IT was only in 2006 that the Scottish Parliament passed an act making St Andrew’s Day a bank and public holiday even though a similar piece of Westminster legislation for St Patrick’s Day took effect in 1903.

The Irish, as ever, got there first, but by then they had already been celebrating their own national day for a long time.

March 17 became a Catholic feast day in 1631 and the first St Patrick’s Day parade in New York took place in 1762, 14 years before American independence. Ironically, it was organised by homesick Irish soldiers serving in the British Army which was there to suppress the uppity colonials.

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Domestic Irish celebrations of Patrick to match the well-established overseas ones are, however, a comparatively recent innovation – 1931 saw the first state-sponsored parade in Dublin but it was a drouthy walk, because the selling of alcohol on the day remained banned in the Irish Republic – but not in Northern Ireland – until the early 1960s.

Official support for the day and events surrounding it started to grow at that time and by the 1990s, the Irish government was successfully promoting both the traditional and the contemporary image of the country using the day as a key focus.

The greening campaign, in particular, which featured the lighting up of distinctive monuments, caught the eye and the imagination worldwide.

Scotland still lags some distance behind in those stakes but it is working to catch up. St Andrew’s Day receptions at the various Scottish Government offices established in key European centres are now annual events, with Humza Yousaf speaking at one in Dublin last Thursday night, taking the opportunity presented by the following day’s British-Irish Council summit in the city.

VisitScotland also promotes a variety of events and, year by year, others are slowly adding their contributions.

Patrick was the apostle of Ireland, with a recorded fifth-century link with the island even though the detail is as much myth as history.

Andrew, though an actual original apostle, has an even more sketchy past and his only connection to Scotland lies in the alleged deposit here of some of his supposed relics, carried by a monk from the Greek city of Patras, St Regulus, who in a dream was told to take them “to the ends of the earth” for protection.

That distant spot turned out to be in Fife, where a town now bears Andrew’s name though the more likely explanation for some of his bones finishing up by the North Sea was because they were hefted there by a sanctuary-seeking seventh-century Bishop of Hexham, a keen collector of such things.

They disappeared during the reformation, destroyed by presbyterian iconoclasts, but there are once again two relics of Andrew in Scotland, kept in St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, within the national shrine to the saint located there.

Andrew is also patron saint of Russia, Greece, Cyprus, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, San Andrés island, Colombia and Barbados. Barbados celebrates the day as a full public holiday but other places mark the day differently and for different reasons.

For example, it used to be Statehood Restoration Day in Serbia, because it was on St Andrew’s Day in 1808 that the Serbs liberated Belgrade from Ottoman rule.

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St Andrew also has under his saintly protection a motley collection of occupations, causes and afflictions including fishmongers, gout, singers, sore throats, spinsters, old maids and women wishing to become mothers, while on St Andrew’s eve, it is claimed in some traditions that girls can get a glimpse of their future husbands by various means including, in Romania, placing 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillows. There is also a tale in that country that anyone hearing a wolf speak to him or her on St Andrew’s night will soon die.

Whatever the history, the adoption and development of St Andrew’s Day as a holiday which is focused on Scotland and the culture of the people who live here is still very much a work in progress.

The voluntary nature of the Scottish legislation inevitably means that marking it is a hit or miss affair. In a world of 24-hour access to almost all services and sectors, it is up to individual companies, local authorities, the third sector – and everyone else – to opt in and out.

So far, with the exception of the Scottish Government and its agencies, most have opted out of marking what is the closest thing we have to a national day, egged on by those who see any expression of national sentiment as contrary to their interests. In so doing, however, they are costing themselves much more than they are saving.

Ireland offers a good example of the way in which soft power – the use of national cultural activities and tropes – in time converts into widespread influence and financial advantage.

Ireland’s economy has benefited from the decision to draw attention to Ireland and Irishness by means of distinctive national celebration, and Scotland’s would do likewise if a sustained attempt to promote St Andrew’s Day was undertaken.

Sustained is the key word. You don’t make international progress for any innovation without a long-term commitment to the task.

There are of course many competing priorities for Scottish Government support but if we are to harness the undoubted goodwill that exists towards this country furth of our shores, we need to fund the process of reaching out for it.

We also need to be seen to want to do so, which means developing an enthusiasm for the task and observing the day ourselves.

For a start, all Scotland’s local authorities should be taking the day and should spread enthusiasm by ensuring their schools do so too.

Companies should use the day to promote their Scottish activities and we might even ask, and expect, the Scottish banks to play ball given that St Andrew’s Day is meant to be a uniquely Scottish bank holiday.