St Andrew's Day

First Minister Alex SalmondFirst Minister Alex Salmond

National Days Conference

Glasgow Caledonian University

Friday, November 30, 2007


It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon and I thank the University for inviting me to share this special day.

In keeping with the theme of your conference I would like to make a contribution to the debate on national days in Scotland, and take the opportunity that presents to explore in greater depth our nation's close connection to St Andrew.

I also want to use this address to focus Scotland's own National Day; to challenge the sense of reserve which dominates our celebration of St Andrew and of Scottishness.

I do so as part of a wider debate on the future of Scotland; a debate which our National Conversation seeks to embrace. That conversation, launched earlier this year, asks the people of Scotland to reflect on the constitutional, social and economic status of Scotland and to ask the question: is this country achieving all that it should? Is Scotland as good as it can be?

There is so much to celebrate in this nation and in Scotland's people. Perhaps up to now Scots have taken it for granted. But visitors to this country certainly do not. And especially not the many thousands who have chosen to make Scotland their permanent home.

For example a study only last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that young people from white families placed less importance on their Scottishness than young people from Indian, Pakistani and Chinese families. These new and newer Scots see much more clearly and appreciate the values and qualities that make this nation great. And it is right that, as we consider the future of Scotland, as a people we also look at ourselves afresh and take pride in who we are.

The debate on Scotland's future has tapped into a remarkable level of interest. It won't surprise anyone to know that Government consultations are often not the most eagerly anticipated events in the calendar - and nor are they often the spark for genuine national consideration.

But what has marked this current conversation is the range of views and the willingness of so many in our country to engage, to take responsibility, to express an opinion, to hit the website - over 200,000 to date..

That, in any democracy, is a fantastic starting point. I respect the view of every Scot and every person living in Scotland. And I do so with a clear sense of my own responsibility to lead change and to argue for what I believe is in the Scottish national interest.

I mention that today because the growing sense of Scottish identity, and the consequential acceptance that further political change is both inevitable and desirable, are inextricably linked to a renewed sense of national confidence. One of my central missions in politics is to encourage the people of Scotland to share a restored belief in themselves. A sense of the possible. A sense of ambition. A restless eye for national advancement.

That change is now happening and I am increasingly confident that it will find expression in the passage of a referendum bil in the lifetime of this parliament.

The unionist parties are giving ground. The status quo is indefensible, confidence in the nation is rising, the case for consulting the people is unanswerable.

That debate on our future is more than conceptual, or philosophical. It must also be about practical steps. That is why we have sought to change the way Scotland presents itself - no more do we welcome people to our national airports with a vainglorious boast of being the 'best small country in the world'. Instead, we aspire to become simply the best country in the world.

St Andrew's Day and the Winter Festival

And today marks the start of another initiative: the Winter Festival, spanning nearly two months from St Andrews Day through to Burns Day. It reflects the image of a nation with a huge amount to offer. Not just one of the strongest national brands in the world - the undisputed capital of New Year celebration and the home of one of the greatest literary figures of all time - but a country which welcomes visitors as friends all the year round.

It used to be that if you wanted to celebrate St Andrew's Day, the best place to go was abroad. Years ago it would have been hard to find a notable St Andrew's Day celebration anywhere in Scotland. But this year, it is only the BBC, our national broadcaster that is refusing to join in the festivities.

Because this year - and this has been one of my great aims in government - no-one should have any trouble finding a party. For the first time, there are St Andrew's Day celebrations in each of our six cities. There are St Andrew's Day celebrations across the globe and on this day of all days we celebrate the Scottish Diaspora across the world (estimated at around 40 million strong) and embrace the importance of those Scots abroad.

And it is essential that we stress the importance of St Andrews Day to our children - to ensure that they grow up with a full appreciation of their rich heritage and what it means to be Scottish - confident and secure in their national identity and their place in the world.

These things matter. They speak of the kind of country we are and the country we want to become. They enshrine an internationalism at the heart of Scottishness of which the sea-faring St Andrew would surely approve.

But let me also, here at one of our most dynamic universities, take a moment to reflect on the historical aspect of St Andrew's Day. Long before I was First Minister I had the immense pleasure as an undergraduate to study Scottish History. The teaching of Scottish History has often in the past struggled against an unsympathetic governmental regime. But let me be clear: a nation which is ignorant of its history cannot properly make choices about its future.

National Days

So I believe that all of us - whether native Scots or our friends abroad - should strive for a shared understand of our heritage and origins.

The best known independence day is probably that of the United States. Americans celebrate 4 July as the date on which the American Declaration of Independence was subscribed in 1776.

Of course it is now known that the declaration commenced signing on 2 July and whole the process took around six months. Some of those present in Liberty Hall, Philadelphia in 1776 never did sign the document, whereas others who were not present subsequently did.

And national days in Britain have also been clouded in uncertainty. They perhaps reflect precisely that uncertainty of what it now means to be 'British'.

For example, St George of England (23 April) is a highly elusive figure. Edward Gibbon proposed that he was George of Cappadocia, a Cilician fuller's son who became a dishonest bacon-supplier to the Roman army. He rose to be appointed bishop of Alexandria by the Emperor Constantius in 357, where he governed tyrannically before being lynched on Christmas Eve 361 AD.

Unsurprisingly, commentators have long made the point that the English people are reluctant to celebrate St George. So some Scots, notably in Canada, have had to celebrate it for them. The Scottish novelist John Galt, for example, chose 23 April to found the city of Guelph in Ontario.

David or Dewi of Wales - known as David the Water-Drinker - was allegedly a good friend of St Mungo of Glasgow, though his career is pretty shadowy.

