Celebrate the very best things that this country does

A £5m trust is a vote of confidence in the future, says Jim Tough
The Saltire Society celebrates Scottish cultural achievement in all its forms. Picture: PAThe Saltire Society celebrates Scottish cultural achievement in all its forms. Picture: PA
The Saltire Society celebrates Scottish cultural achievement in all its forms. Picture: PA

‘No man becomes rich unless he enriches others’ - Andrew Carnegie

It is a fact that the majority of the members of the Saltire Society are in what has been quaintly described as the “third age”. That constituency is characterised by certain ways of conducting its business. While on one hand the Saltire Society is increasingly active in the world of social media, the other hand holds a pen. Written correspondence is the preferred means of communication for many of our members. What letters lack in reach and immediacy they gain tenfold in the personal nature, thoughtfulness and permanency of the exchange. So when we were refurbishing our Edinburgh headquarters and made a call for support to buy new chairs, it was inspiring to receive, virtually by return, five handwritten letters offering a contribution. Crowdfunding? Old hat!

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That work is just one of the many ongoing changes to the Society and all that it does. Following on from a commission chaired by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, we have been working through 28 recommendations that are helping us again become a respected independent voice that supports and celebrates Scottish cultural achievement in all its forms. But none of these changes would have been possible without another act of individual generosity.

A member of the Saltire Society passed away in 2010 leaving to the society the remarkable sum of £475,000. This wasn’t the result of a fundraising campaign, a legacy strategy, or any other of the fashionable methodologies for seeking the financial Holy Grail. It was an individual’s act of faith, generosity and commitment to the well-being of Scottish culture. That money has given the society the fuel to drive the changes suggested by Lord Cullen’s commission, and like the equally swift and generous response to our appeal for new chairs, it comes with an air of humility about it. When I asked another member who had recently made a commitment to support the society in her own will, for permission to quote her name in despatches, she declined. The generosity of our members is, it seems, matched by their humility.

Having built the right foundations for the next chapter in the Saltire Society’s fine history, we are able to turn our thoughts to how we can help the exceptional talent flourish and enrich all of our lives as a result. The best sense I can give of that intention is evident an excerpt from George Bruce’s History of the Saltire Society quoting MacDiarmid’s own words:

“With the end of the war, however, and the end of my Merchant Service employment”, wrote Hugh MacDiarmid in The Company I’ve Kept, “things became difficult and we had to subsist for a considerable time on the ‘dole’. Housing was a problem, but help came from an unexpected quarter. At a meeting of the Saltire Society the Earl of Selkirk praised my work for Scotland and the quality of my lyrics, and a little later at his instance his brother, the Duke of Hamilton, offered me a commodious house adjacent to his Lanarkshire mansion of Dungavel, near Strathaven.”

The embrace of the Society could hardly be wider. An earl praises the quality of lyrics in Scots and work done for Scotland by the Communist/Nationalist poet, MacDiarmid (he was out of both parties at the time), at a Saltire Society meeting, and a duke befriends him.

This month we are launching a new Saltire Trust as a means of securing our independence of thought and action for generations to come. We are ambitious and have set a target of £5 million that would allow us to support exceptional talent and celebrate exceptional Scottish achievements in arts, literature, science, engineering, architecture and more.

The contribution that many of our members have made in the 78 years of the Saltire Society – be it towards a single chair or a major bequest resonates in everything we try to do for Scotland and its culture. If you, reading this, share our passion for Scotland’s diverse culture and heritage, we’d be very pleased to hear from you.

• Jim Tough is Executive Director of the Saltire Society. For further information, please visit www.saltiresociety.org.uk