Burns Day Message 2011
It's Burns night. Few people have championed Scotland's Bard with quite the same passion as First Minister Alex Salmond. He put the poet ploughman on the common Scottish ten pound note, built a festival around the 250th anniversary of his birth with Scotland's Homecoming, and last week opened the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, celebrating everything about the poet from his "waistcoat buttons to his love letters." Salmond wants every school child in Scotland to visit it.
Here in his Burns message the FM shares why Burns' poetry and what he represents is so important to him. It also reveals why Salmond is perhaps the consummate Scottish politican, easily drawing comparisons between Burns' education or the women in Burns life and the Scottish government's own policy goals.
Scotland's new Makar Liz Lochhead also pays her own tribute to the national bard by reciting her favourite piece of Burns poetry, To A Mouse (skip to that bit now).
Text of First Minister Alex Salmond's Burns Day message
"Alloway in Ayrshire, the setting for Tam o' Shanter and now home to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum that officially opened just last Friday. This wonderful new museum houses the largest Burns collection in the world, with over 5,000 original exhibits - everything from the poet's waistcoat buttons to his love letters.
"This new museum cost £21 million, and it is worth every penny even in these tough times. Not only will it quickly become one of the great tourist attractions in Scotland, but our ambition is that every school child in the country will have the opportunity to visit and be touched by Robert Burns.
"They will see the "auld haunted kirk" where warlocks and witches danced, and the Brig 'o Doon where Tam's grey mare Meg lost her tail. Just as important - the next generation will learn how a peasant farmer writing in rich Scots came to be celebrated around the world. Why? Because he spoke of universal themes like the right to happiness and how all human beings are created equal - that "pith o sense and pride o worth" are more valuable than wealth or status.
"Young Scots should leave here with a new pride and understanding, not just in our national poet, but in themselves too. And for families who cannot get here right away, the Scottish Government has just launched a free app which contains the complete works of Burns, details of his life and even a guide to holding a Burns supper.
"Burns was a lettered man who read widely. He was a Scottish Patriot who hailed Caledonia "bold, independent, unconquered and free". Yet he also loved the English poet Alexander Pope and was inspired by the French Revolution.
"He owed a huge debt to the women in his life - his grandmother, mother and wife who all had an incredible memory for the Scots ballads, lullabies and old folktales, even psalms. It fired his imagination and inspired his poems.
"The role of women in our culture is often overlooked even today. That's why I am particularly delighted that our new Makar, or national poet, Liz Lochhead opened the museum just last Friday.
"Liz once said: "My language is female-coloured as well as Scottish-coloured." We have come along way since Burns' day - some of our finest poets are women and Liz is first among them.
"Her work has similar themes to Burns. She is a radical. She is at once intellectual and unpretentious. She looks outwards, and has translated Moliere. Yet she is passionate about preserving our ain tongue - so when kids talk about sleekit tim'rous beasties, they don't need a glossary.
"The message of Liz Lochhead, and of Robert Burns, is that you can take the speak of an Ayrshire farmhand, or a Glasgow schoolchild, or the speak of the Doric of the North East of Scotland and communicate with all of humanity.
"That was obvious earlier this month when I hosted the Vice Premier LI of China, at Edinburgh Castle. He joined Anne Lorne Gillies and the dinner guests in singing Auld Lang Syne, half in translation into Mandarin Chinese and half in the original Scots.
"But as Burns is celebrated everywhere from Beijing to San Francisco, it's as well to remember it was the people of Ayrshire who first gave him to the world. Scores of them - hundreds of them - subscribed to the first Kilmarnock Edition of his poems, the book that made it all happen for him and therefore for us.
"These supporters, living in small towns, were literate, educated, interested in new ideas - because Scotland then as now had a system of free education. You see the most important thing about Robert Burns, is not that he was a heaven taught ploughman who was struck by a bolt of lightning one day in the fields and started to produce inspired poetry. The most important thing about Robert Burns is - he was an educated man. And the most important thing about Scotland is that Scotland then was the only country in the world where somebody of Burns status in life would have been an educated man. And that is why we must always preserve the right to free education in this country.
"So let's salute Robert Burns, in this Burns Season together with all the ordinary Scots folk who inspired him, who still keep his memory alive - the immortal memory of Robert Burns."