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A National Anthem for Scotland ?
Bob Murray, a traditional musician from Edinburgh, from time to time presents his one-man show "A National Anthem for Scotland". To date it has been done half-a-dozen times in Edinburgh, Leith, and Stirling.

It is a two-hour show in which he presents eight songs often thought of as candidates for Scotland's national anthem, and tries to explain the strengths and weaknesses of each. He attempts to define what an anthem should be, and discuss how Scotland might progress to a decision. "Do we need to make a choice ? If so, how do we do it ?
The concert-cum-lecture covers much more ground than this web page !
  If you can get to one of these shows, please c
ome along - learn some stuff you didn't know (but probably should), see if your opinions can be changed, chuck in your own tuppence-worth !

Contact/enquiries/bookings, through Robert Murray Stamp Shop

-  He also does another show "A History of Scotland in Fifteen Songs".  -

A National Anthem for Scotland show at Scottish
                Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

This is a matter which brings much discussion - some serious, some biased, some arguments put forward with little thought, some with too little spontaneity.
This page is to be seen as no more than the author's own personal views, although I have tried to see the good and bad sides of everything.

Officially, the National Anthem in Scotland is that of the United Kingdom - God Save the King. However, for many years a variety of songs have been used as unofficial anthems at events that were not matters of state, or which had a definite Scottish flavour. In recent years Flower of Scotland  has become a kind of unofficial official national anthem, especially at sporting events.

The main contenders for the Scottish National Anthem are as follows (in alphabetical order);

A Man's a Man Auld Lang Syne
Flower of Scotland Freedom Come All Ye
God Save the King Hermless
Scotland the Brave Scots Wha Hae
Each is detailed below. Click on the title to go there.
Song Lyrics Comments
A Man's a Man
words by Robert Burns
Is there, for honest poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure , an' a' that;
The rank is but the the guinea's stamp;
The Man's the gowd for a' that!

What tho on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an' a' that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A Man's a Man for a' that!
For a' that an' a' that,
Their tinsel show and a' that;
The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that!

Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, and stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that an' a' that,
His riband, star, and a' that;
The man of independent mind,
He looks an' laughs at a' that!

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest Man's aboon his might,
Guid faith he maunna fa' that!
For a' that an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that,
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher ranks than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, and a' that;
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that
That Man to Man the warld o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that!

General Comments; This is a song well-respected worldwide. It may be a good thing (some maybe think it a bad thing) that the words in fact do not mention Scotland by name. It could be an anthem for any country . . . as long as they were happy to sing in Scots. 
The verses are quite different from each other - sung with understanding this can be quite a strong feature of the song, but can also be the road to failure through boredom. 

Singability; Moves along quite nicely, and quite an easy song to follow and to sing, except for the end of the penultimate line which goes high quite suddenly.

Playability; Quite suitable for most styles, I think. 

Positive; It would be good to have a decent piece of writing for an anthem ! Already known by many people. 

Negative; Some people have a problem with the "man" bit - is it sexist ?  I don't think so. You just have to remember that "men" is often correctly used to mean "people". (Big philological argument. Let's not go there.) 
There is a danger of the song slowing down too much, or being sung without feeling. 


Song Lyrics Comments
Auld Lang Syne
words by Robert Burns
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

General Comments; Many of the same attributes as A Man's a Man - known, international, not specifically Scottish. One of the few songs which, when the band plays a couple of introductory chords at the end of the ceilidh/wedding, everybody knows what to do and what to sing, even if they get confused about when to cross hands and so on. If taken up as a national anthem, would it be the only one in the world that also has accepted movements ?
One problem might be the pre-existing controversy about the tune. The tune known by most people is not the original - the originally in Burns' mind being generally preferred by traditional music nerds (myself included). On the other hand - alternative tunes for the same anthem ? Why not ?

Singability; Yes. As is well proven over many years and in many situations. All styles of singer - solo to large group. It seems to work fine.

Playability; Well suited to most styles and groupings.

Positive; Known worldwide, and respected.

Negative; Maybe it is too well known already in an international sense. And maybe it is too tied up with Hogmanay/New Year. 

