Tartan tsars blasted over rash of registrations

THE SCOTTISH Government body which regulates tartans has been criticised for registering designs for German pipe smokers, Peter Rabbit and a host of movie spin-offs, including Brave.

Alex Johnstone, Conservative MSP for North-east Scotland, has said the Scottish Register of Tartans (SRT), which received Royal Assent in 2008, needs to be overhauled to safeguard Scotland’s heritage.

At present, anyone can design a new tartan and submit it to be considered for official registration for inclusion on the register by paying a non-refundable fee of £70 and including details such as its proposed name, why the colours were chosen and evidence of their association with it.

Official categories range from the traditional clan and family names to the corporate world and military regiments. One category is what the SRT describes as “fashion or fancy names”.

The SRT website states that under the Scottish Register of Tartans Act 2008, the Keeper must refuse to register a tartan “if it is deemed to be frivolous or offensive”.

Between 1 April, 2011, and 31 March, 2012, there were 201 tartans added to the SRT, while 62 applications were refused.


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The previous year saw 199 tartans added to the register and 61 applications refused.

Mr Johnstone said: “The regulation of tartan legislation was motivated by the need to protect Scotland’s heritage and ensure it is held in high esteem.

“This means there should be no proliferation of the shallow and irreverent which we are seeing at present.

“I have nothing against German pipe smokers, but a tartan with gold thread through it to represent Golden Virginia tobacco is really quite bizarre.

“The way the Register is behaving only serves to enhance the nonsense it was set up to prevent. There is an excellent case here for demanding that the SRT is overhauled to protect our heritage.”

Mr Johnstone added that he fully supported “inclusive” tartans such as those for Scottish-Islamic societies or the tartan for asylum seekers in Scotland.


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However, Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, said while he too welcomed such inclusive tartans, he was puzzled by political designs such as that for the Occupy movement.

“The issues such causes represent are important. But I’m struggling to see how having their own tartan would help defeat capitalism,” he said.

James Hunter, emeritus professor of history at the University of the Highlands and Islands, described the SRT as a “waste of public money” and said it should be scrapped.

“It does seem really odd to me that, in an allegedly forward-thinking Scotland, we are funding a public body to regulate tartan, if that is what they are doing.”

Professor Hunter, author of several books on Highland history, added: “It is hard to imagine what justification there is for this when money is so scarce. In my view, the Register of Tartans should be done away with.”

Tartans registered include colours and themes representing the interests of those who have submitted them.


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The German pipe smokers’ tartan has red, black and gold reflecting the designer’s German origins and the main tobaccos blended for pipe smoking – gold for Virginia, black for Latakia and brown for Burley.

A spokesman for the National Records of Scotland said: “It has long been common for companies to create and register tartans.

“All registered tartans must meet strict criteria as determined by the Scottish Register of Tartans Act 2008. The National Records of Scotland is responsible for ensuring these criteria are met and takes this role very seriously. There is no provision in the act to refuse an application on grounds other than failure to meet the criteria.”