After a week's reflection I've decided Burns' Night is like Christmas. It's best when it's over and done with.
All that expectation, all that dressing up, all those odd customs, all that forced jollity, all those hangovers….. And of course the ceilidh on January 25 has as much connection with Burns as that December shopping fest has with Christianity.
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Except it is a grand excuse for a stoatin pairtie I'm sure the great man himself would join in the birthday festivities with gusto if he still was around. He'd love all the hootenanny.
I expect he wouldn't be too disappointed that most of the revellers have never read a word of his. Just like he'd be sure to forgive that New Year bellowing of Auld Lang Zzzyne. He'd understand that Scots are lucky to have a couple of hours in the whole of their schooling devoted to the study of our so-called national bard.
The day after the big night, he'd assuredly pen a verse managing to poke fun at as well as reflect on the meaning of such national celebrations. No doubt too he'd have a go at soor-faced kill-joys. But hang on a wee meenit, Rob. Let me get a few whiskies down me and I'll be sonsie-sleikiting and braw-moonlicht-nichting alang wi' the best of them, aye mon!
It's just a pity Burns can't be with us during this important year for Scotland. Perhaps with Doctor Who's increasingly Scottish reincarnations, now would be an auspicious moment to send the Tardis for him - just in time for him to register his 'yes' vote.
Can there be any doubt that would be his decision? Even in 1790, he wondered "what are the boasted advantages which my country reaps from a certain Union that counterbalance the annihilation of her Independence." What would he think now of a Scotland much poorer and much less populated compared to England than it was in his day?
I doubt a man who regretted that Scotland had become "England's province" and who went to the trouble of saying a "fervent prayer for old Caledonia over the hole in a blue whinstone, where Robert de Bruce fixed his royal standard" would hesitate about where to place his cross.
Any doubts he might momentarily have would be swept away by a glance at the works of the Holy Willies in Project Fear. Here we go again, he'd no doubt think - "such a parcel of rogues in a nation."
Burns did of course work as an exciseman. Did that make him pro-union? No, it's called earning a crust. Like so many Scots over the centuries, Burns found it hard to make a living in his native land. Back-breaking agricultural toil from an early age undermined his health. He was desperate for an alternative source of income. Anyhow, is Better Together proposing to ban independence supporters from public sector employment?
Then there's the poem he wrote in support of the King and his joining the Dumfries Loyal Volunteers. Both of these were at the height of the political witch hunt against anyone suspected of sympathizing with the French Revolution. Burns' loyalties were being investigated. He was keen to avoid the kind of justice meted out to Thomas Muir, sentenced to fourteen years transportation for 'sedition'. His poem "The Tree of Liberty" is a far more accurate gauge of where his sympathies lay when it came to the revolutionaries' ideals. He was sure too that "sic a tree can not be found 'Twixt London and the Tweed."
I doubt if actions designed to keep himself out of an oppressive government's prisons in any way diluted what he called "a Scottish prejudice in my veins which will boil alang there till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest."
Much better qualified commentators than me, like Liz Lochhead, the Scots Makar, and Robert Crawford, Professor of Scottish Literature at St. Andrews University, are sure Burns would favour an independent Scotland.
Some may object to involving an eighteenth century poet in the political controversies of the twenty-first century. Well, it's a lot less reprehensible an activity than asking the UK's diplomatic staff to scour the world over to find foreign bigwigs, of whatever persuasion, to ridicule the Yes campaign. A Russian official has confirmed that Vladimir Putin, that great defender of liberty, was so approached by Cameron's people. Maybe some bright spark in the Foreign Office remembered the old bolshevik fondness for Burns. If they could have persuaded Comrade Number 1 to support the No side with a wee quote from the Bard, well, that would have been a double whammy. Putin declined to comment. The best-laid schemes…….
Anyway, a belated happy birthday, Rob. It's February and we're discussing you without slobbering in our cups over a plate of haggis and neeps.
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