UNTIL a week ago Liz Lochhead’s was our beloved Makar, or National Poet for Scotland. But her Makarship has now come to an end, and the process of deciding who might take the role for the next five years began: officials in rooms discussing poets, followed by, later this month, the white smoke of a new name. Will it be James Robertson, Jackie Kay, Don Paterson, Aonghas Macneacail, Kathleen Jamie, or some other? How will it be for that person to follow the much loved Lochhead? And what exactly are the demands of the role?

Lochhead is the poet who knows those demands well. Looking back over her time as Makar she told the Sunday Herald - that among the biggest things she learned was “having to negotiate a bit more public profile than I had before – not always very successfully.”

Her five years have been a period of political drama and evolution in Scotland. Lochhead recalled the controversy she caused when she joined the SNP in November 2014. “I was surprised by some of the reaction. You know, people saying that I should resign as the National Poet for Scotland because I joined the SNP. It was all stupid. And it was really none of anybody’s business.”

Any Makar, she said, should be allowed to speak freely. “I got myself in trouble for things that I said that I felt I was definitely entitled to say. I wasn’t speaking as the Makar just as a person. But I found out that there were all these expectations, not from the government or any institution, but people that felt they had the right to say what they thought I should be doing.”

When Lochhead was chosen for the role she was, she recalled, surprised and fearful that she would not be able to do it. “But it’s been good for me,” she said. “And whoever the next Makar is, I hope they enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed it.”

Her one hope for the choice of successor is that he or she will be “a very good poet”. The selection, she said, should not made with the aim of ticking boxes or satisfying quotas. “I hear there’s a movement that the next national poet should be a Gael. The next national poet might well be a Gael, but the role shouldn’t be about satisfying quotas. And if you want to represent what people of Scotland speak, then there are many speakers of Urdu or Polish.”

Many believe that Lochhead will be a hard act to follow, just as many thought her predecessor Edwin Morgan would. Lochhead has dismissed the idea that she has “defined the role”. “There are many other ways people can do this. I tended to be a bit of an on your bike sort of poet because that’s what I do. Edwin Morgan couldn’t do that obviously because he was ill. But he wrote a wonderful poem for the opening of parliament which was worth anything I did in my five years.”

Whoever takes the role next will be just the third to occupy it. What kind of poet do we want? Who should be choosing the role? Is it now time for a Gaelic poet? Should the politics of the Makar matter? These are issues all still open to debate. Here some of Scotland's leading cultural figures give us their thoughts.

Michael Pedersen, poet and founder of Neu! Reekie!

Liz Lochhead is irreplaceable for myriad reasons: her poetry and presence, her piquant wit and vigour, her verve and panache are second to none. In a way she'll always be my Makar. From studying the text in the classroom to sharing a publisher and reading alongside her, the Lochhead stanzas have been a key part of my poetic journey. She's inspired thousands in Scotland and beyond. Liz has been and continues to be a key part of our Neu! Reekie! collective too - she's read for us every year since 2011; she's the only poet to be featured in both the Neu! Reekie! anthologies and we wouldn't have it any other way.

That said, time must travel. Me, I'd wave a few flags. Jackie Kay would be a sublime Makar and likely my first choice. Her writing is like her presence, warm and fulfilling - it's full of deftly cut language, humour and tenderness. James Robertson is more than fit for the job - not only is his poetry as spectacular as it is insightful but he publishes poetry under his own wee label. And through his Itchy Coo endeavours he champions, inter alia, braw books for bairns, making magic stuff. Gerry Cambridge, although lesser known than the two above is a stalwart of Scottish poetry and publishing - I'd happily wave his flag or carry his (ornate fountain) pen.

Fiona Hyslop, Culture Secretary

The role of Scotland’s National Poet, or Makar, is symbolic of Scotland’s distinct contribution to poetic heritage and highlights the contribution of Scottish poets to the rich history of our literature, while recognising contemporary talent and the importance of poetry today. A National Poet creates poetry for the great moments of the nation – such as the opening of Parliament – but can also bring poetry to all walks of life, as Liz Lochhead’s visits to schools and hospitals have shown.

Scotland has been privileged to have two great National Poets in recent times, and each has crafted and shaped the role in their own way. I’m looking forward to the appointment of the new Makar, to watching them shape the role to suit their own personality, talents and style.

