‘Flower of Scotland’ is the unofficial national anthem north of the border but soon enough we may never hear its like again. Jim Telfer, one of the country’s most celebrated rugby coaches, has called for the song to be dropped at sporting events in favour of an alternative that ‘shows us standing for something rather than against something as a country’. His plea has been echoed by former Scotland international Jim Aitken, who wrote to the Times dismissing the song as an ‘anti-English dirge’.
Telfer’s complaint prompted Lord McConnell, a former Labour first minister, to urge a more ‘positive’ musical number, while Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser deemed the current tune too ‘jingoistic’. Scottish politicians are known for their keen interest in sing-songs at the football: their late, unlamented Offensive Behaviour at Football Act having briefly transformed Scottish police into the world’s only music critics with the power of arrest. So there will be some trepidation at them turning their attention to patriotic vocalising at Murrayfield.
That is not to say the chorus of disapproval for ‘Flower of Scotland’ is misplaced. Written in the 1960s by the late Roy Williamson of folk band The Corries, it is an inadvertently revealing anthem for the Scots: a lament to the future. The lyrics romanticise Robert the Bruce’s crushing of the English at Bannockburn in 1314 and long for Scotland to ‘rise now/And be the nation again’ that sent Edward II ‘hameward/Tae think again’.
‘Flower of Scotland’ isn’t the only national anthem to revel in past glories, but it’s one of the few that can’t come up with any that post-date the invention of the printing press.
Williamson’s magnum opus was adopted for international rugby matches in 1990, officials having given up on ‘God Save the Queen’ which routinely attracted fulsome booing from Scotland fans.