Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee Wednesday 25 May 2005
[The Convener opened the meeting at 10:02]
Sports Academy (Scottish Borders) (PE849)
The Convener: Petition PE847, by Iain Scherr, on behalf of Clyde Valley High School, calls on the Scottish Parliament to consider and debate making more public holidays available to celebrate days of importance, such as Burns day on 25 January and St Andrew's day on 30 November.
Iain Scherr, who is a pupil at Clyde Valley High School, will make a brief statement to the committee in support of the petition. He is accompanied by his fellow pupils Samantha Mungall and Alexandra Gill. Welcome to the committee. I point out that Dennis Canavan is with us this morning. He recently introduced a member's bill to establish St Andrew's day as a bank holiday. We will give you an opportunity to contribute later, Dennis. First, we will hear Iain Scherr's contribution and discuss the points that he raises.
Iain Scherr (Clyde Valley High School): Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Iain Scherr and I am a first-year pupil at Clyde Valley High School in Wishaw. I thank you on behalf of my classmates for inviting us to this magnificent new building to air our views on why Scotland should have its own national holiday.
The United States has independence day, France has Bastille day and, just over a week ago, Norway celebrated its own constitution day, but what about Scotland? According to the First Minister, we are the best wee country in the world, but surely the best wee country deserves a national holiday for being just that—the best.
Scotland has the potential for a national holiday. We could be like the Irish and celebrate our patron saint St Andrew, or we could celebrate Scotland's national bard Robert Burns—or we could be optimistic and go for both. What sane person would give up the chance of an extra day or two off work, no matter which great Scot we are celebrating? We could have parades in the street, the saltire flying high and Scots all over the globe celebrating at the same time. A national holiday would boost the self-esteem of the Scottish race and make us feel justly proud of ourselves. Here's tae us! Wha's like us? Ladies and gentlemen, that is why Scotland deserves a national holiday.
My classmate Alexandra will share her views with you.
Alexandra Gill (Clyde Valley High School): Ladies and gentlemen, did you know that Scotland is the poor European neighbour as far as public holidays are concerned? Just like Dundee Football Club, we are at the bottom of the league. While the average number of public holidays in Europe is 12, we poor Scots have to make do with just eight.
In case you think that all we are after is another day off school, let me clear up that misunderstanding. We are after not just any holiday, but a national holiday—one that is unique to the people of Scotland. After all, of the 46 countries in Europe, 43 have an official national holiday. Why, even Slovakia has joined the club, with the anniversary of the Slovak uprising day. Surely a country with a history as old as Scotland's deserves a day when its people can reflect on their past and focus on their future.
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been an honour to address you in this wonderful building. The new Scottish Parliament deserves such a gracious home, but do you not think that just one little thing is missing—a day when the whole country can feel proud to be Scottish?
Thank you for your time. My classmate Samantha Mungall will conclude our presentation.
Samantha Mungall (Clyde Valley High School): Ladies and gentlemen, Scotland may be a very small nation, but it is still very important in world history. Just think what we have contributed to the world over the centuries. Would the world not be a different place if it were not for Scots such as John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Alexander Fleming, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Robert Burns and—to bring things up to date—J K Rowling? Those are just a few of Scotland's famous sons and daughters.
If we were like any other nationality, we would march up and down Princes Street, banging drums and telling the world how wonderful we are. However—the modest Scots that we are—we tend to let others do that for us. Take tartan day in New York, for example. Is it not ludicrous that pipe bands, kilts, heather and everything else that is Scottish are given such a special place on a special day halfway around the world?
Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you are all aware of the bill that Dennis Canavan MSP has introduced to make St Andrew's day a public holiday. I will end by quoting him. He has said:
"People want to see Scotland have a national day like most other countries in the world. Clearly St Andrew's Day is the most appropriate day for that … It would be a celebration of the nation, and of its diversity of cultures and religions."
Thank you for listening.
The Convener: Thank you for lodging your petition. As with the students who spoke to a petition earlier, I just wish that some of the adults who present petitions could be as succinct and articulate as you have been in making your case. Well done. Thank you for presenting your case so well to the committee.
Rosie Kane: I echo what Michael McMahon said. It is the second time this morning that I have felt like applauding at the end of a presentation. I thank the petitioners for that. I have come over all patriotic since you spoke. For an independent socialist Scotland, I add John Maclean to your list of good names to celebrate.
You talked about cultural and historical events that are connected to days. How would the people of Scotland react to that? What positive message would a special day for Burns, for example, send through Scotland?
Iain Scherr: Such a day would make people feel happy about themselves and give them a chance to go out on the streets to celebrate something instead of being locked up in the house or going to work, without anything to celebrate all through the year, apart from Christmas and new year, which are national events. There is nothing just for Scotland to celebrate.
Rosie Kane: You said that you would like the day to be celebrated throughout the world.
Iain Scherr: All Scots throughout the world could celebrate their home country.
Mike Watson (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): I was impressed by the presentation. Samantha said that a national holiday would enable us all to reflect on the past and focus on the future, which struck a chord.
Mike Watson: I apologise. That would be an appropriate slogan to attach to a national day, of which I am in favour. I debate with people the day that we should choose. I welcome what the United States has done by choosing to celebrate tartan day, but that has slightly confused the issue.
I take on board your point about the argument that a day's production would be lost if we had another holiday. That does not hold much water with me, because we have fewer public holidays than most other European countries, as has been said. We are well able to accommodate another holiday.
