Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Independent minds

So it's 'better together'; the people have spoken.

It had been suggested in several quarters that the wording of the ballot incorporated an element of pro-Nationalist bias - it's been shown to be much easier, said the commentators, to campaign with a positive outlook and generate forward-looking enthusiasm when you are asking people to vote "Yes!".

Personally, I'm not so sure. I have a feeling that the theories are based on the emotion-fest that is American politics, where optimistic euphoria is the essential driving force behind electoral success, and may not translate so easily to this side of the Pond.

Scots are, by and large, made of sterner stuff. This is, after all, the country where my my primary school blazer badge bore the words 'Do or Die', a motto which, with hindsight, seems a rather uncompromising mission statement for a class of mixed infants.

Scotland has a rich and diverse musical heritage but it is somehow typical that, even before the purpose-built anthem 'Flower of Scotland' made its appearance in 1967, many of the traditional songs harked back to ancient battles and days of glory - or crushing defeat and the need for vengeance.

And, while I doubt many English schoolchildren in the 1960s could have rattled off a marching song from the Napoleonic wars or, once the progressives got at education, even a verse or two of  'The British Grenadiers', their Scottish counterparts were learning 'All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the border' or Burns' oft-misquoted rallying-cry*.
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!
The struggle in question is, naturally, against the English and, although it is as obsolete as the notorious reciprocal line in 'God Save the Queen', the continued popularity of the song serves to illustrate that this is a nation which admires and celebrates defiance:
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!—
Let us do or die!
It's hard to imagine a generation reared on those words succumbing to the Pollyanna Principle and gravitating unthinkingly towards consent. While Salmond & Co may have envisaged a great leap forward on a wave of sentiment, it seems that his compatriots are for the most part, creditably immune to positive bias.

*I am pedantic enough to be deeply irritated by the misuse of the opening words as if they constituted a meaningless, self-contained shout of enthusiasm, usually by the same people who insist on holding hands throughout 'Auld Lang Syne'. 


  1. Almost makes one wish to be Scottish to join the rallying cry.

  2. JH, this, I think, captures the spirit of it very well...


    It's interesting that Youtube is dominated by the relatively recent Corries' version, which illustrates the predilection for 3/4 time which they brought to the composition of Flower of Scotland and makes it closer in character to a lament. This style, incidentally, appeals greatly to the Scots-Americans, in much the same way their Irish-American counterparts have embraced syrupy renditions of Irish tunes.

    The version I was taught (like the one above) had far more in common with the martial tempo still found when the tune is played by French military bands (a relic of the Auld Alliance) and may, perhaps, be closer to Burns' original idea.