Burns Night is on the 25th January and across the World people will meet up to celebrate his life and his enormous contribution to the worlds of literacy and music.

There will be superlatives aplenty but I want to write about one aspect of his work that still brings great benefit even today, hundreds of years after his death.

I knew a little about Burns but was by no means knowledgeable about his wide body of work. That all changed when I became close friends with several of the shop stewards at Ravenscraig Steelworks.

I have written before about how impressed I was with their abilities. They were largely self taught. Working class to a man and born before access was greatly widened to allow significant numbers of the working class to enter University, these men run rings round the top management of British Steel and a whole range of senior Tory politicians who were intent in closing them down. From 1980 when Sir Ian McGregor made the first move these men fought an outstanding rearguard action against all the odds and managed to delay the closure for 12 more years. 12 years where thousands of men received wages and pension contributions which were crucial for many of the older workers, while buying time for the younger folk to find alternative work. Their campaign was also so successful they forced very substantial investment into Lanarkshire both before and after the eventual closure. Money that would never had been spent if the campaign had been easily overcome.

Despite most leaving school early these were clever men. One of the reasons they were clever, knowledgeable and worldly wise was they shared a great love of the works of Robert Burns. Ravenscraig had a huge Burns Club and every year they held a Burns Supper where many of the best Burns speakers in Scotland appeared. 

Tommy Brennan and George Quinn both told me how their self education started with reading the works of Robert Burns. They were attracted by the language he used, which they largely understood as Scots was in use everyday in their working environment. In George’s case he developed a skill for self teaching through books and he became expert in other areas. I have never met anyone who could analyse a balance sheet or profit and loss account more accurately or speedily than George. British steel would produce a slanted document trying to portray Ravenscraig in a poor light. Within a matter of a couple of hours George would produce the answer highlighting how the British Steel figures had been manipulating the information for their false case. He became so expert at this British Steel eventually stopped trying as it was always a huge embarrassment for them.

Those skills started because of his interest in Burns kicking off an interest in further education. Burns is responsible for a great many working class men self educating themselves later in life. That is still the case today and we all owe him our thanks.

Another Scottish author that I would credit with the same gift was Nigel Tranter. A neighbour in Paisley who lived above our flat when we had just married introduced me to his historical novels. He was a prolific writer which was just as well as I was hooked from then on and I now possess a very extensive library of his work. It created a desire to know more about Scottish history and of course it also greatly strengthened my desire to see an Independent Scotland. I would commend his books to all.

I have never been all that interested in poetry but another programme I greatly enjoyed this week was Beyond Burns on BBC2 where Makar Jackie Kay looked at some other great Scottish poets and their work. Most were also producing work in the Scots and Gaelic languages and their poems displayed a great love for our landscapes and people. Poems of real worth and very uplifting and easy to appreciate. A word for Jackie Kay herself, she has some Nigerian heritage in her background but it would be difficult to portray her as anything other than a very proud and talented Scot. What a smile, it was constant for the entire programme. Would that as an entire nation we could all smile more. It was a lovely programme.

So to summarise, Burns deserves all the accolades he receives, his work and worth live on in Scotland to this day. We have many other writers, authors and poets producing excellent work, much of it using both Scots and Gaelic languages.

Despite concerted efforts to destroy both over the centuries these languages live on and we should be doing all we can to grow them as their richness brings pleasure and understanding of our true heritage. The last census highlighted that one million Scots used the Scots language in their lives. We need to work to build that number to greater numbers as the polls show there is a direct link between speaking native languages and supporting Scottish Independence. Dr Alf Baird is right on this as he is on many issues. The colonists must never succeed in their efforts to suppress. You can help by supporting Traditional Scots Folk music and the Scots and Gaelic languages.

I am, as always

Yours for Scotland. 

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32 thoughts on “BURNS AND THE WORKING MAN.

  1. “Despite most leaving school early these were clever men.”

    You (plural – not getting at Iain!) have no idea the number of clever men and far more often women who had to leave school early because their families were poor. My mother was forced to leave school at 14 despite being the only one in the family to make it to a selective “grammar” school because they needed her wages and they couldn’t afford to keep her in school.

    The waste of the talent of the working classes has been to Scotland’s detriment. Burns himself was largely self taught, was he not? Little formal schooling though his father, also auto didactic, passed on knowledge. Jimmy Reid was another well read working class person.

    But aye the mediocre meritocracy lord it over us, little realising their success is due to luck of birth not genius.

    I must find some Scots and Gaelic classes. Can speak and understand written Scots but am no very good at writing in it!

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Duuolingo have a good online Gaelic language learning programme. I’ve been doing it for a while. Gaelic is quite easy, whether it’s because I’m Scottish that makes easier. you should give it a try.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I have a book somewhere (they are in the process of being packed up ready for my flitting) called Robert Burns Farmer by Gavin Sprott and David Daiches and published by NMS, possibly following an exhibition about Burns. It dealt with his love of the land and respect for it and for nature, which is evident in many of his works, and also his interest in innovative farming methods.
    I’m not sure if it is still in print, but well worth a read if you can find it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. See also today’s National for an article about a Glasgow academic and his research relating to papers showing Butrns’ accounts and unstructions for the building of the farmhouse at Ellisland,

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I read somewhere as well that Robert Burns is responsible for bringing more than £60 million into the Scottish economy every year. Not a bad legacy at all.

    We never got Burns’ work at school. Too busy force-feeding us Shakespeare, Chaucer and bilge like Ode to a Grecian Urn.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. What about Robert Tannahill, a fellow buddy of yourself Iain?

    He was a contemporary of Burns, born 15 years after The Bard and was a prolific author of poetry and song. I have one volume (II) of the Complete Songs recorded by contemporary folk artists, well worth a listen.

    He had difficulty getting his works published at the time and died, sadly, very young (36 years old) just like Burns.

    Paisley has statues, clubs and pubs dedicated to this man of words bu he is relatively unheard outside of his home town.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. As Alf Baird has illustrated so well, the destruction of the language is one of the main methods used by colonisers to subjugate peoples and their cultures.

    That remains as relevant today as it did in “the heyday of the British Empire” and can still be seen in the “Re-education” of the Uighurs by China!

    Re-education of the Scottish people began centuries ago but has accelerated as the restoration of Scotland’s right to self-determination and independence has grown. However, it was long before then that Westminster, with the connivance of the “Scottish elite”, began the process of re-education and suppression of the Scots language and Scottish culture to create North Britain in their own image.

    Having not really attended school until the age of 11, I spoke and thought as my grandparents did in Scots – at least our dialect of Scots. However, when I began regularly attending school I soon had the “bad English knocked out of me! The language of my childhood simply disappeared and to achieve anything at all I had to conform or fail!

    I am sure that many reading Iain’s blog today will either have experienced similar treatment or recognise it happening in others.

    There are stirrings in the Scottish Government to provide some kind of protection to the Scots language but it is still very far from being enacted. We need that action before we lose the language altogether and a start would be to give it parity with Gaelic and BSL in both exposure and development as well as access to similar financial resources.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. We can’t blame the teachers for the fact that we were not taught Burns. They had no choice in the matter. Fortunately everything has changed for the better.
    Thoroughly enjoyed your article, Ian. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. We had Burns for Bairn books in the first school I went to work in, when we moved buildings we took them but as we lost our library due to shortage of space a lot of books got thrown out etc. Glasgow school weans participated in the Burns Competition as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They went to a venue and read one of Burn’s poems they had learned. When I was wee our teachers were a lot more creative and encouraged us to be. I quite liked English and literature and would dae wee poems or short songs myself for the sake of it about people, not many but when I felt like it. A couple of my uncles also wrote poems and wee songs not taking them anywhere except expressing themselves. Last one I did was for someone I loved and won’t probably see again.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. From the linguistic, language planning perspective both national languages require modern dictionaries. Not wordlists as now but dictionaries of usage, contemporary and historical, and importantly English to target language equivalents whether old words re-used or neologisms. There ought to be, at this developmental stage, no «prescriptive edicts» re orthography or lexis the rich vocabulary sources should be allowed to speak freely, inventively and imaginatively to the user.
    The latter can be a divisive issue in language restoration, it ought not to be.
    Hou te mak ain omlet, first brek twâ egis…..
    PS as someone learning my ancestral language ie Syriac/Neo Aramaic/Surayt/Toroyo, we don’t even have a fixed term for the language name, I know what I’m talking about.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. I was introduced to Burns’ poems as a very young boy by a neighbour who was both a Burns fan and an evangelical Christian ( Brethern) . He was a living example of a Scot holding two apparently contradictory creeds in his head at the same time without exploding . He was fully with Burns poking fun at established religion dismissing it as sham Christianity . He persuaded me of the merits of Burns but not of the infallibility doctrines of the Good Book. I can still recite the whole of Tam o’ Shanter , probably with my neighbour’s mistakes .

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I have to admit that when younger I had very little knowledge of Burns but that was more down to an Anglo centric education system which focused more on Shakespeare. and the like That knowledge came much later.

    Tranter though. I’ve had a passion for his books for a very long time. A romantic and a very intelligent and insightful writer. Among my favorites are the Bruce Trilogy and Story of Scotland.

    Tranter did more than any other author to feed my desire to know more about Scotland’s history which has been suppressed for far too long

    Liked by 6 people

  10. I identify with what you say , in Burns time we had radicalism ordinary people looking at the French revolution and seeing meritocracy and real improvement in France under Napoleon. In the UK nothing changes in our feudal society, we have never had a revolution. The working class have been nothing more than cannon fodder for the elites and at the latest whims of their foreign money making adventures. Lifes lost and destroyed through wars and enforced poverty, the lie exposed of false glory and history of Empire.
    Today Scotland has 3 top Universities who are full of foreign students, the faculties see this is a money making machine the indigenous population who should be included are only paid lip service to in cynicaly small numbers . This is a devolved power run by Anglophones for Anglophones Scots is treated like a colocqueal dilect and not a worthy language, the language of the enlightenment. Our colonial masters do not want an educated indigenous Scottish population.
    The Gaelic language is only premoted to a certain extent, you can and get the meaning of Gaelic word in English try and get the pronunciation on the internet in the other way. (Which is essential if you want to learn a language. )Until we have a real deep understanding of what the colonialists have done to eradicate our culture we will continue to be anglofied till we are either absorbed into a greater England or finally see the light and rebel. Unfortunately our vichy Colonial administration is all to happy to play our masters game.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Aye, that’s the only outcome for a colonially oppressed people, Alastair: continued cultural assimilation and with that the perishing of a people and their culture/nation or; liberation through independence. Which explains why Frantz Fanon described national independence as always being “a fight for a national culture” and in which native language is a pivotal feature.

      Oor ain naitural braw scots langage an cultur is wha we are an hou we think an gif ye thraw it aw oot ye’ll shuirly turn juist liker anither fowk wi thair furrin langage, cultur an ootlin vailyies. ‘Scottis’ or ‘British’ in ither wirds, a strouth chyce; thons hou cultural imperialism aye warks tae confuise an owergang a hale doun-hauden fowk an thair kintra, aye sterved o thair ain langage an cultur, an at the hinder-end deein awa.


      Liked by 7 people

  11. arthor49
    That remains as relevant today as it did in “the heyday of the British Empire” and can still be seen in the “Re-education” of the Uighur’s by China!

    Deary Deary Me
    Presumably as a Scot you should know better than to peddle BBC/ UK/ English state lies.

    I can only presume by your statement that you have never been to Xin Jiang province or anywhere in China.
    Uighur’s get an education through the medium of their own language there is no suppression of any aspect to their culture, there are plenty of well attended Mosques.In higher education they have easier access and better financial assistance. than the Han people.

    They never had to endure the one child policy that was for Han Chinese only, so Uighur population has grown considerably. As has the infrastructure of the province unlike the shit hole that is Scotland.

    Yes I’ve been there and to many other parts of China a more cheerful, helpful, pleasant. charming people you could ever hope to meet. And when I come back to Scotland I know I have come back to the Stone age.
    Consider the lies, the deceitful information that comes out of the UK/BBC/ENGLISH/SCOTTISH MEDIA about our country, subsidy junkies, drunks ,druggies etc etc before you come out with false hoods about any other country.


    1. I don’t listen to or watch what the BBC has to say on anything unless I want to hear the lies they are putting out on particular issues. However, I do listen to the Chinese community from all over Scotland and the rUK that I have supported for the past 40+ years. I totally agree with you about a “cheerful, helpful, pleasant charming people though!

      It doesn’t matter which country you visit, you can find opposing views on anything and with a country as vast as China that is not surprising.


    2. The subtle shit is still going on with the BBC, other half was watching springwatch tonight, they were around the Water of Leith, they had a Welsh fella and a woman of colour, both OK at their job, but the BBC making sure it got it’s token wokness in check, they then introduced two folk, both working in Scotland, and one at least Head of something or other to do with the Forth.

      I happened to mention that ‘I wonder if we will hear a Scottish accent, as all to often on these types of programmes the boice is either, English, American or some EU type, never Scottish.

      Anyway along they went to meet both of them, both English, so in Scottish Heartland, close to our Capital city, 4 people on the telly, and not a single Scottish accent, rips ma piss that kind of carryon, it has to stop, is it any wonder we have ‘the scottish accent ‘cringe’ it’s because we rarely hear them.

      Saturday kitchen or what ever had Floella Benjamin on recently, one of the other guests was a black woman too, who was brought up in middle England in a predominately white area in the 1970’s, she said as a child watching Flo B on playschool was heartwarming for her as it was the first time she had witnessed someone on the TV who was ‘just like her’ my question is when will our kids get that, all we got with Scottish accents was gansters or drunks, I’m effing sick of the lot of them, the sooner our people waken up the better. Jockhome syndrome is alive and well on our parch of this little island.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes paultbird, ‘experts’ interviewed on most Scottish tv and radio programmes tend to reflect primarily the dominant imposed culture, language and identity, e.g. incl Darren McGarvey’s food expert on channel 9 tonight, the crime expert looking at ‘cold cases’ on STV tonight, or experts interviewed on BBC radio Scotland any morning. What can we expect when only around 1 in 10 academics employed by Scotland’s elite universities are Scots, which is clearly a form of ethnic discrimination.


        Liked by 4 people

  12. Jackie Kay, whom you mentioned above, even at the age of twelve, or thereabouts, was clearly an outstandingly talented young poet. I was in the company of her very fine, Scottish foster-parents at an internationalist, social-cum-cultural evening in London, where I heard her recite a short selection of her own poetry. When she eventually became Makar, I was delighted for her and hers, of course, but I wasn’t even slightly surprised. When someone like me, who knows little-to-nothing about poetry can be touched by the spoken-words of a young girl, in the form of her poetry, it seemed, back then in the 1980’s, only sensible to conclude that the girl-in-question was carrying within her a very precious gift, indeed.

    As for Burns … well: who has ever equalled ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’, in terms of its universal truth and solidarity:

                                                     "The rank is but the guinea's stamp.                                                       The Man's the gowd for a' that." 

    That Burns’s precious gift and flaming humanity, is still celebrated at home and around the world today, should surprise no one

    Liked by 6 people

  13. Iain

    I would be interested in your views and experience of the management you’ve encountered, particularly senior management, in industry and how they compare with other countries.


    1. I deal with my views in the 1980’s of management during the “ accountancy years” where everything became cost centres and closure became the first option rather than investigating problems, making changes and returning to profit, what management should be about. I did this in the interview I recently recorded for BBC2.


  14. Burns was something we had to read towards the end of January at primary school then for the rest of the year if we used the same words the bard used we were in trouble as Scots words were slang. The appeal of Burns internationally was brought home as while in primary school I collected stamps and was gifted a couple of stamps from the Soviet Union with our bard on them complete with the old CCCP logo. From memory one stamp was blue and the other a mustard colour so it looks like they produced and entire set for one poet from a too poor, too stupid and too small backwater in Northern Britain.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Yes Tannahill was a genius but it doesn’t stop their , Burns hero Ferguson, the list is endless we just need to rediscover our Literature, History and Music. I am 64 and have played the guitar since I was 16 and only found out last year that more lute music was written in Scotland than any other country. Everything we are told about Scotland has been a lie , gaslighting and devaluing our Celtic culture to create a highracy for Anglophone devaluation and their supremacy. The Saxon can only destroy and steal, that is what the do in their self delusional exceptionalism.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. I was at college when we were being “taught” how to teach poetry. Needless to say, all the examples provided were from the likes of Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth etc.

    Also needless to say, this was somewhat exasperating (euphemism)! So, when we were asked to select a poet and one of their works to write about why they decided to pen those lines, I did not miss my opportunity.

    For my selection, I chose Hugh MacDiarmid and his “A drunk man looks at the thistle” that I had read a couple of weeks previously. I admit, at that age I didn’t understand every word but I was still not too far removed from my roots that I managed OK. However, the same could not be said for our lecturer, who handed my effort back without a mark on it and while she commented on what all the others produced, she skipped me entirely.

    My fellow students asked me later why I had been missed and I showed them my work – that produced lots of laughs and my popularity increased but that would not have been too hard to achieve in those days.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Hello again Iain. Your recommendation of Nigel Tranter has prompted me to re-read his novel ‘The Patriot’. Based on the 17th-century life of Andrew Fletcher, the book recounts his 30-year struggle against the Treaty of Union. If ever there was a historical tale for our time…this is it!

    I first stumbled upon Nigel Tranter via a different genre to that for which he is renowned. Back in the ’70s, as an avid climber, I devoured any book about mountaineering. The following review of ‘No Tigers in the Hindu Kush’ was written by Darren on GoodReads.com. “Published posthumously, this book was edited from the diary of Philip Tranter by his parents, as he was sadly killed in a motor accident shortly after his return from the expedition referred to in the book. He was on his way home from a shorter climbing expedition in Turkey, planning to write the book of the Scottish Hindu Kush Expedition of 1965.
    It is an interesting book, charting the success of the four young men exploring, mapping and climbing a previously uncharted area of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. There is repetition, as might be expected of an expedition climbing eleven peaks over a five week period, with hand carried equipment and food – the menu for example wasn’t overly varied – but it is a well told and enthusiastic story, and is very readable.”

    Liked by 2 people

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