Eurovision way to pick Scots anthem

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A NEW Scottish national anthem? Do not sneer and tell our politicians to spend more time on matters of major concern. With an Arts Commission already up, if not exactly running, this is a matter that can keep its members occupied and divert their attention from taking away our power to enjoy ourselves in whatever way we wish.

Even if they get past the stage of merely publishing a strategic plan for national anthem choice, their eventual proposal will be a real test of whether they can combine populism with aesthetic taste.

The commission should accept the challenge of refuting the entry on National Anthems in the Oxford Companion of Music, which declares that, with one or two exceptions, "the music of national anthems is undistinguished ... They are not noted for the quality of their texts".

It could then institute a competition along the lines of the Eurovision song contest, with selected entries voted upon by a button-pressing public. The winner would receive a large sum payable in SOBs (Scottish Official Bonds) which will soon need to be issued to finance additional Executive expenditure for those engaged in "smoker-catching".

However, before this exercise in pure democracy, guidelines have to be issued to would-be composers, which may take up several pages of small print attached to their application form.

Two interesting constraints were placed on those of us who entered a competition for a national anthem held some 40 years ago by the newly independent state of Sierra Leone.

The first was that the competition was solely for the submission of a musical score, not an accompanying anthemic text. This was a relief. Composers may not be good lyricists and the search costs for finding a text could be high. On the other hand, the approach invited the suspicion that there could be a hidden text agenda and that really the hymn to the homeland was already chosen and the winner would be the composer whose work best fitted the words.

The Sierra Leone government added another constraint. No award would be made if they found a suitable excerpt from the works of their most famous composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a protg of Elgar whose oratorio Hiawatha is still in the repertoire.

I duly submitted my entry, taking particular pride in trying to introduce a few west African rhythms. I heard nothing for months. Then I got an official letter of commiseration. No award had been made. But a small selection of entries, including my own, had been selected for preservation in the government archives.

But cheer up those pessimists who do not rate your chances high in winning a competition of this sort. Do as I did, and recycle the piece. It is now embalmed in the recessional music at the University of Buckingham's Graduation ceremony.

• Professor Sir Alan Peacock is a former chairman of the Scottish Arts Council.