an opportunity for me and many other members to thank them for their contribution. I congratulate Philip Paris on becoming only the third Scot in the guild’s long history to become president.

God forbid that I ever begin to sound like Stewart Stevenson in talking about the wide range of accomplishments of my forebears—[

Laughter

.]—however, during the guild’s last visit to Parliament, it transpired in conversation that some older guild members knew of my granny’s cousin, Phyllis Allan, who worked in circuses in the UK and abroad, first with her palomino horses and then with her famous poodles. I remember meeting her—just once, I think—and she was very glamorous. That was a very long time ago, and it just shows the pull of funfairs.

I want to recognise the huge amount of work that goes on in providing the entertainment that showpeople contribute. Moving large pieces of equipment around the country, constructing them safely and securely and keeping them running is a massive and impressive operation. Guild members must all be skilled mechanical engineers, motor mechanics, electricians and all manner of other trades.

Increasingly, showpeople are involved in Christmas markets. The First Minister much enjoyed her visit to the Aberdeen Christmas market, when she went on one of the gentler rides, as well as the skating rink.

Showpeople work long and unsocial hours in all weathers to provide us with entertainment, and we thank them for that.

I cannot finish without mentioning the permanent feature on Aberdeen beach. Codona’s amusement park has for generations provided entertainment for Aberdonians and visitors alike. I salute the Codona family.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

I welcome the debate and thank Richard Lyle for bringing it to Parliament.

The last debate that we had on the topic was in 2014, on the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain’s 125th anniversary.

I welcome members of the guild from across the UK to Parliament.

As members are aware, I have a long-standing interest in matters of land and place. It was when I was researching Scotland’s common lands, parish commonties and the common-good lands of the royal burghs that I first became fully aware of the long and fascinating history of showpeople in Scotland.

One of my first encounters with travelling people was my meeting with Jimmy Stringfellow. I was researching the exact location of the famous Falkirk tryst, the ancient cattle market—which, of course, has never been in Falkirk; it took place in Stenhousemuir, but that is another story. Associated with the drovers’ market was a fair. While a fair was being dismantled, I visited and met Jimmy Stringfellow in his caravan, and we talked about the lives of the showpeople. He impressed on me—as he did later, when I visited him in Govan—the close association of Scotland’s showpeople with Scotland’s history and the provision of entertainment and amusement for ordinary folk, wherever they live. Showpeople have always travelled and made their way across Scotland and beyond to make a living by bringing fun, excitement and joy to families, wherever they go.

David Torrance talked about the Links market in Kirkcaldy, which is the world’s oldest and longest-running street fair—it has been going since the early 14th century. It is no coincidence that that fair is run by the guild. It is the start of the fair season, as we have heard, and it takes place on ancient common land.

It is also no coincidence that the charters of Scotland’s royal burghs usually make direct legal reference to the right to hold fairs. Those remain live legal documents today. One of my on-going interests is work with the Showmen’s Guild to see whether legal arguments might be developed on the back of those charters to provide greater security and to uphold the rights of showpeople to hold fairs in places including Ayr. Unfortunately, due to the regulatory environment and the increasing commercialisation that we see—for example, here in Edinburgh, where public spaces and public events are increasingly run by large corporate event organisers—the opportunity for showpeople to continue their trade has become a little bit precarious.

I also welcome Richard Lyle’s member’s bill, which I was pleased to support. I hope that he makes progress with it. I was reminded of these matters as I was reading the wonderful little book “Showfolk: An Oral History of a Fairground Dynasty”, by Frank Bruce. In it, Gordon Codona is talking in an interview about the 1930s—he thought that it might be about 1934. He talked about how his father

“spent a lot of time running about all over the country seeing—but it was quite a job; he had to go and visit people that owned a piece of land, see the man that owned it, or if it was the local authority he had to go and see them. And there were various other parts—once you’d done that you had to find out if there was any other requirements needed. Licences, for example at that time was important in Glasgow; you couldn’t open—or in Scotland—you couldn’t open a fair without a licence. In England you could go and get a bit of land and put your—see the landlord, whoever—and start to operate. You couldn’t do that in Scotland. You had to get a bit of land and apply to the Sheriff’s Court to get the licence, which—that meant seeing people and stating your case and so on. That was my father’s main job at that particular time.”

So, has much changed? I read the

Official Report of the members’ debate that took place in 2014. We heard then, for example, from Siobhan McMahon, who quoted a newspaper article that quoted a chairman of the guild, who said:

“there is more red tape and it is more expensive to run shows in Scotland than any other country in Europe. It’s become more and more difficult to get a licence every year.” —[

Official Report

, 19 June 2014, c. 32502]

I also learned of Christina McKelvie’s excitement at the waltzers. It was a great wee debate. Derek Mackay, who was the Minister for Local Government and Planning at the time, said that he was going to establish a working group to look at how the regulations might be modernised. I hope that today‘s debate is part of a process in which, over the next year and a bit, we finally put to rest the problems that have arisen around regulations.

