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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 41 - Standing out against the patriotic pomposity of national anthems

ONCE, during the ebb and flow, pitch and toss and cut and thrust of a party, I was discussing with a female the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews when she said, "Albert Morris, I hate everything you stand for."

Nonplussed, I had not realised that I stood for anything. Later, I realised that I stood for much - for films in queues, at stops for buses and - this was in the early 1950s - in cinemas while the National Anthem was played and most of the audience was fleeing as if from a dam-burst.

I would stand as stiff as a rolled umbrella while the anthem adjured God to save the king, scatter his enemies, confound their politics and - in the never-sung lines - hoped that the monarch would "like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush".

A very awkward lot, those in the land of mountain and flood, not given to effusions of gratitude for all the benefits that union with England had showered on its brave, little cholesterol-rich and carbohydrates-stuffed country.

I stood then, and still stand, for the anthem, not because of its monarchical sentiments, but out of a mixture of contrariness and good manners.

Although I rise when anthems are played, I cannot stand them, and that will go for any Scottish anthem. David Taylor, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, has blamed Flower of Scotland - "a bit of a dirge" - for the Scotland football teamís recent poor showing and wished it could find an inspiring anthem.

Let me join any condemnatory chorus about that song, both as a heart-racer, pulse-stirrer and bringer of a tear to the eyes of sportspeople, whether footballers, rugby players or haggis hurtlers, or as a national anthem to stiffen the sinews of Caledonia stern and wild.

In its banality of sentiment and crushing melancholiness of melody, it could serve - as Bernard Shaw said of the Red Flag - as the funeral march for a fricasseed eel.

I am also not a supporter of Scots Wha Hae as a national or any other kind of anthem. Although its words do have a noble ring, it sounds like the musical evocation of a dismal, drizzly day in an out-of-season Scottish seaside resort with the only public telephone out of action.

Most national anthems are pieces of patriotic pomposity, overblown pride with arrogant and often near-nonsensical aspirations. From National Anthems of the World, published by Cassell, can be gathered a mixture of exhortations, adjurations and demands, "Let tyrants fear/tremble/flee/perish; arise, march on, fly the flag, raise the torch, smite the foe, God defend, forfend, intercede." In fact, "God this, God that," we sing and shout. "Good God," said God," as a poem has it, "Iíve got my work cut out."

According to the book, 196 countries from Afghanistan - "Become hot, become more hot, You, the holy sun. O sun of freedom ..." - to Zimbabwe - "O lift high the banner of Zimbabwe, symbol of freedom Ö" - have national anthems.

Some enlightened countries, like Mauritania, Qatar and Somalia, have the right idea about theirs. They have music but no words, thus saving subjects from voicing the vapid and vacuous. Our national football team might have benefited from a stirring song without its words - say Ta Ra Ra Boom Dee-ay - but, as is well known, rousing tunes do not necessarily bring success to teams or nations.

The French have La Marseillaise and are, as is well-known, a bunch of money-grubbing twisters who, since Napoleonic days, lost all their battles and always have to call on Britain to rescue them.

If Scotland, Godís little oil platform, Land of Cakes and home of the knuckle sandwich, where five million devolved citizens probably know each otherís father, insists on an anthem, here are some suggested lines: "Hail, O chief executive of the freedom-loving universe, enlarge our glorious undersea, crude reserves so that their profits fall into the righteous pockets of our citizens. Keep all Parliamentary costs from ascending to Heaven knows where. Forever raise our exports; on our business expansions let triumph crown and do not let our shares go down."

Rhymed and scanned and set to a heart-cockles-warming tune like Pop Goes the Weasel, it could have an exhilarating effect. Will Scotland stand for it? It has stood Labour dominance for so long, sometimes I think it will stand for anything.

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