By James Morrison
National Tartan Day is under attack in the British press thanks to a turncoat Scottish-American who once embraced the annual celebration of Scots and Scottish-Americans who helped build the United States in war and peace. Susan McIntosh, former president of an influential Scottish-American organization, opened her assault in April, denouncing Tartan Day as an “unfortunate mongrel of a commemoration” in her column in the Scots Heritage magazine.
Many American Scots who knew her and worked with her on Tartan Day events were shocked by her sudden and inexplicable tirade. The venerable London newspaper, The Times, reported on her screed on April 30, and the Scotsman, a well-read newspaper in Scotland, picked up the story the next day.
The Times, normally a reliable journal, basically published a smear article on Tartan Day. It employed an old journalistic trick. The reporter quoted from McIntosh’s column and then quoted an unidentified critic. Based on only two voices, The Times’ headline said “Scots scorn mongrel” Tartan Day, as if many, many Scottish citizens suddenly turned against the celebration. The Scotsman’s headline was more reserved, but the article still repeated many of the same misinformed and inaccurate claims from the Times’ article and McIntosh’s original column.
McIntosh, the Times and the Scotsman all reported that Tartan Day was established in 2008. They are off by 10 years. The newspapers repeated McIntosh’s dismissal of any connection between the US Declaration of Independence and Scotland’s 14th century Declaration of Arbroath and her tedious complaint that the annual Tartan Day parade in New York City is nowhere near as large as the St. Patrick’s Day or Columbus Day parades there. The Irish parade has been going on since 1762, and the march for the Italian explorer started in 1929. The Tartan Day parade is 17 years old.
The influence of Arbroath on the US Declaration of Independence is cited in the 1998 US Senate resolution, which established April 6 as an annual Scottish-American celebration, and in the 2005 US House resolution. President George W. Bush also cited the Declaration of Arbroath in his 2008 National Tartan Day resolution. The British Broadcasting Corp., one of the most authoritative sources in the United Kingdom, recognizes the connection between the two documents. The author Duncan Bruce traces the similarities in his 1996 book, “Mark of the Scots,” and Linda MacDonald-Lewis is the latest writer to link the two documents in her 2009 book, “Warriors and Wordsmiths of Freedom: The Birth and Growth of Democracy.”
McIntosh’s denunciation of Tartan Day is an insult to millions of Americans of Scottish heritage who have labored for nearly 20 years to establish this annual celebration. It also demeans a U.S. president, a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress, several first ministers of Scotland and the most famous living Scot, Sean Connery, who has frequently attended Tartan Day festivities in Washington DC and served as grand marshal of the New York Tartan Day Parade in 2002.
In her Scots Heritage article, McIntosh bizarrely proposes scrapping Tartan Day and celebrate something “that really happened.”
“How about global Outlander Day,” she wrote.