October 11 is fast shaping up to be a dental appointment of a day for the Scottish football fan. Scotland play Georgia but, for once, it’s not doubt about the result which looks set to cause the ache. It’s not even that the flag of Georgia is a dead ringer for the flag of England – a red cross on a white background, with each quarter bearing another red Cross of St. George – which might inspire an attack of the collywobbles inside Ibrox. It’s a sign of the strange times we live in that it’s our unofficial national anthem, Flower of Scotland, which is causing the fear.
There’s been talk of a boycott, even though a stadium-wide silence to Roy Williamson’s rousing anthem seems unbelievable, maybe even tantrum-driven; after all, it’s not the song’s fault Scotland voted the way it did.
There’s the problem. Scotland voted the way it did. Singing about rising now and being a nation again is troublesome. Collectively, we had the chance to rise and be a nation again, and we didn’t. Proud Edward’s Army might have been sent homeward, but Proud David’s Army is still here, even if they aren’t, perhaps, as sure of what the future holds as they’d like to be, or as they thought they would be. Sir Alistair Darling, as he surely will be, might find consolation in a title; Johann Lamont OBE is less likely to be able to square her medal with a public disapproval which looks likely to grow and grow. It’s hardly a surprise – Darling has that infamous second home in London in which to find asylum and a good nights sleep. The would-be Lady Lamont does not.
(The Norange vote, strangely enough, probably can belt out Flower of Scotland with more gusto than most others. They did rise. They are a nation again. The result reaffirmed that. There might be a little shyness, perhaps, about a song which deals with sending members of the same nation ‘home’, but that oughtn’t to be too much of an issue – after all, singing God Save The Queen, a song which is every bit as anti-Scots as Flower of Scotland is anti-English, doesn’t seem to cause too much of a stir.)
What to do? Sing, with gusto, words that many find embarrassing, or don’t believe in? Unlikely. Mumble over something choked on? Intolerable. Change the words? Unthinkable.
There is only one solution. It’s time for our unofficial national anthem to regenerate.
Flower is an inappropriate song for a peaceful, modern-day nation to have for a national anthem anyway. It is, arguably, anti-English; much less appealing even than that is the fact that the King of England shares centre-stage with our own nation. A national anthem cannot have one eye on an entirely different country – the French army wouldn’t stand to attention to a song called We Hate The Germans Ra-Ra-Ra. At least, you hope they wouldn’t.
More than that, it points to a violent past. It celebrates one military victory, ignoring a host of traumatic losses, from Flodden and Solway Moss to Culloden and Neville’s Cross, as well as a hundred less-known others, where tens of thousands of Scottish (not to mention English) men and boys lost their lives in terrible, agonising ways.
Flower of Scotland as an official national anthem would have been us defining ourselves socially by our historical relationship with just one people.
Auld Lang Syne as an official national anthem will be us defining ourselves socially by our ideal relationships with everyone.
We ignore one of the world masters of humanity and poetry for the fiery history lesson of the Corries at our own cost. Auld Lang Syne is the perfect moment of friendship, within a social group, between social groups. You know that from every wedding held in the damn country, from every silly grin to every merry relative. Quite apart from that, though, it is easily the greatest, most enduring song in any of the British languages. Truly. In the “English”-speaking world, its rivals are Happy Birthday, and Jingle Bells. No others. The power of Auld Lang Syne is so great, it can – on occasion – make even the most homophobic of Scottish men hold hands with another man. When sung by the New York public, it weakened Vigo the Carpathian enough that the Ghostbusters were able to kill him…and that was cynical Hollywood’s cynical take on cynical New York. One of us did that. One of us. A Scottish person. With a Scottish accent.
Our national anthem is unofficial. We don’t have one. It’s just one of those things…I mean to say, one of those few things that can actually be swayed by public opinion. We don’t need to cringe to Flower of Scotland facing the cross of Georgia on October 11. We can, instead, nod down to the pipe band on the grass at Ibrox, shrug our shoulders, and think “Scotland’s done that, mate. What exactly have you done?”
I don’t mean any offence to the nation of Georgia, or to the cross of Georgia, by that.
Our national anthem, if we are to keep living as if we are living in the early days of a better nation, needs to be focussed on us more. When the French Army stands to attention, to La Marseillaise, they think of Marseilles. Not Bismarck. The German Army stands to attention with appeals to the brotherhood of Germany, not memories of historical military victories in Belarus and Belgium.
Can the Tartan Army stop being forced by our unofficial national anthem to defend their wee bit hill and glen against England and start promoting Scotland, within and without, do you think? That probably depends on the pre-match organisers, and that depends on the SFA, I guess. Goodness knows how contactable they are. firstname.lastname@example.org. I, for one, hope so. Auld Lang Syne is a song which fits Scotland, which is fitting for Scotland, which invites and rejoices. Flower of Scotland is a bitter-fond memory for a conquered people.
It’s fairly simple: September’s gone now, and in the past it must remain… or… Should auld acquaintance?
– Loxia Scotica