It’s the national holiday few of the nationals know about. It’s the national holiday nobody takes.
Saint Andrew’s Day. It’s our national day – but the children to go to school as usual.
It could only happen in Scotland. Wha’s like us, right enough. Very few indeed when it comes to national holidays – i.e. not having any!
The French have Bastille Day, the Americans have the Fourth of July, the Irish have St Patrick’s Day, the Norwegians have their Constitution Day. In fact, just about every country has a designated holiday (and usually more than one) to celebrate what’s special about them as a nation. But not Scotland.
No, the Scottish cringe is alive and flourishing when it comes to our calendar of public holidays. Big Brother down South is miserly when it comes to giving working people holidays and it doesn’t really do national celebrations if they’re not to do with royalty. We cravenly follow suit.
Thanks to the admirable efforts led by Dennis Cavanan, Saint Andrew’s Day was made an official Scottish holiday in 2007 - but it was all to be voluntary. A non-holiday sort of holiday.
So why bother with it?
The Scottish government website states this:
“In symbolic terms, it signals greater celebration and awareness of St Andrew's Day and provides the option to combine that with a holiday…… But the decision on whether to have a holiday is entirely up to [employers].”
Oh yeah? Employers will decide by themselves to grant their employees another holiday? No chance. Unfortunately, most employers and politicians in the UK are wedded to the Victorian notion that 40 hours of labour must result in more production than 39 hours.
And, of course, a country with 8 public holidays will produce more than a country with 9. But hang on a moment. Germany has 9 public holidays and the UK 8…….
Despite that telling fact, some of the UK’s current economic woes this summer were even blamed on the extra public holiday for the Jubilee! Can you believe that? It’s nothing to do with government mismanagement. It’s all the fault of that day off we had last June.
In other, more enlightened, European countries, a different approach is taken. The French and Swedes have 11 public holidays. Those fanatically hard-working Poles get the same. The Austrians grant their citizens 13.
More generally, when it comes to statutory minimum leave from work, the UK is bottom of the EU league. Employees here are entitled to a minimum of 28 days. In Germany, it’s 33. In France and Sweden, it’s 36. In Finland, it’s 39.
So there’s definitely scope for a few more public holidays in the UK. The rest would do us all good and the days off would almost certainly pay for themselves through raised morale and productivity.
Of course, it was to be expected that as part of the UK, Scotland would tag along and celebrate the English pattern with its focus on, wait for it, Bank Holidays. Now, I know there are all sorts of origins behind that name but isn’t ironic that, in these times, the institutions which get most mention in our holiday celebrations are…..banks!
What about the workers, you might well ask? Well, 1st May is too inconvenient for business and too politically controversial so officially it’s been turned into an early May, wait for it, comrades…….Bank Holiday. And it rarely takes place on 1st May.
Now we have a devolved government in Scotland, surely there’s more scope for establishing our own distinctive schedule of public holidays. For goodness’ sake, shouldn’t we at least make St Andrew’s Day an official holiday? You know, where the kids have a day off school.
Every year since 2007, the valiant Dennis Cavanan has campaigned to have 30 November made into a real public holiday. It’s about time all we Scots shrugged off our national cringe and supported him.
And what about 25 January, Burns’ Day? And 24 June, Bannockburn Day?
The Americans do much more than Scots to celebrate what they call ‘Tartan Day’ on 6 April, commemorating the signing of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. How many Scottish schoolchildren have even heard of the Declaration of Arbroath?
So, mad me is proposing another three or four days’ public holiday every year? Well, another three would only bring us into line with the European mainstream.
Moreover, let’s have some public holidays which celebrate our distinctive Scottishness. Where the Scottish government has differentiated itself from London – like in care provision, prescription charges and university fees – Scots have greatly benefited. We should be bold enough to apply the same thinking to our public holiday schedule
It’ll do us all good to have an extra day’s rest. Or two. Or three.