The best known of patron saints from the British Isles is Patrick. He is a well attested historical figure and several of his letters have survived. St Patrick's Day, March 17, is celebrated widely by the Irish Diaspora, though it is only recently that his festivities were re-imported back into Ireland.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries St Andrew's Day was more likely to be celebrated abroad than at home. Instead it was Burns Suppers which became almost the staple across the spectrum of Scottish society.

By contrast, many Scots only attended St Andrew's Day events when they emigrated or visited friends in other parts of the world.

But this is changing. Today, like our friends in Ireland, we see a Scotland that is proud of its heritage and confident of its future. We see people across our nation celebrating St Andrew's Day with a new enthusiasm, a new passion.

We are repatriating our national day and we are announcing to the world that Scotland is resurgent and that great days lie ahead.

St Andrew

Saint AndrewThere is no better time than St Andrew's Day for the people of Scotland to make clear their aspirations. And there are many aspects of the story of St Andrew which we can take as inspiration. Indeed a careful historical reading shows that St Andrew's roots and his global influence are quite extraordinary.

Scotland is one of the few countries whose patron saints are to be found in the bible. Moreover, Russia and Greece share Andrew, brother of Peter, with Scotland as a patron saint.

Andrew was the first-called of the disciples, a point reiterated by the Scots in the famous Declaration of Arbroath (1320). And that Declaration stands as a reminder that Scots have not always been so timid in advancing their interests on the international stage!

According to John's Gospel, Andrew earned his soubriquet at the hands of none other than John the Baptist who baptised two people. The first, of course, was Jesus Christ whom he identified as the lamb of God "who comes to take away the sin of the world". The second was Andrew, who promptly informed his brother, Peter, that he had met the Messiah. Upon Peter or the Rock, Christ was to build his church. In future years the Scots took mischievous delight in reminding the pope, as the spiritual descendant of Peter, that had it not been for their patron saint, there might have been no pope at all!

To find out more about Andrew we have to search the books of the Apocrypha, those texts which over time were gradually expunged from the official scriptures.

There we find the oft-repeated assertion that, after the Resurrection, Andrew went off on a mission to Scythia, notionally on the north side of the Black Sea, though nobody was quite sure where it actually was. There he converted the Scythians, visited the Land of the Cannibals, journeyed in later legends to Kiev where he became the founder of the Russian Church, to be eventually martyred, between 60 and 70 AD either somewhere in Scythia or at Patras in Greece where he is known as 'Frying-Pan Holer' after the punishment inflicted on those who fail to make pancakes on his saint's day.

The diagonal cross on which Andrew was martyred is mysterious, since it does not appear in the archives until the thirteenth century. Early in that century Andrew is depicted on the diagonal, on the seal of the St Andrews cathedral chapter and then on the bishop's seal in 1255. In 1286 the saltire appears for the first time on the Great Seal of Scotland, indicating the identification of saint and nation.

So it was, to quote the Arbroath Declaration, that Christ called the Scots, "even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith", to be kept under the protection of Andrew, as their patron, forever. The Scots were thus truly a chosen people, highly favoured of the Lord!

Going back to the ninth century Angus King of the Picts was engaged in hostilities with Athelstan King of the English, at modern Athelstaneford in East Lothian. When the English surrounded his camp the terrified Picts, thinking their end had come, begged the intercession of St Andrew, the king promising the saint one tenth of his kingdom if he obliged.

In a vision a cross appeared in the sky while Andrew intoned that he was the protector and defender of the Picts. At the height of the battle a white cross appeared in the blue sky. In the subsequent victory the English were routed and Athelstan slain. The triumphant Angus ordered the removal of Athelstan's head and, with a distinct lack, we may think, of Christian charity, "as a reminder of such a miraculous slaughter the king took it with him" displaying it on the island of Inchgarvie near the Queensferry, "to be seen by all who made the crossing for several years".

Thereafter St Andrew would play a crucial part in securing the independence of the Scottish Church and thus the independence of the Scottish nation.

The legacy of St Andrew in Scotland

Andrew was soon firmly established in the Scottish medieval canon. Sir David Lyndsay, author of Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, composed a poem describing an annual banquet which James IV held to honour St Andrew.

At the annual St Andrew's Dinner of the Royal Scots Corporation in London the "Anciene Scots Box" was always placed on the table in front of the chairman. It was inscribed "1611 in the reign of James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England". The box was used to collect donations to a fund for Scots in London fell upon hard times. For example 300 Scots who died in the Great Plague in the 1660s were buried at the expense of the 'Box'.

As medieval Scots were inspired and informed by the legend of the modest yet out-going Andrew, allegedly evangelising from one end of Europe to the other, so the Scots of the nineteenth century informed and inspired from one end of the world to another.

That sense of an inclusive Scottishness - one which does not simply tolerate diversity but rather celebrates it - is at the heart of what I want St Andrews Day to become.

Modern Scotland is about continuing that traditional welcome for those of all faiths or none, of including those from every part of the world and of every belief in our social mix.

That diversity is our strength. That ability to welcome and to accommodate those from other nations and to develop an elastic sense of what it is to be 'Scottish' makes us bigger and better as a nation.


Seal of the Guardians of Scotland - 13th centuryOur challenge in the 21st Century is to cherish that proud heritage. To nurture the sense of historical perspective and to reclaim St Andrew's Day as a celebration not just of Scotland and the Scots.

It is surely time that St Andrew's Day was celebrated as enthusiastically and as openly here in Scotland as it is by Scots around the globe. It is time to repatriate our national day.

And in doing so, we celebrate the values which define modern Scotland: the values of humanity, compassion, enterprise, ambition, and a determined internationalism.

As First Minister I am committed to building that country.

As a Scot, as well as First Minister, I wish you all - whatever your background - a fantastic St Andrew's Day.