I thank again Richard Lyle, and I congratulate the Showmen’s Guild on its 130th anniversary.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

In closing the debate, I thank first my parliamentary colleague Richard Lyle for successfully securing the motion and for the detailed and informative speech that he gave. As members will no doubt know, Richard has a long-standing interest in funfairs. He is also the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild. I also thank all the members across the chamber who have contributed to tonight’s interesting and informative debate.

The motion celebrates the 130th anniversary of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I offer my congratulations to the Showmen’s Guild on reaching that milestone. I know that some members of the guild are present in the public gallery. I very much look forward to meeting them at the reception that is due to take place shortly after the debate, in the Parliament’s garden lobby.

I am sure that we can all remember the excitement when we were children and the fair—or perhaps we called it “the shows” or “the carnival”—arrived in our town or village. Local fairs across Scotland can bring communities together and present a day of exhilarating family fun. Fairground rides, shows that are delivered by entertainers, the food and the music provide an array of activity, culture and talent that add up to a very special atmosphere at the funfair, even on the all too common days when the Scottish weather might not be quite, shall we say, at its best.

The role of the Showmen’s Guild is key in all that. The principal objective of the Showmen’s Guild, which has remained the same since the guild’s inception as the Van Dwellers Association in 1889, is

“to protect the interests of its members – travelling showmen who gain their livelihoods by attending funfairs.”

It is the oldest and largest organisation that represents the industry and its community. It is divided into 10 sections across the UK and has over 4,000 members. However, I understand that the total number of people involved in the business is much higher than that. The Scottish section of the Showmen’s Guild represents nearly 400 members, each being a small business in their own right. I understand that the Scottish section of the guild is also the largest by area, with its head office in Glasgow.

Funfairs operate all year round in Scotland and most of those fairs are operated by members of the Showmen’s Guild. Perhaps the most well-known is the annual Kirkcaldy links market that David Torrance mentioned, the history of which dates back over 700 years to the year 1304. It is Europe’s longest street fair and the oldest in Scotland. The six-day event is held every April along the Kirkcaldy seafront and with its mix of rides, amusements and attractions it draws tens of thousands of visitors to the town.

The Showmen’s Guild and its membership have made a significant contribution to our society over many years. I am aware that during the members’ business debate in 2014 on the Showmen’s Guild’s 125th anniversary, Richard Lyle highlighted that more than 3,000 showmen volunteered to fight on behalf of Great Britain during the first and second world wars. Further, Mary Fee mentioned in her speech that during the second world war, the Showmen’s Guild managed to raise £5,000 to pay for a Spitfire for the Royal Air Force. The Spitfire was named “Fun of the Fair” in honour of the guild. Mary Fee also mentioned that the showmen who did not join the forces contributed to the war effort by taking fairs up and down the country as part of the stay at home holidays campaign to raise the morale of local communities.

I place on record my personal thanks to the guild for its work and its dedicated approach and commitment to supporting its members to ensure that travelling funfairs are run safely—a point made by a number of members in their speeches, including Annabelle Ewing and Jeremy Balfour—with effective safety precautions and procedures applied across the country being an extremely important part of that. The guild’s willingness to engage and work with the Health and Safety Executive is also an important element of how the guild goes about its work.

The sense of everyone being in it together as a family is a defining feature of the travelling showpeople community. Indeed, many people in the community boast of a family history in the business that goes back generations, some of which was mentioned in the debate.

I take this opportunity to offer my congratulations to Philip Paris on his election last year as president of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He is only the third Scot to be named as president of the guild and the first since the 1950s. I understand that Philip has been a member of the Showmen’s Guild from the age of 18 and has served on the committee since 1984, rising through various positions, including vice chairman and Scottish chairman. His length of service over decades deserves a special mention and it demonstrates Philip’s passion for and commitment to the guild.

The Parliament can be assured that the Scottish Government remains fully supportive of funfairs and recognises the contribution that they make to community life. The Showmen’s Guild has enriched our society by contributing, evolving and changing its practices, with the guild acting as a very supportive umbrella body that looks after its members’ interests and regulates how they operate. The guild continues to support and deliver great events right across the country, enriching our culture and history. I wish the Showmen’s Guild every success and I look forward to meeting guild members at the parliamentary reception this evening.

Meeting closed at 17:48.