The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16000, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on celebrating Hamish Henderson. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes that 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of Hamish Henderson, who it considers was one of the most brilliant Scots of his age; acknowledges that he was a poet, scholar, songwriter, folklorist, a co-founder of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish studies and the catalyst of Scotland’s post-war folk revival; notes that Hamish was born to a single mother in Blairgowrie on 11 November 1919, and went on to win a scholarship to study modern languages at Cambridge; understands that he helped smuggle Jews to safety from Nazi Germany while a visiting student in the 1930s; praises his distinguished service as an intelligence officer in the Second World War, when he oversaw the drafting of the Italian surrender order of Marshal Graziani; notes that Hamish translated the prison diaries of Antonio Gramsci; praises his poetry collection,
Elegies For The Dead in Cyrenaica
, which received the Somerset Maugham Award; notes that, after the war, Hamish taught with the Workers Educational Association, founded the Edinburgh People’s Festival and began collecting and recording folk songs and stories from across the country, including South Scotland, which form part of the 9,000 field recordings at the School of Scottish Studies, where Hamish taught from 1951 to 1987; understands that he brought bearers of Scotland’s oral tradition, including travelling people such as Belle Stewart and Jeannie Robertson, to international attention; considers that Hamish wrote many beloved folk songs, including
John MacLean March and
The 51st Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily
; remembers Hamish as an internationalist who campaigned for Scottish home rule, an end to apartheid in South Africa and nuclear disarmament; notes that he died in 2002 and is survived by his widow, Kätzel, and his daughters, Janet and Christine; understands that events are planned to mark his centenary, including in November at the Hamish Matters Festival in Blairgowrie and the Carrying Stream Festival at Edinburgh Folk Club, as well as in publications such as
, a new anthology in tribute to Hamish by
The Poets Republic Press
; anticipates more events commemorating Hamish’s legacy throughout 2019, and believes that these are a fitting tribute to what it considers a visionary talent whose contribution to Scottish culture remains immense.
It gives me great pleasure to open this debate to mark the centenary of Dr Hamish Henderson, who was one of the most brilliant Scots of his age. Members might notice that a large number of people are in the public gallery to hear the Parliament pay tribute to Hamish: our visitors include his wife, Kätzel, his daughters, Tina and Janet, and his grandson Steve.
I also welcome people who are attending from the department of Celtic and Scottish studies at the University of Edinburgh, who are supporting a celebratory event after the debate, along with people from the Hamish Matters festival in Blairgowrie and the Scottish Poetry Library. I am delighted that the Deputy First Minister will speak at the event, given his constituency interest and his great interest in this debate.
The great American folk musician Pete Seeger once said that Hamish loved Scotland as much as he loved life itself. He was right. Now, Scotland is reciprocating that love, with a flurry of events for his centenary.
For many years, Hamish Henderson dominated Scotland’s intellectual landscape. He linked the 1920’s literary renaissance, spearheaded by that unapologetic elitist Hugh MacDiarmid, with the unapologetically egalitarian folk revival of the 1950s, of which Hamish was the driving force.
Hamish’s work with the school of Scottish studies, recording and popularising the living tradition of Scotland, is unsurpassed. The singers and songs that Hamish discovered inspired a generation of artists, including the young Bob Dylan. Like Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg in previous centuries, Hamish collected, preserved and promoted the lives and concerns of otherwise invisible people in bothies, mills, fields and factories. He also added wonderful songs of his own.
Hamish Henderson was born in Blairgowrie a year after the armistice, on 11 November 1919, to Janet, a single mother. His earliest years were spent in the Spittal of Glenshee, where he first learned to appreciate the songs that his mother pointed out could not be found in books.
Poverty forced Janet to go into service in Somerset, but she died when Hamish was just 13 years old, leaving him completely alone in the world. Hamish won a scholarship to Dulwich College in London, which he attended by day while living in an orphanage in Clapham in the evening. He then went to Cambridge, on another scholarship, to study modern languages.