Song Lyrics Comments
Flower of Scotland
Written by Roy Williamson
O flower of Scotland
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The hills are bare now
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

Those days are past now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

(Reprise first verse)

General Comments; Already accepted by many to be Scotland's national song, although I think it is only officially such for international football and rugby fixtures. It has high popularity, is known by most, and sung happily by many. It holds that position which only good anthems do; it carries some official status, yet it is still sung voluntarily by people when drunk !
In my view the worst thing about the words is that they refer to things past, to one victory in a history that records just as many defeats. It suggests that our nation is currently in a state of failure, and that we should base our aspirations for the future on a historic fighting attitude. 

Singability; The timing is actually trickier than most people think. This can be mastered easily by a solo singer, and a small group can easily hold the tune together. However, many of us will have been embarrassed by the attempts of a Scottish crowd to sing this at a football or rugby match. It can easily fall to pieces. Is this because of the rest between most lines ?  There will always be somebody willing to jump straight into the next line. Maybe also the fact that many of the lines are short, and that two lines can often be managed on one breath, lends it to rushing. So a band keeps to the proper timing, and the crowd rushes away.
The "died" in "and died for" (and similarly in the other verses of course) is too high for most people to sing comfortably if they start the song at a middle pitch.

Playability; Not the best, actually. I believe that there is a note that can't be played on the bagpipes. 

Positive; Popular. Well-kent. Very popular, even. The choice of the majority. Sung well (and without the "who" - see below), it really can sound good.

Negative; Carries an attitude which is insular and negative, and can be seen as anti-English. Much of the section of the population who like it so much think of it as being anti-English. Casual, tongue-in-cheek anti-Englishness might be ok in informal situations, but might be inappropriate in a formal context. 
Neds annoyingly think that they can make up for their ignorance of most of the words by shouting "Who ?" after "against him". 

Song Lyrics Comments
Freedom Come All Ye

Words by Hamish Henderson
Tune "The Bloody Fields of Flanders"

Roch the wind in the clear day�s dawin
Blaws the cloods heelster-gowdy ow'r the bay
But there's mair nor a roch wind blawin
Through the great glen o' the warld the day.
It's a thocht that will gar oor rottans
A' they rogues that gang gallus, fresh and gay
Tak the road, and seek ither loanins
For their ill ploys, tae sport and play.

Nae mair will the bonnie callants
March tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw
Nor wee weans frae pit-heid and clachan
Mourn the ships sailing doon the Broomielaw,
Broken faimlies in lands we've herriet
Will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, nae mair;
Black and white, ane ti ither mairriet,
Mak the vile barracks o' their maisters bare.

So come all ye at hame wi' Freedom,
Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom.
In your hoose a' the bairns o' Adam
Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room.
When Maclean meets wi's friens in Springburn,
A' the roses and geans will turn tae bloom,
And a black boy frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o' the burghers doon.

General Comments;
Of all the songs on this page, this is the most internationalist, the most self-depracating, the least nationalist. The one which most, by its humility, shows the greatest sense of national self pride. It says nothing bad about anybody but ourselves, but also makes you believe that all wrongs can be righted.
I like this one, by the way.

Singability; Good, both for professionals and amateurs. Not just the easiest of tunes, but can be learned fairly readily, even with its odd time signature. The words, being such concentrated Scots, really take some learning. The tune lies all within one octave, and makes it good for singing by a group of people with mixed singing ranges.

Playability; Quite easy for most instruments, and can be played as anything from a lament to a march ! If adopted as the anthem, a decision would have to be made to standardise the timing, as the song and the instrumental tune have slightly different time signatures.

Positive; Totally politically correct words. No insult given to anybody in any country. Strong. High quality of words and music. The lyrics are anything but shallow.

Negative; Not generally known. Difficult words to understand even for most Scots, being written in a language which is not most people's first language. 

Song Lyrics Comments
God Save the King
attr. to Henry Carey, 1740
God save our gracious King,
Long live our noble King,
God save the King!
Send him victorious,
Happy and Glorious,
Long to reign over us;
God save the King !

O Lord our God arise,
Scatter his enemies
And make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
Oh, save us all !

Thy choicest gifts in store
On him be pleased to pour;
Long may he reign;
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the King !

Not in this land alone,
But be God's mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world over

From every latent foe,
From the assassins blow,
God save the King !
O'er him thine arm extend,
For Britain's sake defend,
Our father, prince, and friend,
God save the King !