Whatever day we chose, would we celebrate it whatever day of the week it fell on? If St Andrew's day fell on a Saturday or Sunday, would it be important to have a holiday on the Friday before or the Monday after, or would you just say that, in those years when St Andrew's day falls on a weekend, we accept that, on the basis that it is the day that is important, rather than the holiday? We would then celebrate that and forgo having a day off. Do you think that that would be workable?
Mike Watson: Do you have a preference for which day is taken? St Andrew's day and Burns day are the most obvious ones. Do you or your classmates have a preference?
Campbell Martin: Thank you for your presentation, which you did very well. If you ever decide to stand for Parliament, I will vote for you. I particularly liked your suggestion of a Scottish uprising—perhaps that is something that we can work on. I was in New York for tartan day this year and I can assure you that it was a great day to be Scottish in New York. As you have mentioned, however, the Americans tend to focus on what they think of as Scotland—the tartan, the heather, the Highlands and so on. How do you see the national day of Scotland? What do you think that the day would entail, other than its being a holiday?
Alexandra Gill: There would be celebratory parades on the street and people would have saltires in their hands, and so on.
Campbell Martin: I agree with Rosie Kane that the ideal day would be independence day. Rather carelessly, however, Scotland lost its independence some years ago. Perhaps with your help, we will get it back and celebrate independence together one day.
Ms White: I think that there is great hope for the future when we have talent such as yours and that of the other kids who were here earlier. The presentation was fantastic and brilliant. I am all for St Andrew's day or, preferably, independence day. It was great to see the looks in your faces when you were presenting your petition. You are so proud of your country, which I think is absolutely fantastic.
The e-petition that you submitted carried 336 signatures. Did you petition anywhere else? Did you gather signatures at school? How did you form the idea of sending an e-petition?
Iain Scherr: We thought that e-petitioning would be easier than going around with pieces of paper and trying to gather everyone's signature. We could instead tell people where they could sign the petition and encourage them to tell their friends about it. We could e-mail people. For example, we e-mailed a number of MSPs, some of whom signed the petition.
Alexandra Gill: Mr Bruce e-mailed his fellow teachers, some of whom also signed the petition.
Ms White: That just shows us about the new technology—some of us are not all that familiar with it, but school kids are well familiar with it. I was saying that you got 336 signatures for the e-petition. I hope that the petition will go forward. Dennis Canavan will shortly be explaining his bill, the St Andrew's Bank Holiday (Scotland) Bill. You hope that we will have a St Andrew's day holiday, rather than a Burns day holiday. Is that correct?
The Convener: Just for information, the petition was lodged on the e-petitioner system and attracted 336 signatories. Of those, 327 came from Scotland; there were two each from Canada and England; and there was one each from Jamaica, Russia, Wales and Bavaria, with another one from elsewhere in Germany. You got a good spread of people showing an interest. Well done for that.
As there are no other questions, we will now have to decide what to do with the petition. First, however, we will hear from Dennis Canavan.
Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West) (Ind): I will keep my comments brief, as the presentation was so excellent that I do not need to add much. I congratulate Iain, Alexandra and Samantha on the way in which they have presented the petition and I thank them for the support that they have expressed for my bill.
As the petitioners said, Scotland is at the bottom of the European league in terms of the number of public holidays. The policy memorandum that is associated with my bill points out that the average number of public holidays among countries in the European Union is 12. While we languish at the bottom with eight, Cyprus and Slovakia have 15 public holidays a year and Austria has 14. My bill would help to create a fairer deal for Scottish workers and it would make St Andrew's day a national day; it would give Scots the opportunity to celebrate our patron saint, our national identity and our cultural and ethnic diversity.
As you may know, convener, yesterday the Parliamentary Bureau decided to recommend that my bill be referred to the Enterprise and Culture Committee. I do not know whether the Public Petitions Committee can express support in principle for my bill or for the petition, but I would be grateful if the petition could at some stage be drawn to the attention of the Enterprise and Culture Committee.
I have one question for the petitioners. Did you come up against any opposition to the petition and, if so, did people give any reasons why a national holiday on St Andrew's day would not be a good idea?
Iain Scherr: I asked a lot of people, but I did not come up against any opposition.
Samantha Mungall: Only one or two people were opposed to the idea, but they had lived in America for a few years and then come back—they thought that we get enough holidays.
Dennis Canavan: So the vast majority of the people whom you asked to sign the petition did so.
Dennis Canavan: I had a similar response during the consultation exercise that I conducted for my bill. That reinforces the case for my bill to become legislation.
The Convener: I, too, think that a national day is a good idea; I just wish that Burns day and St Andrew's day were not in the middle of winter and that we could find a day in the middle of summer. That would allow us to have street fairs and parades and would give at least a decent chance of good weather. I endorse the sentiments that have been expressed about the need for a national day for Scotland.
When the committee considers a petition that relates to a bill that is going through the Parliament, it is our normal practice to refer it to the committee that is considering the bill. Therefore, I recommend that we send the petition to the Enterprise and Culture Committee, along with a copy of the Official Report of our discussion, which will allow that committee to consider the evidence that has been given this morning, in conjunction with any other evidence that Dennis Canavan produces. Do members agree to send the petition to the Enterprise and Culture Committee in support of Dennis Canavan's bill?
Members indicated agreement.
The Convener: I thank the petitioners. I hope that they will keep an eye on the progress of Dennis Canavan's bill to see whether it achieves what the petition asks for.
I suspend the meeting for a couple of minutes to allow the petitioners to leave.
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