Today is a special day in Scotland’s history and cultural identity. Every 25th of January since 1801 the birth of a Scottish icon has been recognised and celebrated. Robert Burns, often called Rabbie Burns by indigenous Scots, was born in Alloway, two miles from the coastal town of Ayr in the South-West of Scotland, on January 25th 1795. He was born into poverty and died in poverty living a relatively short life of only 37 years. He died on 21st July 1796. Yet from the age of 15 to his premature death Rabbie wrote over 600 poems, songs, letters and short stories which would make him famous across the world.
Scotland is not short of famous folk who have contributed to and shaped the modern world. Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered penicillin which has saved millions of lives. John Logie Baird (1888-1946) invented the television. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the telephone. James Watt (1736-1819) invented the steam engine which was essential for the industrial revolution. Robert William Thomson (1822-1873) and John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921) between them invented the pneumatic tyre. James Braid (1795-1860) invented the adhesive postage stamp. Joseph Lister (1827-1912) pioneered the use of antiseptics reducing infections after operations. Kirkpatrick Macmillan (1813-1878) invented the bicycle. Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973) invented radar.
In the field of literature, economics, politics and the arts generally we have also excelled as a relatively small nation. David Hume (1711-1776) and Adam Smith (1723-1790) are renowned philosophers and economists. Walter Scott (1771-1832), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) and Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) are celebrated authors. James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) founded and led the Labour Party. Elsie Inglis (1864-1917) was a leading surgeon and active Suffragette. J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books which have become the best-selling book series of all time. Billy Connolly is one of the world’s most famous comedians and Sean Connery is the best ever James Bond.
In the field of football management Scotland is in a league of its own. From Matt Busby (1909-1994) and Manchester United, Bill Shankly (1913-1981) and Liverpool, Jock Stein (1922-1985) and Glasgow Celtic to Alex Ferguson and Aberdeen and Manchester United. All champions of Europe with their respective teams.
The selections above are merely a toe in the water of a massive pool of Scottish born achievers, inventors and individuals of influence. Yet Rabbie Burns is the most famous of them all. From Motherwell to Moscow, Beijing to Boston, Delhi to Dhaka celebratory events will take place in the form of Burns Suppers or Burns Evenings in honour of Scotland’s National Bard. Only Christopher Columbus and Queen Victoria have more statues erected in their honour than Robert Burns across the world. There are seven statues of Rabbie in Canada and Australia, four statues in New Zealand and one in Paris. There are fourteen in America, including one in New York’s Central Park https://www.scotland.org/features/burns-night-around-the-world.
The former Soviet Union promoted Burns as the ‘people’s poet’ and he was taught in schools alongside their own national poets. In 1965 the Soviet Union became the first country in the world to honour Burns’ memory with a postage stamp dedicated to him https://burnsmuseum.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/burns-in-the-ussr/.
Bob Dylan the legendary singer/songwriter cites Robert Burns as his greatest inspiration while academic research has recently revealed that he was also a major influence on the life and politics of Abraham Lincoln and his determination to abolish slavery in America stemmed from reading Burns poems and songs https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12369402.bob-dylan-names-burns-as-inspiration/ .
Auld Lang Syne is a world recited song of Burns which is recognised in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the three most popular songs in the English language alongside Happy Birthday and For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.
Burns was the first person to appear on a commemorative bottle of coca cola in 2009 and his works have featured in several famous movies including It’s A Wonderful Life and When Harry Met Sally https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/books/five-artists-inspired-by-robert-burns-1-3667031.
Yet for many years I effectively ignored and even shunned Robert Burns. Growing up in Scotland a Burns Supper was associated in my mind with the Tories and Freemasonry. The Masonic Lodge has become synonymous with anti-Catholicism and I was always taught that Burns was a Free Mason and therefore likely to be a Tory. Conservative Associations in and around Glasgow regularly hosted Burns Nights and they used to be men only affairs. I viewed them as right wing and reactionary. I was ignorant and naive. What I realise now is the well to do in society, the small c conservative academics and large C Conservatives, had sought to claim the memory of Burns and cleanse him of any radical, revolutionary or nationalistic identity. How dare they seek to sanitise the real Robert Burns?
Books like ‘The Canongate Burns’ taught me about Burns the radical, Burns the Scottish patriot, Burns the revolutionary. His support for and membership of the Friends of the People, a society committed to parliamentary reform which was considered revolutionary in its day. The Glasgow lawyer and Friends of the People organiser, Thomas Muir, was tried for sedition alongside four others and sentenced to 14 years exile on Sydney Cove in Australia in 1793. Burns wrote his famous ‘Scots Wha Hae’ in tribute to Muir and the others but he had to write it anonymously for fear of persecution by the network of spies that had been established to detect and punish radicals.
