‘By St Andrew, unionists must stop nationalists hijacking Saltire’ – Pamela Nash

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Scotland’s culture, heritage and flag do not belong to any political movement but to everyone in the country, writes Pamela Nash of Scotland in Union.

St Andrew’s Day has arrived, and it should be a time to reflect on what it means to be Scottish, and to celebrate our history, our culture and our achievements. This belongs to all who live in or share an affinity for Scotland. What better opportunity to fortify our Scottish patriotism than on our national day?

An All Under One Banner rally in Glasgow is a sea of Saltires but Pamela Nash says the flag is not only a nationalist symbol, unionists can fly it too (Picture: John Devlin)

An All Under One Banner rally in Glasgow is a sea of Saltires but Pamela Nash says the flag is not only a nationalist symbol, unionists can fly it too (Picture: John Devlin)

Unfortunately, many feel that our shared heritage has been hijacked by the nationalist movement, and it has put them off celebrating our Scottishness. This is nothing short of tragic. We should be able to be visibly proud of our country regardless of whether we see the best way forward for Scotland as remaining part of the UK or as a separate country.

Over recent years, the SNP and its fellow nationalists have tried to appropriate everything that is Scottish, using biased versions of our history, our culture and our symbols to their own ends. This is most prominent in their use of our Saltire. This is why Scotland in Union has been running the #EveryonesFlag campaign, as a reminder that no political party or movement has a monopoly on our culture and heritage.

Those of us who made known our wish to remain in the UK were no strangers to being accused of “talking Scotland down” during the referendum campaign, and since. This doubting of someone’s loyalty to their country is abominable.

It is a desperate tactic to use emotional blackmail as a tool to persuade proud Scots to overcome their valid scepticism of separatism and make the referendum a choice between Scotland and the UK.

For many of us, our Scottish and British identities sit perfectly comfortably with each other and we recognise that being in the UK is best for Scotland. That’s why it’s important for us to assert our Scottish identity whenever it feels appropriate and not cede this to the narrow nationalists who can see it as their own preserve.

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A few years ago, when I was MP for Airdrie and Shotts, an SNP candidate rented a shop a couple of doors up from my constituency office to use as an election campaign room. Every day, there was a loudspeaker outside playing Scottish songs on a loop. People staffing the campaign room were quite open to me and my team that they were doing it to try and wind us up. And they were right, it did wind me up.

But not for the reason they intended. For them, this music belonged to nationalists, we were not true Scots so would be irritated by this music. That is what wound me up, not the tunes. How dare they think that?

The enduring images of the years of campaigning in the lead-up to the 2014 referendum are those Yes and No badges, posters, and stickers. And the one that really stands out for me, for all the wrong reasons, is the Saltire with ‘Yes’ emblazoned across it.

This hijacking of our most prominent Scottish image jolted me. The message was clear: we represent Scotland, if you are a real Scot, you should be voting Yes.

In response, I displayed a giant Saltire in my living room window. Let’s be clear, no political campaign has a monopoly on our culture and heritage, including our flag.

If this issue was consigned to 2014, it could be left to lie. But here we are, more than four years on, and it continues.

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In October, the pro-independence campaign launched a new fundraising drive under the banner of the Scottish Independence Convention. As part of this initiative, it is running an online survey to assess the views of its supporters. In it, it asks respondents how much they agree or disagree with the following statement: “People recognise that the Saltire is aligned with the independence movement.” Hardly subtle, is it? It’s clear that the Scottish Independence Convention is seeking a positive response to this so that it can continue the campaign to make Scotland’s national flag a political symbol.

Instead, we need stop creating divisions, celebrate together and remember that we have more in common than divides us.

Most Scottish children are forever scarred with their memories of St Andrew’s Day, when normal PE activities were suspended in favour of ceilidh-dancing lessons and they had to endure the annual primary school ritual of pulling jumper sleeves down over their hands, so they did not have to actually touch a member of the opposite sex whilst dancing. That all changes at high school, of course. These are memories that bind us. There is so much more we have in common.

All Scots know the terror that is the midge, that sausages are square, that our money is legal tender (even though it isn’t!) and our water just tastes better. We enjoy telling visitors that Scots are the world’s best inventors, about that time we think we saw Nessie and explaining how to catch a haggis. And approaching Christmas, as a kid it was the Tunnock’s van that indicated that ‘holidays are coming’, and now it’s the Irn Bru ad we are all waiting to see.

Our heritage and our common memories are nothing to do with politics, they are nothing to do with whether you want Scotland to remain in the UK or if you want it to be a separate country. They are what we all have in common.

St Andrew’s Day, our flag, everything that is Scottish, is for everyone in Scotland regardless of political beliefs. Let us celebrate this day, and our heritage, and be proud of what we have achieved together and will in the future. Happy St Andrew’s Day!

Pamela Nash is chief executive of Scotland in Union