General Comments; This song is very well known, but only as far as verse one. Many people criticise the second (specifically anti-Scottish) verse, which is apparently no longer an official part of the UK National Anthem. (In fact there is no "official" version: the UK Government website states "There is no authorised version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition.".) Normally only the first verse is sung, and on more fomal occassions sometimes the first and third.

Singability; Quite easily sung, but difficult to do much with it that is original.

Playability; Has been proven over the years to be quite playable by most instrumental mixes. 

Positive; People already know it and recognise it, both here and abroad.

Negative; This goes against the politics of a large number of Scots, is seen by many as an "establishment" song, and is certainly non-inclusive. It does not give Scotland an identity.
It already carries such popularity that at times it is booed when played in Scotland. There are others who will not sing it, or who will not stand for it.


Song Lyrics Comments

Words and Music by Michael Marra

(Michael Marra) 

Wi' ma hand on ma hert and ma hert in ma mooth
Wi� erms that could reach ower the sea
Ma feet micht be big but the insects are safe
They'll never get stood on by me

Hermless, hermless, There's never nae bother fae me
I ging to the libry, I tak' oot a book
And then I go hame for ma tea

I save a' the coupons that come wi' the soup
And when I have saved fifty-three
I send awa fifty, pit three in the drar
And something gets posted tae me

Hermless, hermless, There's never nae bother fae me
I dae whit I�m telt and I tidy my room,
And then I come doon for my tea

There's ane or twa lads wha I could cry my chums
They're canny and meek as can be
There's Tam wi' his pigeons, And Wull wi his mice,
And Robert McLennan and me

Hermless, hermless, There's never nae bother fae me
I ging to the libry, I tak' oot a book
And then I go hame for ma tea

Hermless, hermless, there's never nae bother fae me
Naebody�d notice that I wasnae there
If I didnae come hame for ma tea

General Comments; Few who suggest this really believe it could actually be an anthem, but then with a wry smile wonder "Why not, it's hermless ?" This is the kind of song that the Scottish football supporter of the 1970s or earlier would have thought far too soft, but that the new touchie-feelie Tartan Army might feel comfortable with.

Singability; Surprisingly difficult, just like much of Marra's work. Great though with a small bunch of folk who all know it, and who can take on the chorus, and maybe even sing the mandolin (?) part !

Playability; Moderate. I've never heard it done as a piece by a large band. Could be interesting.

Positive; Just so totally different from any other country's anthem, it would probably become the world's favourite. Fun to sing. And who could complain about any of it ? Also, assuming this as the anthem would give Michael Marra the recognition he deserves for all the imaginative work he gave us.

Negative; Well, are we really serious ?


Song Lyrics Comments
Scotland the Brave
Words by Cliff Hanley
Tune traditional
Hark when the night is fallin, hear, hear the pipes a'callin
Loudly and proudly callin' down thru the glen
There where the hills are sleepin', now feel the blood aleapin'
High as the spirits of the old highland men!
Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland the mountain hame!
High may your proud standards gloriously wave!
Land of the high endeavour, land of the shining river,
Land of my heart, forever, Scotland the brave!

High in the misty highlands, out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat beneath Scottish skies!
Wild are the winds to meet you, staunch are the friends that greet you
Kind as the light that shines from fair maidens eyes!
Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland, my mountain hame!
High may your proud standards gloriously wave!
Land of the high endeavour, land of the shining river,
Land of my heart, forever, Scotland the brave!

Far off in sunlit places, sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearnin' to feel the kiss of sweet Scottish rain!
Where tropic skies are beamin, love sets the heart adreamin',
Longin' and dreamin' for the homeland again!
Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland, my mountain hame!
High may your proud standards gloriously wave!
Land of the high endeavour, land of the shinin' river,
Land of my heart, forever, Scotland the brave!

General Comments; This is a song that people think they know, but hardly anybody does. It very much has the feeling of a manufactured piece of tartan self-pride. It has little to do with real life in Scotland now or at any time in our history, and does not place us anywhere internationally except on the lid of the world's shortbread tin. 
Some people love it, and think it is bold, proud, evocative, and inspiring. Maybe we should ditch the words, and keep just the tune and the title.

Singability; It is very crowded with words, and is very difficult to master at any speed. It sounds best when arranged, with backing band/orchestra.

Playability; Great for a pipe band. 

Positive; See "playability". If somebody can sing it well, it can carry great boldness. The tune is already recognised in many parts of the world, and stirs images of pipe bands. 

Negative; See all other notes. 


