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6 January 2015

S4M-11976 Winter Festivals

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11976, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on winter festivals.

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15:23

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Fifty years ago, as a student, I obtained temporary employment with the General Post Office at Christmas, helping to deliver a larger than usual postbag. We were paid off on Christmas eve and the regulars did the postal delivery on Christmas day. Shops were open, newspapers and milk were delivered to the house and my general practitioner father had surgeries on Christmas day. In short, when I was a youngster there was very limited celebration of Christmas. New year was an entirely different matter. When we went first footing to neighbours’ houses, we normally carried something to drink, something to eat and something to burn.

A great deal has changed. The focus is perhaps less now on individual action and much more on organised events. Let me gently tweak the tail of the Tories, because when their amendment talks about strategies it is at odds with my instincts. I do not think that this is about strategies at all; it is about defining winter celebrations as things that happen locally. We have a huge amount of talent to draw on; organising and directing it through a strategy is perhaps not the way forward.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): If we listen to what the arts bodies are saying, we will find that, although they agree with the member entirely about allowing creativity to flourish in local areas, they want a wider, overarching strategy, which brings more aspects of Scottish society together, to give intrinsic value to art.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, that is where we fundamentally disagree. I do not want to bring people together; I want to encourage diversity and local community action. I recognise that I might be a lone voice in that regard—I am not expressing the view of my political colleagues—but I just think that winter offers an opportunity for individuals to enjoy themselves and for communities and little groups to get together.

We heard that 18 funding streams were used last year, which is very much to be welcomed, because we need the anchor points that attract international attention. However, self-directed, self-organised, spontaneous celebration of the good in winter—be it a religious celebration as at Christmas, a secular one as at new year, or simply an excuse for a party on a dark night, with appropriate lubrication to keep the wheels turning—is all to be welcomed.

The word “hogmanay” is a mysterious one. It might come from the Gaelic “oge maidne”, or “new morning”, or—and this is my preference—from the Flemish “hoog min dag”, which means “high love day”. I say that that is my preference because there is the opportunity to celebrate the old new year, which comes in the middle of January, and that is something for which I feel a particular affection, because I was born on 15 October. Members of a gynaecological disposition will think about that carefully and work out why I feel as I do. My brother was born on exactly the same day three years after me, so my parents clearly shared my enthusiasm for the old new year.

I am drawing on my considerable experience when I say that I regret that there was no snow this winter—not every minister in the Government will agree with me on that. When I watched my great-niece and her brother pulling a sledge in Denmark over Christmas, I felt really jealous.

We have lots to celebrate in Scotland. We are doing extremely well. Let us keep it up and do even better in future.

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Stewart Stevenson
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