From an early age, Hamish had a strong sense of social justice. As a student, he spent summers in Germany, where he was horrified by Nazism and helped young Jewish people escape. During the war, he served with distinction as an intelligence officer in north Africa and Italy, where he collected ballads from the soldiers, including his captives, and wrote songs, including the famous “The 51st Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily”.
Put in charge of one prisoner, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Hamish helped to write the order demanding the surrender of all Axis troops in Italy. He also had the job of liaising with Italy’s anti-fascist partisans and, through them, discovered the work of Antonio Gramsci, whose prison letters he later translated into English. His collection, “Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica”, is considered to be among the finest poetry of world war two and won the Somerset Maugham prize in 1949.
Hamish then assisted the American folklorist Alan Lomax in capturing Scotland’s undiscovered traditional singers for Columbia Records with the latest technology—the reel-to-reel tape recorder. That is perhaps the defining experience of his life, because he went on to pursue that field collection work at the newly formed school of Scottish studies at the University of Edinburgh, where he worked until his death in 2002, latterly as an honorary fellow. The school of Scottish studies archive is one of the most important collections in Europe—it is an aural and visual record of the lives of Scotland’s working people, their social conditions, customs, beliefs, songs and stories.
Hamish’s recordings are among the 33,000 that are held in the archives, around 10,000 of which are field recordings. Support from the lottery and other partners, including the Scottish Government, allowed online access from 2010 to a selection of extracts from the school’s collection through the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches website. The university is exploring future approaches to providing online access to the collection, and we support it in that important work.
Hamish recorded and popularised tradition bearers such as Jeanie Robertson in the north-east, the berry-picking Stewarts of Blairgowrie, Aberdeenshire bothy singer Willie Mathieson and Jimmy MacBeath of Portsoy, a farm servant and wandering bard. There are many more.
Some of the best singers were from the marginalised travelling community. Hamish lived among them as a true friend, and many of those singers performed at the people’s ceilidh that he launched at the Edinburgh festival in 1951, which marked the beginnings of the folk revival in Scotland.
The singer-songwriter Adam McNaughtan, writing in
Chapman Magazine in 1985, had this to say about Hamish’s contribution:
“Three strands are distinguishable in the Scottish folksong revival: the academic, the club/festival movement and the traditional. Perhaps the only person who has striven to intertwine the three has been Dr Henderson.”
Hamish believed that it was important to add to the vibrant “carrying stream” of folk tradition with new work. This he did with great verve. His contributions include “Farewell to Sicily”, “John MacLean March” and “Rivonia”, which called for the release of Nelson Mandela long before the world woke up to the true injustice of his imprisonment. When Mandela came to Glasgow after his release, it was Hamish whom he embraced on stage.
“The Freedom Come All Ye” was written in 1960 for the protests against Polaris in the Clyde. It is sometimes suggested as a national anthem for Scotland, although I understand that Hamish did not approve of that idea. It is an international anthem of peace. It condemns the impact of colonial wars on the working-class Scots who fought them and the families in Africa and Asia who suffered as a consequence. In the second verse, he imagines an end to all of that:
“Nae mair will the bonnie callants
Mairch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw
Nor wee weans frae pit-heid and clachan
Mourn the ships sailin’ doon the Broomielaw.
Broken faimilies in lands we’ve herriet,
Will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, nae mair”.
The song has been recorded and performed by dozens of artists and it will be sung again in the Parliament tonight, in a concert featuring different generations of singers, including Hamish’s friends, Margaret Bennett and Sheena Wellington. For the younger generation, Mike Vass of the school of Scottish studies archive and pipe major Callum Douglas of Hamish Matters have composed new work in Hamish’s honour.
