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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Update on a National Register

Wow, it's been over a month since my last post here! All I can say is that I've been busy making kilts for folks, so that's a good thing if you have ordered a kilt from me -- a bad thing if you enjoy reading my blog! Seeing as my kilt clients pay me more than my blog readers, you'll forgive me for not being that attentive to this little corner of the internet of late...

In any case, I felt the need to post about the latest update on the proposed national tartan register in Scotland. The Scotsman newspaper has an article on the subject in today's edition:

It seems that things are moving forward, and I was pleased to see the Scottish Tartans Authority (STA) getting good mention. (They also make mention of "a smaller list ... in Dunkeld" which I assume is this one.) STA director of operations, Brian Wilton, is quoted extensively.

Many are under the impression that one of these other tartan databases is the "official" one, but the reality is that these two, and all prior to them, are private entities with no government sanction whatsoever. The purpose behind having a government register is really to give some clarity to the situation that currently exists with multiple tartan recording bodies. It may not put an end to them all, but at least once would be able to say, this one is the recognized National Register, and any others are not.

However, I always thought it would be somewhat daft of the Scottish government to attempt to create a new register altogether. Why reinvent the wheel? Unless neither of the two current recording bodies are doing a competant job (here we are talking about the STA and the Scottish Tartans World Register -- the Scottish Tartans Society ceased to maintain their Register some seven years ago), there is no need to create a third. My feelings have been that the government would be better served selecting one of the existing bodies and giving it their "blessing" as the official National Register.

And I think the International Tartan Index, maintained by the STA, is the obvious choice. Why do I say that? It has nothing to do with favoritism or personal opinion, just pramatism. The ITI currently contains over 4500 unique tartan designs. (Some may note that new tartans are being assigned numbers upwards of 7000 -- this is because when a tartan is removed from the ITI for whatever reason, be it a record that is in error or a duplicate entry, that number is not reissued; hence the oft-cited lower number of 4500 tartans, give or take). The STWR claims on their web site to have some 2600. So the ITI is the more complete of the two databases.

Also, the ITI would seem to be the industry standard. In my line of work at the museum, I am in contact with most major tartan producers in Scotland, and the bulk of them record their new tartans designs with the STA, and rely upon the STA for tartan information. If the government wants to sanction a tartan register, you want it to be one that the folks that make tartan actually use.

Lastly, to the best of my knowledge the STWR is operated by a single couple. And though they may be doing a wonderful job, it's just the two of them. And none of us will be around forever. Whereas the STA is operated by a board of governers made up of a cross-section of those both in the tartan industry and in tartan academia, with a membership body existing in the UK, USA, and elsewhere. It would seem that they have the structure in place to ensure continued existance well into the future.

All of this is simply my opinion, for what it's worth. I wonder if any Scottish MPs read my blog?

I will end by just commention on how painful it is to read the comments people feel the need to post on The Scotsman's web site any time they run an article on tartan. It just goes to show that ignorance is still rampant regarding this subject. The first comment I read posted after the article this morning stated that the Court of the Lord Lyon was the official government register of tartan. Of course this is not the case, as you can read on the Lord Lyon's web site.

However, you cannot blame the person for their ignorance. I recently found a book on tartan published in 2005 that still made the claim that in order for a tartan to be "real" it must be recorded by Lord Lyon, and that you could be charged with a 25 pound fine if you are caught in Scotland wearing an "unofficial" tartan -- seriously!

With any luck, having a National Register may put at least some of this nonsense to rest.

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