Nae mair will our bonnie callants
Merch tae war whan our braggarts crousely craw
Nor wee weans frae pitheid an clachan
Murn the ships sailin doun the Broomielaw
Broken faimilies in launs we’ve hairriet
Will curse ‘Scotlan the Brave’ nae mair, nae mair
Black an white ane-til-ither mairriet
Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare
In the spring of 1960, the great Hamish Henderson, poet, intellectual and socialist activist, penned words to a pipe tune he had first heard played while on active service in WWII. The striking tune, The Bloody Fields of Flanders, a retreat march written during WWI by John MacLellan of Dunoon was the perfect accompaniment to Henderson’s hopeful vision for Scotland and the wider world. Henderson’s song, christened the Freedom Come-All-Ye, with its anti-war and anti-imperialist imagery was subsequently adopted by the Scottish peace movement and was for a while the alternative internationalist anthem of the anti-Polaris campaigners.
Times change, however, and just as Polaris protest gave way to Trident protest and then drifted into something approaching apathy amongst the general public so too did the great Scottish folksong revival of the 1960s begin to lose energy and gradually assume the mantle of something rather quaint and out of date.
Henderson’s words, eloquent, poignant and inspiring, would not be so easily discarded though and in the September of 2013, as the independence debate was beginning to seriously come alive, the Freedom Come-All-Ye was sung en mass at the Yes Scotland rally on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Suddenly, a new generation was turned on to Henderson’s vision of a nation motivated by the notions of peace, friendship and social justice.
The song was quickly adopted by the Yes movement and versions could soon be heard at Yes events and even performed by street buskers all across the country. The most unexpected and moving rendition was undoubtedly that performed by South African opera singer Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow.
But what is it in Henderson’s words that still speak to us today? Why has the Freedom Come-All-Ye become our song and how should we respond to its demand for change, for something better? Simply, its sentiments express our hopes, its ideals are the ones that have kept us moving on and pushing for change despite the setback in September. In particular, for the peace movement, the second verse, which acknowledges our own aggression and violence around the world, remains as resonant and significant as ever.
Personally, whenever I hear that last line of that verse, which exhorts us to “Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare”, I picture only one place. If ever a site deserved the title “the vile barracks o the maisters” then surely it is Faslane naval base on the Clyde, the home of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons.
Those of you who have been there, whether as protestors or just as passing tourists destined for the highlands, will know exactly what I mean. Faslane is simply monstrous, an enormous ugly military base stretching along the shore of the otherwise picturesque Gareloch. As you drive north towards Garelochhead it is unavoidably apparent as miles of high fences with razor wire, electronic alarms and cameras lining the seaward side of the road. Travel further north and you can join a military road that sweeps around the north of Garelochhead and leads to Faslane’s equally sinister twin, the Royal Naval Armament Depot at Coulport, on Loch Long. Coulport is no more approachable than Faslane and, as a depot which stores and handles nuclear warheads and missiles, has its own complement of razor wire fences, armed guards and guard dogs.
The Peace Rocks at Faslane
And let us never forget exactly what it is that lies within the vile barracks that demands such high security. Trident exists solely to project the threat of the UK’s psychotic military vengeance around the world. Faslane and Coulport’s only military role is to prepare daily to inflict catastrophic humanitarian consequences on some other part of the globe. Let us be clear, nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate instruments of mass murder ever created. They are responsible for unique and horrifying effects on people, including lethal harm to those who are not even part of the conflicts in which they are used and including those who are not even yet born. Their use, or even contemplation of their use, is morally indefensible.
All of this is undeniable and yet we host it in our country, 30 miles away from our biggest city, and we almost never talk about this aspect of it. It is time we did. It is time we confronted it and called it out for what it is – Scotland’s shame, this nation’s greatest collective moral stain. As such it is our responsibility, this generation’s to mak the vile barracks bare – and we can do it. In 2016, the Westminster parliament will vote to decide whether to replace the current Trident system. The Scottish MPs who will vote on this will be those whom we choose in May next year. It is our responsibility to ensure that Scotland does not elect one single pro-Trident MP. In the event of a hung parliament an anti-Trident bloc of Scottish MPs will wield enormous power.
To ensure this happens, we must make the issue of Trident our priority in the next 6 months. We are starting this process by holding the largest ever anti-Trident demonstration outside Faslane this November 30th. Hamish Henderson himself described the Freedom Come-All-Ye as “expressing my hopes for Scotland and for the survival of humanity on this beleaguered planet”. We intend to stay true to his vision and we intend to make it reality. We hope you will join us.
Scrap Trident Coalition