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Tartan Week

By The Drum | Administrator

April 20, 2006 | 4 min read

The pipe bands have gone, as has Jack McConnell and Glasgow's Lord Provost. The wee village in New York's Grand Central station has been dismantled. Tartan Week 2006 is now a memory and America is getting back to business. Not that business was all that much interrupted in the first place.

There has been something of a barney back in Scotland about the Executive's spending £1.4 million on Tartan Week in the US. The truth is that that amount of money is a pea on the mountain in terms of American publicity.

Tartan Day (as it then was) had its American birth six years ago. Senator Trent Lott, encouraged by a visit to the film Braveheart (as he happily admits) introduced a Senate motion making April 6 officially National Tartan Day in recognition of Scotland's many contributions to America.

There were scarcely-muffled guffaws at the name "Tartan Day" back in Edinburgh and Glasgow. But so what? This was an American enterprise. It was their show.

That first occasion in Washington, without the Edinburgh input, was actually very special. The ceremony on the steps of the Capitol (slightly delayed so that Senator Lott could get his kilt training mastered ) was excellent. Lunch in the Senate itself was awe- inspiring. The party in the home of Woodrow Wilson (the president who declared "Every line in America's history is a line coloured by Scottish blood") was memorable .

And the Symposium staged by the Smithsonian "Enlightenment, Learning and Revolution" - whose theme can be summed up as "the Scots started it all - including the American revolution" - was thought-provoking .

There was more, much more, and it was all American-inspired. They were celebrating their heritage.

That was then, this is now. The main show has been moved to New York (does somebody in Scotland think that is the capital? Or is it just that it’s easier for the boatloads of journalists?). The Scottish Executive has become heavily involved. To be fair, they would have been slagged in Scotland's media if they had not been involved.

We have a pipe band parade down Sixth Avenue. Now there's an original idea. We have a fun run in Central park. On TV, we have endless discussion on what a Scotsman wears under his kilt.

And we have Dressed to Kilt. It is fair to say that only someone who has no idea of the reverence the Americans have for their ancestry could have thought this one up.

This is a glam show - sponsored by Johnnie Walker - which seems to aim to make as big a fool as possible of the kilt . All the Scots and the journalists enjoy it.

But the Americans are baffled by the images that emerge. "We respect the kilt". they say. "It is to us a symbol of our heritage and also of courage."

Tartan Day is not Scottish: it is American and belongs to America. Perversely, it's not even about tartan. Apart from the actual title, the original Senate resolution did not contain the word ‘tartan’ talking instead of the "monumental achievements by Scottish Americans”.

David Christie, a Scot who was sent out to the US to run the original Locate In Scotland organisation in the 60s, is now leading a campaign to build a Scottish cultural centre in New Hampshire.

He says, "This will be about all the things mentioned above - and tartan will have its place. But really, April 6 should have been called “Arbroath Day”: marking the Declaration of Arbroath, seen as being a precursor to the Declaration of Independence. Then everybody would have got it.”

My own plea is not that we cast Tartan Day adrift. It’s just that we should support it instead of smothering it. We should enable American organisations to celebrate Tartan Day in the best possible way. We should help them make the right contacts back in Scotland to achieve this. We should help them celebrate their Scottishness. We should set up a Scotland House to provide a contact point for business and tourism .

We should reinforce a Scottish network across the US to spread the news.

We should NOT make our case by invading New York once a year. Other people have tried this and it didn't work then either. Let's give the Americans their ball back.


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