IT IS seen as the ultimate opportunity to promote Scotland abroad, a glamorous week of fashion shows, parades and events that attracts business people and celebrities from across the United States.
But Tartan Week has descended into controversy after the New York-based organiser of one of its most high-profile events branded last year’s affair a “shambles” and announced the formation of a new American Alliance to take over the running of the event.
Dr Geoffrey Scott Carroll, founder and chairman of the From Scotland With Love charity fashion show (formerly known as Dressed to Kilt), told Scotland on Sunday that the organisers behind several key Tartan Week events, including Tartan Day on Ellis Island and Whisky Live, have banded together to take control of the occasion and criticised the Scottish Government’s attempt to rebrand the event as “Scotland Week”.
They say that the Scotland Week label is confusing and that the Tartan Day Parade through New York, which is supported by the Scottish Government, pales in comparison with the much bigger St Patrick’s Day event held three weeks earlier. The new Alliance website says: “The Tartan Week Alliance is a new group formed with the express goal of making Tartan Week in New York City considerably better organised, more co-operative and consumer friendly.
“The obvious need for this co-operation was seen in the 2012 Tartan Week activities which were quite disorganised. Better co-ordination and cross-promotion between the major events will make the Tartan Week programme more attractive.”
It adds: “One of the first things that the Tartan Week Alliance agreed to was that the name of Tartan Week will remain Tartan Week following more than a decade of building and promoting this brand and widespread acceptance by the New York community.”
Scott Carroll said: “Most of the group felt that 2012’s Tartan Week was a shambles. It was very difficult for folks coming from Scotland, or indeed anywhere else, to focus on going to the key events. They weren’t co-ordinated – somebody was doing one thing, somebody else was doing something else. So we all got together and asked how do we assist each other to collaborate better and make it more consumer friendly.”
He added: “This is not Scotland’s event to organise. We are delighted to work with anybody from the Scottish Government who wants to get involved, but this is not their event. This is for the folks over here who are based here.” It was in 2008, during a visit to New York by First Minister Alex Salmond, that Tartan Week was rebranded “Scotland Week”, to the frustration of the Americans.
“One of the issues brought up by the group was the term Tartan Week versus Scotland Week,” Scott Carroll said. “It’s never been Scotland Week over here. It came from somebody back home in Scotland who thought it was a good idea, but the Americans like Tartan Week because it’s distinctive. The term Scotland Week is like calling it France Week or China Week. There’s no character, there’s no style, there’s nothing distinctly Scottish about it.”
The Tartan Day Parade, he continued, was no longer necessary. “It’s not exactly the St Patrick’s Day Parade, which is three weeks beforehand, takes five hours, is on 5th Avenue and is full of kilts and tartans. Why would you want to compete?” he said. “The Tartan Day Parade is something that lasts about 20 minutes, is on 6th Avenue and is quite small.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman defended Scotland Week’s record. “Tartan Week and Scotland Week are two distinct but complementary endeavours celebrating the ties between Scotland and North America,” she said.
“Scotland Week is a key component of the Scottish Government’s ongoing programme of engagement in North America and provides a unique platform around Tartan Day, April 6, for Scotland’s business, cultural, and tourism assets to promote economic growth in the huge North American markets.
“Each year Scotland Week has seen significant new jobs and new investments in Scotland by major Canadian and US companies.”
A spokesman for the national tourism agency VisitScotland, which helps co-ordinate Scotland Week, spokesman said: “Scotland Week is the ideal platform to segment our approach to ensure we capitalise on the wealth of business to business meetings with key groups and individuals in the US.
“As part of Scotland Week, Tartan Day provides an excellent tool for driving messages that are more consumer focused. Furthermore, this also allows us to focus our PR efforts on TV and radio for promotion of Scotland.
“All this activity creates a strong Scottish voice in the tourism market in the US.”