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Burns night: the battle over Scottish identity continues


In 1950s and 60s Edinburgh, the Rose Street poets led a Scottish renaissance that kindled today’s independence movement. Language remains at the heart of the debate today

Poetry makes nothing happen, Auden wrote. It does, however, provide an excellent excuse for a late-January bacchanal. The annual Burns Night supper, marking the birth of Scotland’s national poet, reprises the excesses of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, with a ritualistic meal, strong drink and verse recitat-ions standing in for carols.

Accessorised in tartan, in pubs, clubs and private homes throughout the UK, revellers raise glasses to the immortal memory, musically recall “Auld Lang Syne” and, in robust rhyming Scots vernacular, praise haggis then spear, eviscerate and serve it. The rite, with optional ceilidh dancing, is observed from Abu Dhabi to Hawaii, Singapore to Moscow, as well the more obviously diasporic regions of Canada, New Zealand and America (although haggis is currently banned in the Land of the Free).

If the English were baffled by his Scots poetry, so much the better

In a first, the debate over Scots vernacular poetry trended on Twitter

Reviving Old Scots and fusing it with lively local idiom was, to this most ideological of poets, a political act

The irony is that by the time the Rose Street poets were meeting regularly, MacDiarmid had abandoned Scots for his verse

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