Last month saw the launch of “The Darg”, a collection that was inspired by Hamish and edited by Jim Mackintosh for the Poets’ Republic press—and available today, I am glad to say, from the Scottish Parliament’s shop. Next week will see a celebration by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, and Hamish Matters takes place in Blairgowrie in November, as does the carrying stream festival, in the Edinburgh Folk Club. A memorial plaque will be unveiled at the school of Scottish studies on Hamish’s birthday, and there will be a symposium at the university in December, followed by a concert in the Queen’s Hall. His collected poems will be published by Birlinn before the year’s end.
There is, however, something fitting about this particular tribute in our national Parliament. The folk revival in which Hamish was pivotal changed Scotland. It began a steady, subtle growth of national self-confidence that led eventually to the opening of the Scottish Parliament, and it is appropriate that we honour him here, in this way, on this day. [
I know that I am being a right killjoy, but I ask those in the public gallery not to show appreciation or otherwise during the proceedings of the Parliament. Maybe we can all have a collective cheer at the end.
Hamish Henderson’s contribution to Scotland’s cultural heritage has been immense. It is perhaps not as well known as it should be, and we have the opportunity to remedy that tonight in a small way, as the Parliament did in 2002 with a debate to mark his passing—I understand that you took part in that debate, Presiding Officer.
I feel immensely privileged to have met Hamish Henderson. He came to my home town of Keith to attend the first ever Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland music festival. That festival is now an annual fixture in the TMSA calendar. Of course, Keith is now the Scots language toon, and the north-east is still the home of traditional music and bothy ballads. I can say that the Scots heritage of the north-east is still strong, and pupils from schools in and around Keith are always winners in Burns festivals and the like.
That festival took place in the late 1960s, when I had just started university. It was an excellent night in June, as far as I can recall. We sat singing folk songs well into the night, and I ended up walking the 2 miles home in the dawn light. I recall that Hamish Henderson was a very tall man with a great head of white hair and a moustache, and he always wore a trademark brown suit. He just blended into the ceilidh, rather than dominating the proceedings. Also there were Belle Stewart and her daughter Sheila, and I think that we will be forever indebted to Hamish Henderson for recording the oral traditions of Scotland’s travelling folk, such as Belle and Sheila, and the songs of the Scots language. We should also congratulate the University of Edinburgh on supporting the compilation of all that he recorded and on the work that it continues to do in Scottish studies.
I, too, was fascinated by Hamish Henderson’s distinguished service during the second world war. He was a proficient linguist and, as Joan McAlpine said, he was in Sicily during the evacuation, which prompted the famous “Banks of Sicily”. His experience at Monte Cassino interested me, because I used to work with a German soldier who had been captured at Monte Cassino and was a prisoner of war in Scotland. He stayed here for the rest of his life. That resonance also made me interested in listening to Hamish Henderson.
I am delighted that we have the opportunity during this debate to recognise Hamish Henderson’s huge contribution to capturing Scotland’s rich cultural heritage. Later this evening, I look forward to listening to people who probably know a hell of a lot more than I do.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to Joan McAlpine’s members’ business debate this evening. I congratulate her on bringing it before Parliament.
As we have heard, 11 November 2019 will mark the centenary of the birth of Dr Hamish Henderson. During his life, he was acknowledged as a scholar, a poet, a songwriter and a catalyst of Scotland’s folk revival. Born in Blairgowrie in Perthshire, Hamish—despite what many thought of him later in his life—had an esteemed military career and he was always a compassionate man.
As a youngster, Henderson won a scholarship to Dulwich College. Unfortunately, his mother died but that did not stop him progressing and he got the opportunity to go to Downing College, Cambridge. During his time at Cambridge, he made many visits to Germany in the late 1930s and he began to run messages and money back and forward, because he was no admirer of Nazi Germany; he supported individuals and smuggled Jews out of Germany during that time.
Throughout his life, Hamish was seen as a man who put a strong emphasis on peace. However, as he matured, he saw that peace was not accessible at that time in Europe, so he immersed himself in the war effort. Hamish was a first-class individual. Initially, he joined the British Army’s Pioneer Corps as a sergeant, before he gained a commission in the Intelligence Corps.
