St Andrew’s Day is a public holiday in all but actuality, with many Scots again pondering why it’s not designated as such. However, Calum Martin, national co-chair with Scottish Socialist Party, says a public holiday isn’t a frivolous demand and can be accompanied by a range of options and policies to enhance Scottish arts, culture and public space…
Happy St Andrew's Day to all (or weekend if you're reading this later). Most of us will have spent most of the feast day of Scotland's patron saint working like any other Friday. Personally, I'm glad to see that calls for making St Andrews Day a proper public holiday are becoming more prominent, especially as it's part of a much broader opportunity for our country.
Why? Let's start with something Thatcher got wrong (not that there's a shortage). As socialists we must be clear there's such a thing as community and such a thing as society. When we look at what's being fed through much mainstream media, it's clear that Thatcher's economic dogma has had a huge cultural impact that resonates today. Widespread economic insecurity, a still growing consumerist strand to our culture, and rapidly shifting social infrastructure have all put pressure on potential fault lines. As we move closer to Christmas, we'll only see more reports on the news about social fragmentation. By their very nature, BBC news reports will present isolated cases which demonstrate the cracks folk often fall between. Without context, it's just a reinforcement of the “broken society” picture David Cameron tried to paint while in office.
However, this misses the point. As long as there's economic fault, there's social fault. There are enough of us out there to fight against that – chances are, that includes you, reader. In working to build a new egalitarian economic renaissance, we shouldn't lose sight of the cultural and societal vision we have too. We live in an economy, but we also live in a society. We're surrounded by culture. Economic solutions don't fix all political issues on their own and people can find purely economic visions abstract. Even if we're better off, what will the country look like? It's a question we should eagerly answer.
Our present worries are a timely reminder of the importance of shared public spaces and shared public holidays. A truly public holiday on St Andrews would be the sort of shared event that brings communities together in a broad, inclusive and welcoming way. Look at how Burns Nights continue to flourish as a time of social and community events. It's why cultural institutions like museums should remain free with open doors. It's why cultural events and festivals deserve to be widely shared and as accessible as possible. It's why our libraries must be treasured for what they hold, not bulldozed for hotels.
Culture and art are such an important part of what makes our Scotland today. Our vision might seem utopian, but it's possible with greater investment. If we can spend 2.21% of GDP on preparing for war each year, we can afford 1% on celebrating arts and culture. The economic benefits would be huge: from sowing open air or public artwork and institution, we reap the harvest of new jobs, more tourism, and a happier, more vibrant place to live for all.
I'm not saying we need to replicate the Brandenburg gate in Ballachulish, the Trevi fountain in Tarbert or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Bathgate, but this isn't about replicating what's come before. It's an opportunity to cherish our shared traditions but collectively embrace modernity. Monumental architecture is just one option – public murals, outdoor sculptures, gardens, fountains, parks, even the humble street side bench has a role to play.
What should we aspire to? Kicking off a brief list would be to, yes, make St Andrew's Day a public holiday – it's meant to be ours so let's really make it so. But let's also encourage more street art: murals, sculptures and monuments are all cheaper than doing up the interior of Buckingham Palace for £370 million. Let's fix the gender imbalance and instead of tearing old statues down, put new ones up. Let's invest in public bathrooms – not humdrum, but clean and accessible. Let's earmark more urban pedestrian zones, making spaces clean and liveable (see also free public transport). And let's plant more tree – they look good, they're clean and they're great for mental wellbeing.
The possibilities are endless. When you're out and about and have ideas for change in your area, why not note them down? Share with your friends, circles and activist groups. Send tweets, write to your local paper. Start conversations. They're not twee or unimportant; their conversations which need to be had. In a world where profiteering corporate lobbyists want to commercialise healthcare, housing and heating to maximise profits regardless of human cost, it's hardly surprising these proposals aren't made automatically. The city centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh have visibly changed dramatically. Our landscapes are being constantly reshaped, yes, but by hotel chains, retail giants and corporate business plazas. The money and ongoing transformation is happening already.
Let's not leave it to corporate elites to call the shots – when we work together, we can steer it ourselves. Look at the brilliant work done by the Edinburgh People's Festival or the successful campaign for the Mary Barbour statue in Glasgow. People power can absolutely have an impact. Barbour Statue in Glasgow. People power absolutely can have an impact. The Swedish Social Democrats used to have a slogan that they were for realising the dream of the country as the Folkhemmet (People's Home). It was primarily a reference to the welfare state but embraced housing, cultural practice and a sense Sweden was to be a place for its people. They meant it economically, culturally and materially. We can do the same.
Our aim must be to build a Scotland for the people. That principally means an economy which works for all people who call Scotland home – a real living wage, support small and social enterprise, universal healthcare, and restoration of public utilities we need to get by – and these are the cornerstones of what we can do for Scotland. Yet it also remains fundamentally true that real public holidays like St Andrews, bolstered by public art and culture, can be part of that. So here's a toast – slàinte mhath – to a St Andrews Day holiday, to all our health, and to that better, fairer Scotland we're ultimately going to win.