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Scottish Parliament Speech: Scottish Register of Tartans Bill: Stage 1 (June 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I, too, congratulate Jamie McGrigor on what is perhaps the most distinguished service that a member of his clan has given to Highland society since the demise of Rob Roy. I suppose that the one major figure from the Highlands to impose himself worldwide was invisible for most of the time and was a reptile.

I refer, of course, to the Loch Ness monster. In looking at the history of tartan, it is important to note that we are still too generalised about it. Ted Brocklebank introduced us to the wonderful world of Hugh Trevor-Roper, an expert in forgeries of all sorts, who ultimately was tripped up by a man from Stuttgart. Nonetheless, the story of tartan is one of myth covering myth. I would like more attention to be paid to the role of the prince consort, Albert the good, that German innovator and scientist who saw to it that tartan met its necessary partner - aniline dyestuffs - in the 1850s.

The impact of Balmoral must be considered, as must the Crimean war - from the thin red line through to the notion of bravery and heroism - which really gave tartan its impact. The impact of tartan at that time was not felt only in Scotland. For example, the German Tracht movement - the German movement for peasant culture and clothes - arose in the 1880s. It was one of the themes of the historicism of people such as mad King Ludwig of Bavaria - who, logically I suppose, would have been the monarch of Scotland, had Rob Roy had his way. The Scottish tradition made a breakthrough that other national movements followed.

I must emphasise the importance of protecting the definition of Highland Scotland. I have no axe to grind - I do not think that the Harvies penetrated north of Motherwell during the Victorian period - but we must remember that the Victorian period witnessed the industrialisation of not only tartan production but tweed production. Tartan and tweed should go together.

I made a film on Harris tweed for the Open University in 1978. At the time, there were 800 weavers there, but now there are fewer than 100. We ought to apply to tweed the same degree of protection - a good Tory principle, I suppose - that we are applying to tartan in the bill.

The great trinity of Scotland is tweed, tartan and whisky, and they must all receive special consideration. In a competitive world, one can either go global and be wiped out or stand four-square for one's own particular interests. There is a bit of Scottish bloody-mindedness in that.

Finally, I make a plea. Professor Susan Manning, of the University of Edinburgh institute for advanced studies in the humanities, told me today about a farm on Mull where the tartan that the people weave comes from the coats of the local sheep and uses local dyestuffs. I hope that the register of tartans will protect our tartans - the absolutely original and unrepeatable tartans that we get from that sort of production. I like to think that an organic tartan is waiting in the wings.

Home > Politics > Scottish Parliament Speech: Scottish Register of Tartans Bill: Stage 1 (June 2008)