As a young schoolboy, I recall the torture of the weeks leading up to the annual St Andrew’s Night Dance, when gym lessons were given over to rehearsing the Gay Gordons, Strip the Willow, and other assorted twirls, hops and skips of a similarly fey, Caledonian ilk.

November was a Groundhog Day of dirgesome, squeezebox-induced heather ‘n' haggis muzak and twee dance patterns, whose instructions were barked in the manner of a camp gunnery sergeant, like being trapped in a never-ending episode of Thingummyjig.

It also brought me more nauseatingly closer to the opposite sex than at any other time of the year, in the days before I spent most of my time contriving to be closer to the opposite sex. At least they smelled nice, which was a consolation sadly not afforded to the opposite sex.

My three children attended the same school which, in the past year, has addressed the unpopularity of the Dance - a tradition that spans decades, if not centuries - by scrapping it and replacing it with a dance-free "Winter Dinner". This is not the only Scottish tradition which appears to have foundered in recent times. Last week it was reported that Cupar Highland Games, which dates back to the 1880s, has been disbanded due to lack of interest. Organisers were forced to permanently cancel the annual event, whose competitors included Liz McColgan and Yvonne Murray, because they couldn’t find enough new volunteers to run it.

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Meanwhile in Glasgow, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Willow Tearooms, on Sauchiehall Street - another venerable Scottish institution - has had to be bailed out to the tune of £1.75million. The National Trust for Scotland stepped in to keep it trading, due to lack of customers and rising costs, just five years since the building was given a £ 10 million revamp.

This, of course, is the time of year when we commemorate the birth of Robert Burns, arguably Scotland’s most celebrated son and the closest we have to a secular saint and sinner wrapped into one.

It’s also when we are at our most expansive and self-assured, confident in the knowledge that the poet is widely admired, and remembered, globally, at Burns Suppers in each and every corner of the world.

But - whisper it - even the popularity of our national bard appears to be in decline, and research suggests his importance to Scottish tourism may be exaggerated.

A report published by Professor Murray Pittock, at the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at Glasgow University in 2020, suggested that, while the poet was worth £200 million to the Scottish economy, more could be done to exploit his appeal.

The same report revealed that, in Dumfriesshire, where Burns spent much of his life, Burns-themed attractions drew just 5% of visitors. In the decade before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, visitor numbers to Burns-related sites in the county were down 11% and day visitor numbers and days were down by 25%.

Around the same time, the local authority in South Ayrshire, where Burns was born, announced it was scrapping Burnsfest, a long-standing annual music event which had attracted a range of popular performers over the years, including Eddi Reader, Midge Ure, Big Country, The Silencers and Chesney Hawkes.

There was an outcry, because the free-to-attend event had been popular, but it was instructive that, after the council withdrew its £80,000-a-year funding, no private operator came forward, willing to take it on as a commercial venture.

The Herald: Is the Burns industry in decline?Is the Burns industry in decline? (Image: PA)

The twin themes common to all these developments appears to be dwindling popularity and questionable sustainability. While politicians and intellectual protagonists can talk high-mindedly about the cultural importance of such institutions and events, the reality is that, left to their own devices, they fail to thrive.

Of course, popularity is not everything, and the true worth of a civilised society is measured by its support for minorities and for objects and pursuits that have intrinsic artistic and cultural value.

I may have written facetiously about being forced to learn Scottish country dancing as a child, but I now find I’m one of the few people who can take to the floor confidently at weddings. My wife and I also enjoy going to the ballet and the opera, and many productions can only be staged with the help of public subsidies.

The problem with that argument, however, is that those who defend so much of our cultural reliance on Burns, Rennie Mackintosh, and others, do so on the basis of their popularity.

Together with Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, they form a progressively less relevant canon of figures upon whom so much of Scotland’s identity rests, while other more recent individuals, achievements and physical spaces are underplayed or ignored.

A visitor from space might believe, from the way we fetishise Burns, that he’s the only poet Scotland has produced. Were he or she a literary critical alien, they might even question the merit of his work, agreeing with those who consider him a "lowlife author" who used "bawdy, sub-literate language".  While Rennie Mackintosh is widely admired for his creativity and versatility, in particular for the way in which his intricate, artistic designs were capable of being translated in a number of materials, including stone, his work too can divide opinion.

I have been to the Willow Tearooms and my wedding reception was held at the Rennie Mackintosh-inspired House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park, and I can attest that the furniture at neither is particularly comfortable.

While no-one would argue that his work should be preserved for posterity, why should it be done so in a commercial environment, if it can’t wash its face? What other business on that part of Sauchiehall Street - which now resembles the aftermath of a riot - has recently received £1.75million in subsidy?

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The same argument is used to justify the wildly disproportionate amount of public money afforded to preserving Gaelic as a "living language", as though the words would disappear from pages and digital formats if they weren’t regularly spoken by three men and a dog in Benbecula.

Meanwhile, we ignore much of the culture and cultural history that is being created around us now here and now. Where are the tourism trails dedicated to Muriel Spark, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Peter McDougall, James MacMillan, Craig Armstrong, Carol Ann Duffy? The list goes on.

If history is written by the victors, then much of recent Scottish history has doubtlessly been penned from a leftist perspective, lionising heroes of the labour and trade union movements. The same alien might wonder why so much attention is paid to remembering Red Clydesiders like John Maclean, Willie Gallagher and Manny Shinwell, in a country that has also produced Adam Smith, David Hume, and Andrew Carnegie.

Times change and history marches on and I wonder if, in 100 years’ time, schoolchildren will continue to be drilled in the Dashing White Sergeant, or if they might be taught to low and sway to the music of those other great Scottish composers, Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and Jim and William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain?