Hey everyone With the Independence debate in full swing there are many questions which they though they may at first seem trivial to some are still serious to many others. These are to those who ask them every bit as important as that of EU membership defence, the pound, or the monarchy. One of those questions was posed by our facilitator at Glasgow Writers Marc Sherland who gave the group a title around this issue, encouraging us to think about what our national anthem should be. The reason for presenting this as a theme is that Marc like myself knows there is an ongoing debate around this issue within political and cultural circles and the general consensus on both sides of the independence argument is that if ever Scotland needs a decent national anthem it’s now.
I am happy to concur with the sentiments expressed in that statement, and I’m happy to do so for a very good reason. The fact is that no matter the result of the referendum next September, the whole of Scotland needs an anthem we can all be proud of. This would in my view be an anthem which would give us both a vision of the future and a mirror to our past.
This is a very delicate balancing act and achieving it will not be easy. Speaking from a personal perspective I don’t want my country to glorify war or take a rose coloured view of our history. I want an anthem which is real and can look at our nation’s faults and flaws as much it does our good points. So with that in mind let me have a look at the contenders as we seek to sing a song for Scotland.
First up let us rule out for all time the ghastly God Save the Queen/King or Corgi’s delete as appropriate. This is not only pompous as it assumes the right of one family to reign over us. It is also deeply offensive anti Scottish and dare I say it racist. Yes I do dare to say it and I say because it’s true. The fourth verse now hidden from both hymn books and history openly talks of crushing rebellious Scots. So I would safely say that rules that one out of the running.
The next song to go under the microscope is that well known favourite of the tartan army Flower Of Scotland. It is a great song for the fans to get us in the mood for the game or at least so we are told, but does this claim stand up to closer scrutiny? Well you may be surprised to hear especially when you consider the fact I support independence that my answer is actually no.
Now some will ask why I say this, and they deserve a considered answer. My reason for rejecting Flower Of Scotland is the fact that it was written not as so many assume to celebrate the victory at Bannockburn but to commemorate the defeat at the battle of Flodden where the flower of Scotland’s nobility were defeat by English forces in a bloody and brutal conflict which one of our kings actually provoked. Indeed if one looks closely at the words we know so well we can in fact that the writer takes the viewpoint of someone sore from defeat as he asks ‘oh Flower of Scotland when will we see your likes again?’ This is not a question you ever ask after a victory. Yes I know the chorus has rousing finale about the Bannockburn victory and sending proud Edward’s army homeward to think again, but overall this has the tone of a lament rather being the tune of glory some would like to portray. Now I don’t know about you but I don’t want a lament for the song which identifies my nation to the world.
The name of our national bard Robert Burns is never far away from any discussion on a future national anthem. This I have to say is hardly surprising as he wrote two of the strongest contenders for this honour. A Man’s A Man Fur Aw That and Scots Wha Hae. Both songs have their merits, A Man’s A Man with it’s focus on internationalism has a strong appeal to the Scots body politic and I love it’s message of hope that we may see a fairer more egalitarian world. I especially like the fact that it mocks authority and has a warmth and humanity running right through it. However this may not be a popular choice amongst feminists.
As for Burns other contender, the rousing battle hymn of Scots Wha Hae has always been a popular choice of nationalists and regarded as Scotland’s unofficial anthem and is the song sung at the end of SNP gatherings like the party conferences or fundraising events. Whilst I personally believe it to be a better choice than Flower of Scotland I want to remain true to my suggestion of no song which in any way glorifies war in any way and the fact that it is so prominently associated with the SNP may not endear it to non nationalist types.
Some people usually in more polite society, believe there is a case for Scotland The Brave. I however have to disagree. Unless you are talking about the more satirical version by Alan Citizen Smart. Well I would be good to have an anthem which had a bit of humour in it, the only problem with this approach is that it may have to have rewrites every 20 years to reflect the cultural icons of the current generation. Footnote to those who don’t know how to use English properly. A generation is 20 years not 10 or even 5 as the more culturally inept may think. The proper terms for these time periods are decade and peer group. Anyway to get back to the choice of anthem I think that though a good song Scotland The Brave may not be the best of choices. Well unless we choose the satirical version I can’t hear them singing this one on the streets of Springburn or Shettleston.
It is for the same reason that I rule out that Sydney Devine classic Scotland Forever and what ever you do don’t even dare to suggest Ally’s Army not even as a joke. Well I lived throughout that turbulent period when optimism was replaced by fantasy and dreams turned in to nightmares, and if I am honest I don’t want to be reminded of those dark days.
Caledonia is another potential candidate though I think the fact it was in the top 40 may dent it’s chances ever so slightly. However the excellent lyrics of Dougie McLean created a beautiful and popular song which may be worthy of consideration and could be an outside bet.
Another Corries song which is my opinion a stronger candidate is the brilliant Come Now Gather Now. This song of the diaspora is surely worth a mention, dealing as it does with emigration to the new world and the exiles love for our country. However the fact that it is tinted with the sadness and sorrow of defeat in battle may mean it is not quite potent to the job an anthem needs to do.
Someone joked at last year’s Traditional Music Awards that we should start a campaign to get Hermless by the late and in my opinion great Michael Marra selected as our new national anthem. This is something of which his niece Labour MSP Jenny Marra would I am sure approve and believe me she wouldn’t be the only one. I mean it would certainly make my top five choices. Well I always did admire the work of the Dundee Bard who at 60 was taken from us far sooner than he should have been.
This simple but beautiful song is a celebration of the lives of ordinary people. Lives which all too often go unnoticed and even unrecorded. Hermless pays tribute to them quite brilliantly by celebrating the every day events which form part the tapestry of our humanity. This is a real contender and the powers that be should take note as we would be sending a message of hope to the global community by selecting the most peaceful national anthem of any nation on earth.
Another contender is the Hamish Henderson classic Freedom Come All Ye. This is a highly emotional and rousing song which refers to Scotland, Sovereignty, Solidarity, and Struggle. The only problem I foresee with this choice is the fact that it was written by a man of the nationalist left and therefore may not go down well with the conservative establishment whether they be real authentic Tories or those of the New Labour variety.
For the same reason it may be difficult for some to accept one of my top choices which is the brilliant McCluskey Brothers song from the later part of the last century Your Daughters And Your Sons. A song which tells the story of international struggles for independence and equality as a message of hope for our nation I can see just those snivelling Blair loving Tories queueing up to leave our country if this were ever selected which is precisely why I would have it in my final selection short list.
Another song to offend the Daily Mail readers and give Katie Hopkins the boak is the uplifting Jock Tamson’s Bairns by my good friend by Steven Clark. This would be an inspired choice as it paints a picture of a welcoming nation, an inclusive nation, diverse in its culture and confident in its identity. This is a nomination which I would strongly support because of its empathetic political sentiments. A controversial choice it may be but it could potentially be a cracking one.
The breathtaking Scotland Is Ours by the excellent Amber Road is another upbeat number which presents a positive and inclusive version of what Scotland can be and what it should aspire to be as an independent nation. This would I think be a brilliant and inspiring choice for our country’s youth and it would also be a popular choice amongst those of us who attended the march for Independence as it certainly had Carlton Hill rocking in the sun.
This song also has another advantage when compared to certain of the contemporary nominations namely the fact that it hasn’t had an entry in the charts. This means it is not tarnished by the taint of commercialism. This is something which if I’m being completely honest does tend to appeal to the idealist in me.
However if I had to make a choice and you can see that it would be very difficult to do then I’ll go for my favourite Scottish song ever and that is Scotland’s Story. Written and performed by the Proclaimers. This song truly is a people’s anthem telling the story of the nation as it unfolded through time making us proud of the fact that Scotland is and always has been a nation of migrants and unlike many anthems it doesn’t gloss over the less desirable chapters of our history. Selecting this I believe would be I suggest in a lesson in humility that no country is perfect or without blemish and doing so could I believe the perfect choice as a new national anthem for a nation which needs a song which will make all its people proud to sing words of inclusion, acceptance and hope as we work together for a better Scotland a hermless nation, a peaceful nation which is proud of her daughters and her sons just as her daughters and her sons are proud of her.
Love And Best Wishes