Song Lyrics Comments
Scots Wha Hae (original title "Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn")
words by Robert Burns
Scots, wha' hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots wham Bruce has often led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to Victorie!
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's pow'r
Chains and slaverie! 

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland's King and law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw?
Freeman stand, or freeman fa'?
Let him follow me!

By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurper low!
Tyrants fall in ev'ry foe!
Liberty's in ev'ry blow!
Let us do or die!

General Comments; Another song that already has a long history of being Scotland's "almost-anthem". The tune (Hey Tutti Tatti) is reputed to be that used by Robert Bruce on his army's approach to Bannockburn, and it is said that the tune was already an old tune at that time. The text has some of the feel of sections of the Declaration of Arbroath, again giving it deep historical roots. Further political complexities stem from its connections to the late 18th Century trials of various people for sedition. This song has hidden depths !

Singability; Fairly challenging. People would need to learn how to sing this properly. There is a natural tendency to start singing a tune at about the lower-middle of one's vocal range. Scots Wha Hae often catches people out because they have either started too high or too low, but most singers can manage it fine if they start correctly. However, singing in a key to suit a group usually leaves some folk floundering at some point.. 

Playability; Suits most media well, and can sound very bold and stirring when played well by a pipe or military band. 

Positive; Ancient. Respected. Well-known. Stirring, and simply brimming over with national pride. Politically, this song also has a secondary layer, more powerful than the first.

Negative; Again a song that depends on martial strength rather than humanity. It recalls past battles (and fighting the English) rather than looking to ourselves and the wider world. Is it possible to find a National Anthem that doesn't mention England's King Edward ?  (see also Flower of Scotland !)
This can easily turn into a dirge. 

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Multiple Anthems; Is there a case for having different anthems for different occasions ?  For example, the Freedom Come All Ye could be the State Anthem, used at Parliament, at international events, and for the proper opening and closing of gatherings. Flower of Scotland could still be used at sporting events, and Scotland the Brave might be the main instrumental option, for marching bands etc. You can rearrange the titles to suit yourself. Just a suggestion.

A New Anthem; It has often been suggested that a totally new work should be commissioned. The problem with this of course is that we could hold a competition, choose a winner, but still think it unworthy of being the anthem. Then what do you do ?  Keep having competitions until you get a decent entry ?  (Is the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest always that year's best new song out of Europe ?  . . . .  Is it ever ?)  I think that if a new work is ever to prove suitable, it will come through by itself on merit. We should always keep the option open of changing what we have, although this should never be done as a quick decision. For example, some people have suggested that the tune Highland Cathedral would be very suitable for some newly-composed words; my own feeling is that this is a tune which is currently popular, but that in ten or twenty years it might have lost that appeal. Sometimes long-term decisions are best given a long time to decide.

Quality of Singing; Why can't we sing like the Welsh, the French, the South Africans ?  OK, maybe for the French it is just that they have such a singable anthem. But you feel that you could give anything to the Welsh or South Africans and they would render it well. Is it something in the blood, cultural, or to do with education ?  Any anthem can be slaughtered. Would in not be great if the anthem was taught in school, in depth, and with harmony parts. People enjoy singing well, but often just don't know how to do it.

Who Should Decide ?; Being all in favour of democracy, I don't think this is something for a popular vote !  Some years ago I stood in the street during a very large Devolution demonstration in Edinburgh, and ran a questionnaire past numerous people, asking them about the songs listed above. Interestingly, Flower of Scotland received almost a 100% vote from those people who knew little or nothing of most of the other possibilities. This group of people was by far the largest. Of those people I questioned who did know most or all of the contenders, only very few voted for F.o.S. That is, Flower of Scotland got the large but largely ignorant vote, the knowledgeable voters going elsewhere, and quite well spread also.
Nobody should decide without knowing all the words, singing them all through themselves, and as part of a group, hearing them sung by groups of good and poor singers, sober and lubricated, hearing them played by a small band, by an orchestra, brass band, and pipe band. Then they will have some knowledge. The decision-makers should also know the country and the people they are deciding for. That would cut out quite a lot of the politicians then !

Bob Murray at Burns CottageBob Murray [Email the writer.] 

Bob Murray and friends performing at Burns Cottage
Page created Tuesday 16 December 2003.
Copyright Robert Murray 2003 to 2023.

Last updated Friday 29 September 2023.