The Scots who have earned the nation’s thanks the most

Sir Chris Hoy: Greatest of all the world's cycling Olympians. Picture: SNS

Sir Chris Hoy: Greatest of all the world's cycling Olympians. Picture: SNS

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Jim Tough reflects on awards that honour Scotland’s heroes

AS THE Saltire Society prepares to honour and recognise the remarkable feats of fellow Scots through its annual Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Award, it’s worth taking the opportunity to consider this year’s recipients and to highlight their fantastic achievements.

Born in Saltoun, East Lothian in 1653, Andrew Fletcher’s passion and honesty for what he believed to be best for Scotland was regularly mistaken for hot-headedness and insubordination. He is reputed to have believed that his only party was his country and only allegiance his country’s interests.

Because of his outspoken beliefs, Fletcher was forced to spend most of his adult life outside his beloved Scotland, often on the run from politically associated crimes. Eventually, he was able to return to Scotland where, after failing to prevent the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, he dedicated his remaining years to improving agricultural methods. Established in 1988, the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Award celebrates his legacy by recognising significant contributions made to Scottish culture. Fletcher was a man who was deeply interested in the arts and culture, once commenting that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation”.

Previous recipients include Tom Fleming, Donald Dewar, George Davie, Dolinna MacLennan, Robin Jenkins, George Mackay Brown and, in 2013, William McIlvanney. Nominations for the award are made by the Saltire Society Council, who this year decided to broaden the scope to include three categories so as to recognise a wider range of achievements and to engage wider public interest. These categories are: arts and humanities, public life and science. I am quite sure that you will agree that 2014’s recipients more than fit the award criteria, their achievements to date highlighting as they do some true modern-day examples of patriotism.

Quietly and unobtrusively, with both immense diplomacy and passionate commitment, Dr Ann Matheson – winner of the arts and humanities award –has worked throughout her career to improve the cultural and academic life of Scotland. She brings together a deep knowledge of Scottish history and culture, particularly in relation to Gaelic and the Highlands and Islands, combined with a thoroughly international outlook and a selfless ability to work with others on committees and the boards of cultural organisations. Her work for and on behalf of the Saltire Society is, of course, one example of this service.

Dr Matheson has championed Scotland’s literary and linguistic culture and without her dedication and hard work, for which she has received very little public recognition, Scotland would undoubtedly be a poorer place. Had they shared the same era, I’m quite sure that Dr Matheson and Andrew Fletcher would have had many an articulate and animated discussion.

Sir Chris Hoy MBE, winner of the public life award, is Great Britain’s most successful Olympic athlete of all time, with six gold medals and one silver.

After his historic hat-trick of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Sir Chris was voted 2008 BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He was also awarded a knighthood in the 2009 New Year Honours list, capping what was an extraordinary year for the track cyclist from Edinburgh.

His success continued at London 2012 where Sir Chris won his fifth and sixth gold medals in the Keirin and Team Sprint, earning himself the title of the most successful Olympic cyclist of all time.

His Fletcher of Saltoun award recognises more than simply his sporting success. An ambassador for the success that was Glasgow 2014, Sir Chris’s interests and commitments have been evident in wider public life.

Professor Sue Black, winner of the science award, is one of the UK’s leading forensic anthropologists, and is director of Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification.

She teaches forensic anthropology, anatomy and human identification, and has recently been appointed as deputy principal for public engagement. Our council was unanimous in their support for the award, noting Professor Black’s particular contribution in articulating science in support of human kind.

She has authored nine text books, contributed 28 individual chapters to other textbooks, and produced a total of 93 published papers. Her 2010 class of graduates were inspired to collaborate together to write their own textbook for future students. Professor Black is currently leading the “Million for a Morgue” campaign, which aims to raise £1 million to build a world-leading forensic centre at Dundee. A number of top crime writers have joined the campaign and in July this year it was announced that the mortuary would be named 
after the crime writer Val McDermid.

At the Saltire Society we seek to recognise all aspects of cultural endeavour that can improve quality of life in Scotland, preserving all that is best in Scottish traditions and encouraging new developments which can strengthen and enrich the country’s cultural life. I am more than certain that you will agree that this year’s recipients of the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Award provide a legacy of which Fletcher would have been duly proud.

• For further information about the Saltire Society and the Fletcher of Saltoun Award, please visit www.thesaltiresociety.org.uk. Jim Tough is the society’s executive director.

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