Comment: Replacing Flower of Scotland not easy

FINDING a new anthem to replace Flower of Scotland will not be easy, writes Tom Peterkin

Scotland fans sing Flower of Scotland. Picture: TSPL
Scotland fans sing Flower of Scotland. Picture: TSPL

It remains to be seen whether the Scottish Government decides to take up a suggestion from MSPs to have a public consultation on Scotland’s national anthem.

If it does, the debate that follows will be an interesting one. Flower of Scotland may have become the song of choice at sporting events but, as many people point out, there are other possibilities. There are even those who believe that contemporary composers ought to have a crack at writing a new anthem.

That proposition was suggested this week, even though Scotland already has an enviably rich song book – from the old, traditional tunes for which Robert Burns wrote such stirring words to modern compositions like Dougie MacLean’s patriotic Caledonia.


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One contender that often gets mentioned is Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye, which was so movingly sung at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony by the South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza.

Henderson’s evocative lyrics in Scots were written for the peace marchers at the Holy Loch in the 1960s and the song has a strong following on the left.

What is less often remarked upon is the fact that the tune was not the creation of Henderson, whose brilliance as a poet and folklorist did not extend to musical composition.

The tune was made for the pipes during the Great War by an unsung figure in Scotland’s cultural life. Still called The Bloody Fields of Flanders by pipers, it was composed by Pipe Major John McLellan DCM of Dunoon. The tune is just one of the many fine melodies by McLellan that are played and sung to this day. In the judgment of many, the combination of Henderson’s lyrics with McLellan’s tune makes Freedom Come All Ye a far superior song to Flower of Scotland.

But like it or not, Flower of Scotland is more widely known and would be difficult to replace in the public consciousness. A creation of the 1960s, it really rose to prominence when sung to spine-tingling effect before Scotland’s famous victory over England at Murrayfield in 1990.

There are those who object to it because of what they perceive to be its “anti-English” tone in its references to Bannockburn.

There are also those whose gripe comes from a different perspective – that it should not be sung by No voters.

Both seem spurious arguments. The former neglects to take account of the verse beginning “Those days are gone now…” The latter makes the false and arrogant assumption that No voters cannot or should not take pride in their Scottish heritage.

Whatever one’s view of Flower of Scotland, another song would have a tough act to follow.