ANY attempt to pin down the political views of Robert Burns is doomed from the start by two things; the ambiguity of the man and his character which demonstrate that he was truly an artist philosopher, and the way he changed his position over time.
Any perception of the ideas contained in his work must recognise its chronological context.
Burns’ lament for the passing of the Scottish Parliament through the Act of Union was no doubt sincere, but it contains no suggestion that the process should be reversed.
Yes, Burns was a patriot, but that part of his work which looks back to the 14th century has no more historical relevance than Braveheart has for us today.
Much more interesting and relevant was his take on the events of his own lifetime; something we can be sure that he had real knowledge of and interest in.
His instinctive love of liberty, although when viewed through the prism of our 21st century values sometimes hypocritical, was a constant theme of his work.
His enthusiasm for the American revolution is laid out in his work for all to see and this carried over briefly to his short-lived support for the revolution in France. It was at this point that the quality of the man and his capacity to assess the truth around him was most readily seen.
As the French Revolution descended into class war, murder and then accelerated towards military imperialism, it was the Unionist Robert Burns, fearful of the threat of invasion, who wrote the lines, “O let us not, like snarling curs, in wrangling be divided, till, slap! come in an unco loun, and wi’ a rung decide it! Be Britain still to Britain true, amang ourselves united; for never but by British hands maun British wrangs be righted!”