SCOTLAND is one of the few countries in the world which does not have a national holiday, a special day in the year when we can come together to celebrate our national identity. The French have Bastille Day, the Irish have St Patrick’s Day, the United States has two national days, namely Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day, but Scotland does not even have one.

Scotland is also near the bottom of the European League in terms of the number of public holidays we have.

The nearest thing we have to a national day in Scotland is St Andrew’s Day. For more than 1000 years, St Andrew has been patron of Scotland. Ten years ago, I introduced a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to make St Andrew’s Day a bank holiday. The Bill was eventually passed unanimously but recognition of the holiday is rather patchy.

The National:

Technically, a bank holiday simply allows the postponement of a financial transaction until the next working day without incurring any penalty. That is meant to facilitate a holiday but it does not oblige employers, not even the bankers, to give their employees a day off.

Many Scottish Government civil servants and employees of the Scottish Parliament have a holiday on or around St Andrew’s Day but the rest of the public sector has been slow to follow suit. Only three of the 32 local councils in Scotland have a St Andrew’s Day holiday.

If schools had a holiday on St Andrew’s Day (or the nearest Monday or Friday) that would put more pressure on employers to recognise the holiday, because many working parents would want the day off to celebrate with their children.

Unfortunately the Scottish Government seems reluctant to take the initiative to make St Andrew’s Day a full national holiday, despite a commitment to that effect in the 2011 SNP manifesto.

Parliamentary recognition of St Andrew’s Day also leaves a lot to be desired with the failure this year to have a St Andrew’s Day debate in the Scottish Parliament, despite the fact it had become a tradition over the last decade or more.

To be fair, the Scottish Government has done a lot of good work to raise the profile of St Andrew’s Day celebrations, including a government reception this year at Edinburgh Castle, but much more needs to be done to include the whole of Scotland. If St Andrew’s Day were widely recognised as a holiday, it would give all the people of Scotland the opportunity to celebrate our national identity, our cultural diversity and our membership of the international community.

Dennis Canavan is a former Labour MP and Independent MSP who now chairs the St Andrew’s Day Campaign Committee