Burns was inspired by and supported the revolutions of 1776 in America and 1789 in France. These were interpreted as movements for liberty and freedom against the tyrannies of foreign rulers and malevolent monarchies. There is evidence that Burns helped to raise funds to buy weapons in support of the French revolution. He was an anti-royalist himself, a republican who raged against the privileges, pomp and power that the monarchy and their lackeys assumed. His seminal ‘Is There for Honest Poverty’ (1795) was a searing condemnation of royalty and a statement of republicanism.
He was also a proponent of Scotland’s freedom from England with his ‘Parcel of Rogues in a Nation’ (1791) standing the test of time as a complete and caustic condemnation of those politicians and landed gentry who conspired to sell out Scotland’s independence in 1707 for personal gain and without a hint of popular support or consent.
There is little that can be said or written about Robert Burns which is unique but we all have much to learn from reading and researching his collected works and we can all draw our own conclusions and inspiration from seeking to understand the real Robert Burns.
What follows is my humble attempt to deliver what is known as The Immortal Memory at a Burns Supper in Glasgow this week:
BURNS IMMORTAL MEMORY
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.
FROM THE TREASURE TROVE WHICH IS THE SONGS, POEMS AND SHORT STORIES OF ROBERT BURNS ‘IS THERE FOR HONEST POVERTY’ IS MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE AND THE WORK WHICH BEST SUMS UP MY VIEW OF OUR MOST FAMOUS OF SONS
LIFE AND HISTORY TEACHES US THAT THOSE WHO WISH TO BE LIKED BY ALL REQUIRE ONLY TO DO NOTHING, SAY NOTHING AND BE NOTHING.
OUR RABBIE BURNS REJECTED THAT PHILOSOPHY.
HIS ACTIONS, WORDS AND LIFE ARE WEDDED TO SUBSTANCE AND CONTROVERSY. HE CHALLENGED AUTHORITY AND POKED FUN AT THE POWERFUL.
BORN INTO POVERTY ON JAN. 25TH 1795 AND DIED IN POVERTY 37 YEARS LATER. YET DESPITE A MERE 37 YEARS ON OUR PLANET HE IS STILL CELEBRATED, REVERED, DEBATED AND STUDIED AND HIS MEMORY HAS BEEN TOASTED EVERY YEAR SINCE 1801.
FOR 218 YEARS RABBIE BURNS HAS BEEN CELEBRATED ACROSS THE GLOBE. HIS SONGS AND POEMS STAND AS A LASTING TRIBUTE TO THE BRILLIANCE AND GENUIS OF THE MAN.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
WHETHER IT IS THE DEFINITIVE HOMAGE TO LOVE AND ROMANCE ENSCONCED IN MY LOVE IS LIKE A RED, RED ROSE
“My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
How fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till all the seas gang dry.
Till all the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt with the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands of life shall run.
OR THE TIMELESS TRIBUTE TO HUMANITY ITSELF ENGRAINED IN THE WORDS OF AULD LANG SYNE AND ‘FOR HONEST POVERTY’
Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
BURNS WAS A RADICAL, A REVOLUTIONARY, A PATRIOT BUT ABOVE ALL ELSE A HUMANIST.
HIS WORDS ARE A SEERING CONDEMNATION OF POMP, PRIVILEGE AND UNEARNED RESPECT.
THAT MANY TORIES AND ESTABLISHMENT FIGURES STILL TRY TO CLAIM HIS LEAGACY IS ONE OF LIFE’S ENDURING IRONIES
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.
BURNS WAS FOR HUMANITY AND EQUALITY. OH HOW HE WOULD RAGE TODAY AT THE GROTESQUE INEQUALITY WHICH SCARS OUR SOCIETY SO DEEPLY.
A MERE 26 SUPER RICH INDIVIDUALS NOW HAVE A COMBINED WEALTH IN EXCESS OF 3.8 BILLION PEOPLE, HALF THE WORLD’S POPULATION.
KNOWN MILLIONAIRE TAX EVADERS LIKE THE PHILLIP GREENS OF THE WORLD CAN OWN THE ARCADIA GROUP (INCLUDING BURTON, TOP MAN, TOP SHOP AND DOROTHY PERKINS) AND PAY HIMSELF A £1.2 BILLION DIVIDEND, THE LARGEST PAY CHEQUE IN UK RETAIL HISTORY, IN 2005 BUT PAY IT TO HIS TAX EXILE WIFE IN MONACO TO AVOID £300 MILLION IN TAXES.
DID HE SUFFER CONDEMNATION AND DESERVED ISOLATION FOR CHEATING THE GENERAL PUBLIC OF 20,000 NURSES WHEN HE DODGED PAYING HIS TAXES IN 2005?
WAS HE SUBJECTED TO VITRIOLIC CRITICISM FOR WITHHOLDING TAXES THAT COULD HAVE EMPLOYED TENS OF THOUSANDS MORE TEACHERS AND PAID FOR MUCH NEEDED BOOKS AND EQUIPMENT?