Due to his command of six European languages, Hamish became an effective officer and acquired an in-depth knowledge of German culture. Not long after that, he took part in the war in Africa. Hamish’s biographer, Timothy Neat, suggests that, during that time, with his in-depth knowledge of the history of the St Andrew’s cross, Hamish might have been responsible for the famous saltire in the sky—created by searchlights—that signalled the Highland division’s attack at El Alamein. While in North Africa, he began work on his epic poem, which detailed the experiences of ordinary soldiers. Over time, that was refined into his most accomplished poetic work, “Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica”. As a war poem, it is deeply humane and opposed to the waste of young men’s lives.
Throughout his life, Hamish saw the opportunities that were there. His poems and work enhanced that. He won many accolades and prizes for his poetry.
Although Hamish Henderson was often accused of being a communist, he never joined the Communist Party. He was too much of an internationalist to fall into any of those party lines. When he returned to Italy after the war, he was eventually told to leave the country because of his views and opinions. Hamish is still remembered there, with great fondness, as a military and cultural liberator. To this day, there is still a Hamish Henderson folk club in Rome.
It is right and proper that someone who made such a contribution is recognised for that, whether it be in his military career, his songwriting, his poetry or anything that he did to revive culture in Scotland. Hamish’s legacy is his talent, and his contribution to Scottish society cannot be underestimated. As I said, it is right and proper that we have the opportunity this evening to recognise that.
Like Maureen Watt, I am in the fortunate position of having met Hamish on a number of occasions. I first met him in 1976 in one of his favourite pubs in Edinburgh, which, fortunately, was also one of my favourites. He had joined the so-called breakaway Scottish Labour Party, which in his eyes, I think, combined the best of what he believed in politically: a socialist-type society, and promoting Scotland and all things Scottish as part of his internationalism.
It has stuck in my mind all these years that in the conversation—admittedly after one or two drinks—I asked Hamish, “Why are you so much in favour of Scottish independence?” He said, “Actually, I have two objectives and then I want a cultural revival in Scotland. Culturally, we are already becoming independent and it is only natural that we will eventually become politically independent.”
I asked him, “What are your two objectives? What would you like to happen in an independent Scotland that is not happening today?” and he said, “Well, the first thing is that I want to abolish the
Sunday Post and
The People’s Friend”— let me say, in case any of the editors is listening, that I am quoting Hamish. When I asked why he wanted to do that, Hamish said, “Because the kailyard mentality that they promote in Scotland is not my kind of Scotland and it’s not the kind of Scotland or society I want to live in or have our children grow up in.” I was totally convinced—and I told Jim Sillars that we should write the abolition of
Sunday Post and
The People’s Friend into the manifesto for the SLP.
I then asked Hamish, “What is your second objective?” and he said, “To get rid of Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.” That, in a way, was an even more serious point. While he was semi-joking about getting rid of Celtic and Rangers, what he wanted was to rid Scotland of the sectarianism that, particularly at that time, was far too prevalent—it is still too prevalent today. Hamish took people as they were. He did not judge individuals unless they were people who did and believed in things that he thought were alien to the culture of Scotland.
Before joining the SLP, I was very friendly with the late Norman and Janey Buchan, both of whom had, in their own ways, made a tremendous contribution to the revival of folk music and culture, particularly, but not exclusively, in the north-east of Scotland. Hamish, given his background, lived a very nomadic life, even in his teens and his 20s. I am not sure, but I think that he probably did not have a house of his own until he got married. He lived in other people’s houses and travelled round the country. I think that Hamish had a key to the Buchans’ house in Peel Street in Glasgow, and they might go in of an evening and lying there would be Hamish, stretched out, fast asleep, enjoying himself, and they never knew how long he would stay. However, they had the utmost love and respect for Hamish because he was such a giant.
