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This report is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

Scottish Parliament Masterclass: I James Robertson

1. A Parcel of Rogues

Robert Burns (1759- 96) famously denounced the Scots Parliamentarians who voted for the Treaty of Union with England in 1707, as a 'parcel of rogues'. But politicians have been castigated and mocked by writers for centuries - in fact, you could say that such abuse comes with the job. The relationship between Scottish politics and literature has not always been easy, but it has positive as well as negative aspects.

'There's ane end of ane auld sang,' the Chancellor, the Earl of Seafield, disparagingly said as he signed the Treaty. His anti-Union opponent, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, had three years earlier written that 'if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation' - an opinion now inscribed on the wall of the new Parliament. With Scotland lacking its own legislature, the nation's ballad-makers, poets and, later, novelists did in a way come to be, along with the Kirk and the Law, a substitute political voice. Maybe this is why we still attach such value to the words of Robert Burns, and why, in the nineteenth century in particular, the poems and novels of Sir Walter Scott became the window through which the out-side world saw Scotland.

'We're bought and sold for English gold' was Burns's bitter denunciation of the Union, and his song 'A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation' deplores the idea of Scotland ...


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