21 April 2015

S4M-12958 Culture, Visitor Attractions and Events (Contribution to Economy and Society)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12958, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on the contribution of culture, visitor attractions and events to Scotland’s economy and society.

... ... ...

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

Presiding Officer,

Fit like loon?
Chavin doon!
Far ye ging?
Aff te sing!
Foo’s te hear?
Aw foo’s aer!
Fan’s it ower?
Ae see a glower!

That is my imperfect attempt at poetry, which is not something that we have heard anything of in the debate thus far. It is also poetry that uses the language of the north-east, the Doric.

Poetry is something for which Scotland is known worldwide, through the great poems of Robert Burns. Outside the Canongate kirk, however, there is a nice new statute of Robert Fergusson, who was the fellow Robert Burns wrote an obituary of in which he referred to Fergusson as his elder brother in the muse. We see tourists being photographed alongside the statue of Robert Fergusson without, I suspect, any great sense of who he was except for the fact, which is inscribed beneath the statue, that he died in Bedlam—which was not the best place to die if one was going to die in Edinburgh.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): I thank the member for raising the issue of Robert Fergusson. Does he agree that the poet would perhaps be better known among Scots if the national portrait gallery had not hidden his portrait away in the vaults instead of putting it on permanent display?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You may answer as a poet, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: I find extemporising poetry even more difficult than putting words on a bit of paper, Presiding Officer, so I will resist that temptation.

What I have just heard is news to me, and I am minded to agree with what the member says.

Words, literature and poetry are an important part of our connection with the world and our gift to the world. We are fortunate that our neighbours to the south of us in this island have given us one of the richest languages on the earth, English, with a huge vocabulary, great opportunities to write and many things for us to read. I hope that that becomes an important part of what we do. The Wigtown book festival is a good example of a small town having created a niche in cultural and tourist terms that can be copied elsewhere. I also feel that there is room for a food town in the north-east of Scotland, and I would like to think that we might do something about that. Joan McAlpine has secured a debate on food on Thursday.

We have lots of locations that people visit because of family connections. Richard Simpson mentioned genealogy. I have been studying the genealogy of my family for over 50 years, and it helps me to connect with history. My grandfather was born when Abraham Lincoln was the President, and all my grandparents were born before the first secret ballot in a parliamentary election—that took place in Pontefract on 15 August 1872. When we study our family, we connect with our history, our antecedents and the diaspora of 40 million or 50 million Scots around the world.

I meet those people when they come here to study their family history. Members of my wife’s family recently came across from New Zealand. Their forebears had travelled from Scotland to Canada and had eventually ended up in New Zealand. We did not know that they existed, but they came specifically to study their family history. The Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society has thousands of members and a huge building full of information that people come to see. I am never in there but I hear the voices of people who have travelled halfway round the globe to research their family history.

We also have many places from today’s literature and films that attract tourists. Pennan, in my constituency, has a year-round population of some 24. Yet, more than 30 years after “Local Hero” was filmed there, people still come to Pennan to look at the phone box. It needs a bit of TLC at the moment—my colleague Eilidh Whiteford is on that particular case—but the mark of a film more than three decades old is still there. The Oxford bar, in Edinburgh, is home to the fictional Detective Inspector Rebus. Ian Rankin chose it as the locale for his drinking because he could not make it up—real life is even better—and it is a place that tourists visit on the back of that.

When I first came to Edinburgh more than 40 years ago, the publican there was a guy called Willie Ross, who was so antipathetic to the Edinburgh festival that he used to shut the bar for three weeks during the festival and put up a notice in the window saying, “Shut due to festival”—that was very much the exception.

Last week I had a coffee in the Elephant House on George IV Bridge, where the Harry Potter novels had their genesis. We have a huge amount in all our cities and areas of Scotland that drags people from across the world.

We have heard talk of the national museum, laying the foundation stone of which was the very last public act of Prince Albert before he died in the 1860s. I went there when I was a youngster. I can still remember things that I saw there. Let us hope that the cultural heritage for those who come to Scotland today is as rich as I feel that mine is.


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