When the history of 20th century Scotland comes to be written, there will probably be two giants of cultural Scotland: Hugh MacDiarmid and Hamish Henderson. Of course, the relationship between them was sometimes difficult, but at the end of the day they had the highest respect and love for each other.
Hamish Henderson deserves to be celebrated—and not just in this debate or at the event that will take place after it. He was a cultural giant both in Scotland and internationally, and he fought against fascism and for the underdog. The strength of his personality, which allowed him to overcome his background and upbringing in his early life—which was one of the most difficult and challenging that anybody could have had—and the way in which he grew into the massive hero and champion that he was, both when he died and for a long time before, that show us that he was a remarkable individual and a lovely human being.
I, too, thank
It is important that Scotland’s Parliament remembers a man who was a towering figure in 20th century Scottish life. Although Hamish Henderson was not with those of us who were at the Parliament’s opening in 1999, he was reportedly delighted that his friend Sheena Wellington stole the show with her rendition of “A Man’s a Man for a’ That”—a song that encapsulated both the cultural traditions that he did so much to revive and the egalitarian political views with which he identified.
Hamish’s own stirring words are to be found in the Parliament’s
. On 27 March 2002, in a debate held on her motion to mark his passing, my good friend and colleague the former Labour MSP Cathy Peattie sang a verse from “The Freedom Come All Ye”. I imagine that we probably would not encourage singing in the chamber these days, Presiding Officer.
Hamish Henderson was one of the most important contributors to Scottish culture and identity in the 20th century. However, he left a legacy that goes beyond that, as is evidenced by members’ contributions to this debate. His commitment to the recording of folk music, the oral tradition and the way in which songs reflected the lives of the people who sang them reveals his wider views on culture: that it belongs to the people and that the cultural contributions of real people should be nurtured and not sidelined. I understand that such views were very much in his mind when he founded the Edinburgh people’s festival.
Hamish’s poems and songs tackled the political issues of his time—many of which still affect us today, including opposing nuclear weapons, supporting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and campaigning on land ownership and access issues. He was also a committed anti-apartheid campaigner. As we have heard, as a committed socialist and internationalist, he expressed his horror at what he described as the servile complicity of Britain during the Vietnam war. In a letter to
The Scotsman he stated that that war was the first in which 90 per cent of the casualties were civilian. Unfortunately, when we reflect on subsequent conflicts, we see that civilian casualties have been similarly high. Hamish enlisted to fight in the second world war against the forces of fascism that clashed so strongly with his political views.
As has been touched on, Hamish was a man who supported many great and worthy causes throughout his life, including the Clydeside shipyard workers and the miners. In a letter to the socialist newspaper the
, he warned that socialism
“will not be fashioned in a vacuum; it will be fashioned by the painful and difficult struggles of definite communities, in definite places; it will be achieved on farms and in workshops, in mines and in shipyards, and not only by courtesy of an Act of Parliament.”
As the motion notes, Hamish translated the prison diaries of Antonio Gramsci. He also taught at the University of Edinburgh for more than 35 years. I understand that representatives of the university are here in the Parliament, and they are most welcome. Hamish’s legacy continues in his more than 9,000 recordings, his 10,000 letters from almost 3,500 correspondents and his diaries dating from the 1930s to the end of his life, aII of which were acquired by the University of Edinburgh and are kept in its special collections centre.
Interestingly—and, I understand, to his surprise—Hamish was offered an OBE by Margaret Thatcher’s Government in the 1980s. It is somewhat less surprising that he rejected that honour. However, he continues to be honoured in a far greater way today. His contributions to Scotland’s culture, tradition and politics continue to influence our country profoundly. As Cathy Peattie said in the Parliament’s chamber in 2002:
“Hamish was an authentic voice of Scotland. We would do well to remember his work and carry it forward into the 21st century.”—[
, 27 March 2002; c 7688.]
More than 17 years on, this debate highlights that we are doing exactly that.
I, too, thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the debate to the chamber this evening. It is a real honour to speak in it.
