Will Scotland ever have a national anthem?

  • 24 May 2011
  • From the section Scotland
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It is one of the longest-running and most politically divisive issues to grip Scotland in recent times.

Image caption Flower of Scotland is a popular choice as national football and rugby games

And, despite being debated endlessly and at length, it seems the topic has always proven too controversial for a final decision to be made.

Yes, I'm talking about the on-going conundrum over a Scottish national anthem.

Every few years the issue raises its head above the trenches, has a look about and then usually goes back into hiding for another while.

Now it has returned to the fray, this time prompted by First Minister Alex Salmond - who may reckon that one of his favourite 1970s pop song could be worthy of the anthemic title.

Mr Salmond's suggesting a competition could be held to find Scotland's new official tune - "Eck's Factor" as some have put it. But will the nation really end up with one this time round?

The status quo splits opinion almost as much - God Save the Queen is the national anthem for the United Kingdom as a whole, but there are those Scots who don't feel entirely comfortable singing it.

The best-known unofficial anthem north of the border is Flower of Scotland, but, again, some feel it's too nationalistic - verging on anti-English - to be an appropriate choice.

Deputy Scottish Conservative leader Murdo Fraser has even gone as far as to call it "jingoistic".

So, is there a middle ground in terms of picking a classic, or is a whole new song needed?

After devolution in 1999, it was really only a matter of time before the issue of a Scottish national anthem raised its head.

In 2003, a Scot by the name of George Reid (not the former SNP politician) went to Holyrood with his call to commission an anthem through a competition (sound familiar?).

Branding the unofficial anthems an "embarrassment", he said numbers such as Scots Wha Hae were "aggressive", while Flower of Scotland was "vindictive".

He said Scotland deserved to have a more inspiring song, such as the Marseillaise or the Star-Spangled Banner.

But despite Mr Reid's track-record of success - he had won his fight to have a specific shade of blue, Pantone 300, identified for the Saltire - his appeal fell on deaf ears.

At the time, Mr Reid was told to take up the issue with Westminster.

Three years later, the issue again raised its head. First Minister Jack McConnell got involved - this time, it was serious.

In 2006, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted an online opinion poll, asking visitors to choose an anthem favourite.

With 10,000 votes cast, the favourite was - you guessed it - Flower of Scotland, which romped home on 41% of the vote.

Image caption First Minister Alex Salmond has his own track record as a singer and recording artist

Next came Scotland the Brave, on 29%, followed by Highland Cathedral (Mr McConnell's favourite Scots tune) - even though it has no words.

Robert Burns' A Man's A Man for A' That and Scots Wha Hae, which is used to close SNP conferences, came in fourth and fifth place.

But there was also a more practical reason why the issue needed addressing.

At the time, Lord McConnell said the question of which song to adopt for sporting and other events had to be resolved, to strengthen Scotland's global brand.

He pointed out that, at the Commonwealth Games, Scots medal winners had ascended the rostrum to the strains of Scotland the Brave, while Flower of Scotland was played at rugby and football games.

"Flower Of Scotland," he said at the time, "works at Murrayfield, for example, where it is very stirring and it lifts the crowd, lifts the team and I'm sure, to some extent, intimidates the opposition.

"But I can also see how in the Commonwealth Games the athletes chose Scotland The Brave, which is an athletes' choice because to some extent a national anthem that's played at an international games like that is played more for the tune than the words.

"If you're trying to choose a national anthem then it has to work in a whole variety of different settings."

'Bigots and fools'

Fast-forward to 2011, and Mr Salmond, returned as SNP first minister, has put the issue back on the table.

So, like his predecessor, does the current first minister have a favourite?

He's certainly been talking a lot about a composition sung by the Corries, called Scotland Will Flourish.

Mr Salmond even quoted a line from the song in his election victory speech, saying the SNP would govern fairly and wisely, "with an eye to the future but a heart to forgive".

Image caption God Save the Queen is the national anthem for the whole of the UK

And he used more of the song when he later told parliament of his desire to wipe out sectarianism, declaring: "Let us be rid of those bigots and fools who will not let Scotland live and let live."

The first minister has something of a track-record as a recording artist himself (he released a version of The Rowan Tree with folk artist Anne Lorne Gillies in 1999). He thinks this is all good national anthem material - but he also recognises there are many other contenders.

Corries member Ronnie Browne - the group that incidentally came up with Flower of Scotland - is not entirely sure about Scotland Will Flourish as a national anthem.

"I don't think it would go down very well on the terraces of Hampden or Murrayfield," he said, adding: "What you want is a more combative sentiment."

Aberdeen University's head of music, David Smith, said the key to a good national anthem was simplicity.

He shares Mr Browne's scepticism, saying: "I found it perhaps just a little twee. Thinking of a national anthem, one has in mind something perhaps a little grander."

But Dr Smith still sees merit in the first minister's appreciation for the song, adding: "One thing you could say about Scotland Will Flourish as a suggestion is that it's a well-meaning sort of nationalism, perhaps.

"I don't think anyone could really quarrel with the sentiment."

And so the debate goes on.

As well as the old favourites, songs like the Burns classic Auld Lang Syne - which pays tribute to the virtues of the common man - rear their heads on a regular basis.

Or should a national anthem be written and recorded by established Scots artists, such as the Proclaimers, Eddi Reader, or maybe even the Krankies?

I might have a go myself.

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