On this day when Scots all over the world celebrate their national poet, one of Robert Burns’ poems in particular came to mind watching Gordon Brown’s princely progress around India. Holy Wullie’s Prayer is Burns’ denunciation of Presbyterian hypocrisy. When Brown said he took inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, I particularly recalled the lines where Wullie thanks the Lord for the wonder of – himself:
"I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an' grace
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place…..
"When from my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung'd me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain'd to their stakes.
"Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a' Thy flock."
Wullie goes on to call down vengeance on all the local worthies who have ever annoyed him – the name Blair does not feature, but you get the picture. Brown also put himself forward on his return as the defender of the Act of Union between England and Scotland of 1707, and demanded we all bow the knee before the "British values" that resulted. Historically speaking, this is absolute nonsense. The Act of Union had at its heart a major economic crisis in Scotland caused by the failure of a plan to launch a colonialising company to challenge the growing power of the East India Company. Scotland’s parliament, functioning during the years of the turn of the 17th and 18th century more as a board of directors of the whole Scottish economy, decided to invest virtually the whole exchequer in the Darian Scheme, which was to establish a trading colony on the South American isthmus. The East India Company and its supporters, including King William, warned off the many large English investors who had agreed to support the new adventure. The collapse of the scheme was a devastating blow to the Scottish economy. The Scottish currency was undervalued in the merger and people lost all their savings changing from pounds Scots to pounds English. However, the Scottish bourgeoisie were quick to take advantage of opportunities afforded by entry into the new British market. Whilst the poor continued to suffer for decades from the results of Darian – particularly the failure to invest in the improvement of agriculture – the Scottish middle class rapidly took on the leading establishment role they still maintain in British society. Fast forward to today, when it appears Scots may vote in large numbers for the Scottish National Party, who if they win a majority in the Scottish Parliament in May say they will then hold a referendum on independence. If the majority of voters do back the SNP’s nationalist, big business programme it will only be because New Labour has betrayed their aspirations once too often. Generations of Labour rule have left many Scottish communities impoverished and devolution has made no difference. Gandhi, on the other hand, was anti-imperialist to the core and led a revolutionary struggle against British rule. Brown and Blair are the complete opposite and to mention Gandhi in the same sentence makes your stomach churn. Happy birthday Robbie Burns!
Penny Cole, literary editor