There are only 18 hours of voting left in the public consultation to “name the bridge”.
To show its inclusive credentials – or at least, so it doesn’t have to shoulder the blame for giving it a daft name, which is good politics – the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland decided to ask the public what the new forth crossing should be called.
Let’s not rehash the arguments over whether it should be being built at all. Like many, I had my doubts and if I’d had the choice, might have opted for a ferry or even a tunnel. But a bridge is what we are getting. So let’s use it to make a statement.
In recent weeks, there has been much documenting, particularly as part of the great campaign to have Mary Barbour honoured publicly in her home city of Glasgow, of the lack of public acknowledgement of women’s achievements in Scottish history and culture. Where are all the statues to women? Indeed, the few that exist are so poorly known that a definitive list is hard to come by, which is why the work of Women’s History Scotland to map the memorials is so welcome.
About time too. Of the few women to have statues and public recognition, Queen Victoria dominates. There are probably more statues, wells and market crosses in honour of her living to a ripe old age in Scottish towns than exist for all other women deemed worthy of acknowledgement. So many women have barely a plaque or even a footnote in history.
My own favourite is the Wigtown Martyrs, which documents a crucial, oft neglected part in Scotland’s history, and in a neat twist, also commemorates the lives of two Margarets who were tried and murdered during the “Killing Times” of the Covenanters in the 17th Century. These two poor women were tied to stakes and left to drown by the incoming tide for failing to confess all about the activity of the Covenanters. The memorial to them is well worth a visit – go at Book Town festival time! It’s in a beautiful, evocative setting and such significant moments of bravery and sacrifice in our history should not be allowed to be forgotten.
So, with the naming of the third crossing, we have the opportunity to put a woman front of house. And that doesn’t happen every day.
I’ve blogged before, lamenting how St Margaret, Scotland’s other patron saint, languishes largely forgotten and ignored compared to how we celebrate St Andrew. A crossing named after her would right this wrong. And it would be entirely apposite for this crossing to be named after her – she did, after all, initiate the Queen’s Ferry to enable pilgrims to St Andrews to journey across to Fife more safely.
There is much to admire about Margaret, but she is not without controversy. Yes, she played a role in the anglicisation of some aspects of Scots life. And she was pious beyond belief.
But do we weigh up such flaws in male heroes before giving them their rightful place in our heritage and culture? Not always. And if we want to make progress in terms of giving women equal status and celebrating their lives and their achievements more prominently, then we need to make a start. Make the breakthrough with one or two largescale, public memorials for women and it becomes more normal to honour more.
Some have suggested that a crossing named after St Margaret might inadvertently be seen as a paean to Margaret Thatcher. Frankly, this is nonsense. Do we argue that we should never utter the name of William Wallace because his first name is also that of the Butcher of Cumberland? In any event, if the bridge is named after St Margaret, we’d all be responsible for making sure everyone knows who she is and why this is her crossing. She might, by a neatly circuitous route, actually claim her rightful place in our history, with children growing up knowing something about her. Fortunately, her achievements are rich enough, that we can all find something to like. Her commitment, for example, to basic principles of social justice and addressing poverty are no bad things to be reminded of in this current age. Indeed, they would make a fitting counterpoint to the legacy of that other Margaret.
So, 18 hours left to vote. Please do. And please choose to name the third Forth crossing after St Margaret.
And even if you have little stomach to name a crossing after this particular Margaret, do it because it’s high time we had a majestic, prominent monument to a woman in Scotland. And if you don’t want to do it for her, do it for a Margaret you know. Your mum, your gran, your sister or even your Auntie Peggy, which by some strange Scottish quirk is what many women called Margaret were known as.
Me? I’ve already voted, happy enough to acknowledge St Margaret’s right to this honour. But also in remembrance of those two rebellious, steadfast Covenanters, Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson.