Makar Liz Lochhead My Letter in Herald – Not in online edition.

As published, i.e., with a few Herald cuts (but annotated accordingly.)


Colette Douglas Home is correct to question the wisdom of Liz Lochhead making herself a political cheerleader for the SNP. According to the SNP’s Code of Conduct [1] “a member shall not disavow the aims of the party in whole or in part.” In other words, her membership forbids criticism of the Scottish Government if the SNP is in power: speaking truth to power is not on.

On a wider note, it worth considering the role that literature and language has played historically.

Recently, in his masterful Radio 4 series “Germany: Memories of a Nation,” Neil MacGregor of the British Museum demonstrated the roles played by Martin Luther and Goethe in defining the language and culture of the German people. Likewise, the cunning James VI/I saw how a new shared Authorised Version of the Bible could unite his kingdom both religiously and politically[2].

On her own literary doorstep, Ms Lochead may have done well to look no further than Robert Burns. Those who have tried to comandeer his genius for or against the questions of the day (most recently in the independence referendum) may be missing the point a bit.

This is that the Burns canon (like that of his contemporary Goethe) is extensive and inclusive, with his subjects and lexis ranging from his native southwest to his forefathers’ northeast, encompassing lowland and highland, merchant and agricultural, warrior and pastoralist, republican, rebel and unionist, as a passionate lover and a teller of Scotland’s tales.

Burns’ entire life was led less than a century after the Act of Union; if he first “committed the Sin of Rhyme” in 1774, his writing career began less than  thirty years after Culloden and the final defeat of Stuart absolutism.

In that period, his work embraced all of a broken Scotland and set it as a single country within a poetic framework which has endured until the present day. It is in fact an inspirational example to poets as to how their work can heal a divided nation.

During the independence debate, I found myself reading one of my No-themed poems at an open mic night; in thanking me, the host reflected “if poets cannot debate this, who can?”

Let us hope that Liz Lochhead will defy the [3] censorship to which she has signed up as a requirement for membership of the SNP, and speak for the whole of Scotland. In doing so, she could make her own contribution towards mending our present-day political divisions. Again, if poets cannot do so, who can?


Peter A. Russell


[1] Cut by Herald: Presumably Ms Lochhead was warned by her party of its Code of Conduct, which says in paragraph 2.2.

[2] Cut by Herald: (It is a shame that through their idiocy, subsequent generations of the UK’s Scottish dynasty worked so hard to destroy his achievements and those of his editor-in-chief, the wonderfully monikered Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)

[3] Cut by Herald: rather Stalinist


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