Ken MacLeod, author and editor of an anthology of Best Scottish Poems 2015

It seemed to me that the chin-stroking that went on when Liz Lochhead signed up to the SNP was all very silly. She had every right to do sign up to whatever she wanted. I think the role of the Makar is important. It does something for poetry and for cultural life and Liz has certainly been very active in promoting poetry in schools and so forth, as she has been doing for a very long time. I guess she’ll be a hard act to follow. I think the role as it has been defined seems to be about right, and Liz seems to have filled it. In terms of public culture it is very important.

Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library

Our first national poet, Edwin Morgan, was appointed Makar for his general distinction though really by the time he was Makar he was not well. Nevertheless he rose to the occasion by producing a fantastic public poem for the opening of parliament. The National Poet is a Scottish Government appointment. We are following the same selection process as we did with Liz. An advisory group, which included the Scottish Poetry Library whittled a list down to four and presented them to Jack MccConnell and Henry McLeish and Alex Salmond. I talked to them about the four names, and then I left and they decided. I’m meeting the First Minister and the ex first ministers later on this month. I’ll present the names and then I’ll go away and they’ll decide.

We are calling the role the National Poet for Scotland, not Scots Makar. Eddie [Edwin Morgan] always felt it was rather backwards-looking as a title. Makar has to be explained outside Scotland.

Liz Lochhead has been a great Makar. When Liz was appointed Alex Salmond was very clear about her being able to say what she liked which she did and endured a certain amount of criticism for that from some quarters. But it is in no way a position that is about being a spokesperson for the government.

I think the fact that we are lucky enough to have one of the best known poets in the world, Robert Burns, at the heart of our poetry has a huge cultural effect. But this is not just about our heritage, and the Makars. It is about what’s happening now.

Louise Welsh, novelist

The Makar is important for all sorts of reasons. What is a nation without poetry? If we go to another country and we ask them, what’s Scotland? What do they say? One of the things they’ll come up with is poetry, and not just Robert Burns. In all corners of the globe our Scottish poets are read and our songs sung. That’s one of the ways in which we’re known. It’s also a way in which we know ourselves. Poetry enables us to see the world that we live in and to express how we feel. And when do people turn to poetry? When they’re in love and when they feel terrible. It’s read at moments of real joy and sadness and bereavement.

You don’t need me to tell you what a great poet Liz is: the way she uses the language of Scotland, the vernacular to express things We shouldn’t second guess what the new Makar will do because the new Makar will bring something else to the table. This is a role that the person makes.

To anyone who would say the Makar shouldn’t be political, I would say trying having poetry without politics. The Makar will do whatever it is the Makar wants to do. We shouldn’t impose on them what that should be.

Aonghas Macneacail, Gaelic poet

I thoroughly approved of the creation of the role of the Makar. Bringing the creative arts into contact with people who have lives that are deemed too busy to be interested is hugely important. From the day you pick up a book as an infant, or before that when you are first read to, you are in the world of the creative arts. It’s utterly essential to every being. The Gaelic tradition I grew up in was very much the oral tradition. Your father would sing songs to you, would tell you stories and that was where your view of the world was built. Gaelic poets have punched above their weight in the last century, people of the stature of Sorley Maclean.

Has the Makar had an impact in connecting more of us to culture? I think perhaps not enough, in that when I pick up a newspaper one of the first things I do is turn to the books page. I’m always disappointed at how little coverage poetry gets. Perhaps what we need is a Judy Murray to really push it. In a sense that ought to be the function of the writer in residence, which is in some ways what the Makar is, to make poetry popular in that particular community and to give it status.

Rachel McCrum, Northern Irish poet, and former BBC Scotland Poet in Residence

I think residencies are important, whether it be the National Poet, or other Makars. The BBC was my biggest residency by far so there was quite a lot of me finding my way. I think whether it’s a small residency for a week, and a festival, or it’s being the Makar, there’s always a balance to be struck between what that poet’s public role is in terms of talking about and representing poetry and also their own practice.

The Makar doesn’t have to be the best expert in Scotland on every type of poetry, though Liz Lochhead was very good in that role. The first time I met her, I beat her in a Slam, by half a point. She was right in the middle of her Makarship and people would send her invites to come and participate in a slam and she was game for it. She was willing to engage with all the different levels of poetry going on.

Liz was Makar when I arrived in Scotland, so she’s sort of been my Makar. I like the name Makar. I like the fact that if you have to explain it you have to say there have been Makars for hundreds of years and that there is something about that public role of poetry that is embedded in Scotland.