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Tuesday, March 28, 2006


This is the Scotsman's lead letter today. There is very minor editing <> which probably tightens it up - they did not amend the word "gubbed". This went out as a joint email to a number of Scots papers (I made it joint so that no paper would be annoyed if it got published twice - it is now some time since the Herald have done one of mine.
With us winning things at the Commonwealth Games the question of what our national anthem should be has arisen again so I would like to put in a word for our traditional song.

First to take a swing at any song that involves Highlands, heather, kilts, glens & suchlike appurtenances of the shortcake tin. Photogenic though they are the Highlands are only a minor part of Scots history & not remotely the proudest. The proudest are our achievements in science, human thought & engineering over the last 3 centuries to which per capita we need yield second place to no country in the world.

Scots Wae Hae, by Burns, has close similarities to & differences from Flower of Scotland. In both the protagonist was at the Battle of Bannockburn but in FoS the battle was fought for "our wee bit hill & glen" whereas SWH is about fighting for freedom "we will drain our dearest veins, but they will be free". FoS is triumphalist set after the battle when we have sent them "tae think again" whereas SWH is set prior to a battle in which the protagonist is willing, indeed expects, to die for freedom <- to my mind> an ifinitely braver & more noble thing. Opponents of SWH often say that while Flower is upbeat it is a dirge. Indeed it is - that is the point. It is about facing death for freedom & that is not as cheerful as boasting about all the battles where we gubbed the opposition (both of them). I think the word "gory" in line three should be updated to "bloody" because "gory" is not only archaic but has been misread as "glory" by generations of schoolchildren.
Scots Wha Hae

Scots wha hae wae Wallace bled,

Scots wham Bruce hae aftimes led,

Welcome tae your bloody bed,

Or tae victory

Nows the day and nows the hour,

See the front o battle lour,

See approach proud Edwards power,

Chains and slavery

Wha will be a traitor knave,

Wha can fill a cowards grave

Wha sae base as be a slave,

let him turn and flee,

Wha for Scotlands king and law,

Freedoms sword will strongly draw,

Freeman stand and freeman fa,

let him follow me.

By oppressions woes and pains,

By your sons in servile chains,

We will drain our dearest veins,

But they shall be free.

Lay the proud usurpers low,

Tyrants fall in every foe,

Libertys in every blow,

let us do or dee.

It's only a dirge if you choose to play it as one. It's perfectly straightforward to play it with spirit. Mind you, if you want a well-known old Scots air, use the tune of Waltzing Matilda - you could write new words yourself.
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