WE’RE in the Dark Months, a time to gather indoors and celebrate friendship and help get us through to the warmer, lighter times. With Saint Andrew’s Day tomorrow, then Christmas and Hogmanay, then Burns Night on January 25 and Valentine’s Day on February 14, this is a time of year when we need dates to look forward to.

We have a lovely tradition in Stirling – set up by the inestimable Fergus Wood from the time he was the city’s provost – to celebrate not just Saint Andrew of Scotland but also Saint Andrew of Ukraine and Greece. There are always representatives of the Ukrainian and Greek communities, and usually also three courses, one Scottish, one Ukrainian and one Greek. Just last Friday we went the whole hog and had the whole thing in a Greek restaurant, the excellent Mediterranèa in Stirling.

Saint Andrew’s story is fascinating, part history, part legend, and whether you believe in the Christian tradition, or in saints and kings or not, he, or the idea of him, is integral to our national story. Though we’re barely a footnote in his, which I find classically Scottish – when we celebrate him, we celebrate something bigger than ourselves, shared by a lot of other people.

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Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Ukraine, Russia, Greece, Georgia, Prussia and Barbados, amongst others. According to legend, he was born in what is now Palestine and preached as the “First Called” Apostle around the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea, heading up the Dnieper river to Kyiv in what is now Ukraine and to Novgorod in what is now Russia.

He was martyred by crucifixion at Patras in modern Greece, but chose an oblique cross. His relics were interred at the Basilica of Saint Andrew at Patras and remained there until AD357 when one of the monks, Regulus, had a vision where he should hide some of the relics as the Emperor Constantius II was going to move the relics to Constantinople.

Regulus then had another dream in which an angel advised him to take the hidden relics “to the ends of the earth” for protection, and wherever he was shipwrecked, to build a shrine for them. He set sail, taking with him a kneecap, an upper arm bone, three fingers and a tooth. He sailed west, towards the edge of the known world, and was shipwrecked on the coast of Fife, where, whether you believe the origin story or not, Saint Andrews became a significant site of medieval Christian pilgrimage.

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Fast forward then to the Battle of Athelstaneford, in what is now East Lothian in AD832 when King Óengus II led a force of Picts and Scots in what was to be a decisive battle with the Angles.

Prior to the battle, the king pledged that should he be victorious he would appoint Andrew as our national patron saint, and a vision of a cross of Saint Andrew made of clouds appeared against the azure blue of a Scottish sky – the Saltire.

So we got a patron saint and Europe’s oldest national flag out of it.

So he is our patron saint, but we share him and he never knew we existed. Scotland’s independence has always been rooted in a wider international context.

When William Wallace was appointed High Protector of Scotland in 1297, he wrote the Letter of Lubeck to the Hanseatic League, essentially saying that Scotland is open for business and we want to trade with you.

Not quite as pithy as “stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”, but the same sentiment.

Similarly, when the Declaration of Arbroath was signed by Scotland’s nobles a few years later in 1320 asserting our independence, it was addressed to the Pope in Rome, the highest temporal and spiritual authority there was. We may have asserted our independence, but it was to be recognised and enforced by something bigger.

It is easy to read too much into such old stories, but I find the idea of Scotland, an accent of the mind, far more appealing than any exclusive idea of ethnicity, colour or creed. Our definition of Scottish is that if you’re here you’re one of us, our Parliament legislated to make voting entitlement based on residence, not nationality.

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Where the Scottish Parliament legislated to decide who voted in the first indyref we used the EU franchise, the widest we could. When Westminster legislated on who could vote in the EU referendum a few months later, it chose to exclude millions, literally, of EU nationals resident in our communities despite the fact it was their rights it would most affect – no wonder it was such an ugly exercise.

The SNP has an inspiring, upbeat, aspirational vision for Scotland – independence in Europe.

But that vision, like Scotland, has deep roots and isn’t just about us, it is about us in the world and what contribution we can make to it.

As we toast Saint Andrew, let’s think of the world we want to build – we have plenty to do.