THAT’S CERTAINLY WHAT WE DO TO SUSPECTED BENEFIT CHEATS.
WE HUNT THEM, HOUND THEM AND SEEK TO SCAPEGOAT SUCH ALLEGED FRAUDULENT ACTIVITY DESPITE THE FACT MORE WELFARE IS UNCLAIMED THAN IS FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMED.
IN FACT MORE WELFARE IS WRONGLY PAID THAN IS FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMED.
ACCORDING TO A MAJOR OPINION SURVEY PAID FOR BY THE TUC A FEW YEARS AGO THE MAJORITY OF THE BRITISH POPULATION BELIEVE OVER 27% OF THE WELFARE BUDGET IS FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMED.
THE REALITY IS 0.7% IS FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMED. 0.7%.
LESS THAN 1%.
YET WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MILLIONAIRE TAX DODGER PHILIP GREEN IN 2005?
HE WASN’T HUNTED DOWN AND SHAMED AND SANCTIONED.
- MILLIONAIRE TAX DODGER PHILLIP GREEN IN 2005 WAS KNIGHTED AND BECAME SIR PHILIP GREEN IN 2006.
THANKS TO RED TORY WAR CRIMINAL TONY BLAIR
THE RED TORIES PREPARED THE GROUND FOR DEEPER AND MORE BRUTAL WELFARE BENEFIT CUTS, SANCTIONS AND UNIVERSAL CREDIT UNDER THE BLUE TORIES
BENEFIT CLAIMANTS ARE SUSPECTED OF FRAUD AND HARASSED AND HOUNDED AS IF THEY ARE GUILTY.
KNOWN MILLIONAIRE TAX CHEATS ARE ON THE OTHER HAND BESTOWED WITH HONOURS AND KNIGHTED.
STEP FORWARD GARY ‘TAX DODGING’ TORY BARLOW.
THE MAN O INDEPENDENT MIND HE LOOKS AND LAUGHS AT A’ THAT
INDEED HE DOES BUT JUST AS BURNS NEVER GAVE UP THE HOPE OF FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE SO MUST WE STILL FIGHT FOR THAT CHANGE
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.
THE LASTING TRIBUTE TO THE PEERLESS ROBERT BURNS IS HIS FAITH IN HUMANITY’S ABILITY TO CHANGE FOR THE BETTER;
“THAT MAN TO MAN, THE WORLD O’ER SHALL BROTHERS BE FOR A’ THAT”
WE ARE HERE TONIGHT TO REMEMBER AND HONOUR ONE OF OUR GREATEST SONS
BUT WE MOST FITTINGLY HONOUR BURNS BY REDOUBLING OUR EFFORTS TO BREAK UP THE CORRUPT AND CALLOUS WESTMINSTER PARLIAMENT THAT PRESIDES OVER TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH AND THEFT OF PUBLIC ASSETS CHEEK BY JOWL WITH OVER A MILLION RELIANT ON FOODBANKS AND ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS
MILLIONS WORK DAMN HARD ONLY TO FIND THEMSELVES IN THE ENERGY SAPPING AND SPIRIT DESTROYING SWAMP OF POVERTY WHICH SHAMES US AS A RICH NATION
IN HONOUR OF THE RADICAL, THE REVOLUTIONARY AND THE HUMANIST ROBERT BURNS WE DECLARE OUR INTENT TO FIGHT ALWAYS AGAINST INJUSTICE AND TO BREAK THE UNIONIST CHAINS OF WESTMINSTER ON THE ROAD TO BUILDING A NEW, FAIRER AND NUCLEAR WEAPON FREE INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND
BURNS HIMSELF CONDEMNED THOSE WHO BETRAYED SCOTLAND WHEN THEY SIGNED AWAY OUR VERY IDENTITY AS A NATION IN RETURN FOR DIRTY GOLD IN SECRET BEHIND THE BACKS OF THE PEOPLE IN 1707:
Fareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam’d in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An’ Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England’s province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English stell we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
O would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I’ll mak this declaration;
We’re bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
OUR VISION IS OF AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND.
A SOCIALIST SCOTLAND.
A MODERN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC WHERE A PERSON’S WORTH IS MEASURED BY THEIR CHARACTER, COMPASSION AND COMMITMENT TO THEIR FELLOW MAN NOT THEIR BANK BALANCE, BIRTH OR STATUS
INDEPENDENCE IS NOT THE END OF OUR JOURNEY IT IS THE START OF OUR JOURNEY
THE JOURNEY TOWARDS A FAIRER COUNTRY THAT PUTS PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS AND BABIES BEFORE BOMBS
BURNS WOULD APPROVE OF OUR RADICAL VISION
LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, PLEASE BE UPSTANDING AND JOIN ME IN TOASTING THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF RABBIE BURNS