I knew the songs of Hamish Henderson before I knew about the man. I was not lucky enough to meet him, but my adulthood has been filled with my love of folk music and I am very pleased that, down the years, while I learned the songs, my friends in the folk scene and the TMSA made me aware of Hamish the man and his incredible contribution to the social history, culture and politics of our country, which has been so well detailed by my colleagues this evening.
Hamish’s influence on Scotland is palpable in so many walks of life. To demonstrate that, I have with me a recent publication from the all under one banner march in Ayr in July, which is called “Songs for Independence”. Only Hamish and Rabbie Burns get two sangs in it. It features “The John MacLean March” and a song that I want to talk about because it has had a great influence on me: “The Freedom Come All Ye”. Whether being sung so poignantly and beautifully by Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth games, being sung in communal singing at a folk festival or—dare I say it—featuring in an impromptu sing-song here in the Parliament, in Queensberry house, the song has personally touched me, and I will seek to explain why.
A few years ago, my son asked me what I wanted to do for mothers day. I asked that he come with me to gather in protest outside Dungavel detention centre. My son said, “I was expecting you to say flooers or chocolates”, but he came with me, and we joined the justice and peace movement and others who had gathered to show solidarity for those detained on Scottish soil.
Over the years, the focus of the protest has changed. I know that the deputy presiding officer has been an attender for many more years than I have. The focus has changed from challenging dawn raids and challenging the fact that, in a country where we have a minimum wage, G4 was using detainees as labour at slavery wages to maintain centres, to highlighting mothers being fined for feeding their bairns a biscuit in the middle of the night and, this year, highlighting the terrible Serco evictions of people in Glasgow. Those things are not done in my name, and I hope it is not too presumptuous to say that I believe that they are not done in Hamish Henderson’s name.
At those gatherings down the years, we have always sung “The Freedom Come All Ye”. My son is now a music graduate, and it is part of his repertoire because he was so moved by hearing it in that location on that day. Never have the lyrics been more powerful than outside the blight on Scotland that is Dungavel. It is a song of protest and a song of solidarity and humanity, but most of all it gives me the hope that, in Scotland, in oor hoose,
“a’ the bairns o’ Adam
Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room.”
I congratulate Joan McAlpine on lodging her motion to mark the centenary of the birth of Hamish Henderson, which is most certainly worthy of recognition. For people who are listening who are not sighted on the motion, I will mention some parts of its text. It refers to:
“Hamish Henderson, who it considers was one of the most brilliant Scots of his age”.
Indeed, Joan McAlpine repeated that statement. It might be seen to be very bold, but I do not think that anyone who has any grasp or knowledge of Mr Henderson would think that that was the case. The statement is one that I fully endorse—the value of our culture and respect for others that is shown is important.
The motion then lists his various professions or whatever else we wish to call them:
“poet, scholar, songwriter, folklorist ... Co-founder”,
and so on, and it goes on to refer to his being
“the catalyst of Scotland’s post-war folk revival”.
The fact that something needed to be revived suggests that there was something a wee bit adrift. It is perhaps the mode of Scots’ psyche that our traditions are not worthy. Mention has been made of bothy ballads, and the oral tradition is very important, certainly for Gaels.
That revival was and remains connected with the growing confidence—it is a confidence, not a cockiness—that we have as a nation, which Hamish personified. That applies to the rich heritage of the Gàidhealtachd, geographic communities and communities of interest, such as farming, fishing and mining, as well as the Travellers, of course. I mentioned Travellers in the previous debate, in relation to whom the Scottish Government has done very good work. That is important, because a relationship is being built up with the Travellers, and that is to the credit of Hamish, who worked with that community. Understandably, people in that community lack trust. Hamish earned that trust—he earned the respect of Travellers because of his general demeanour and how he went about his business.
I also had the good fortune to see the documentary about Hamish a couple of times. His demeanour was very important: he was authoritative without being in any way arrogant. Although world war two represented a small passage of his life, I happen to think that that part of it would make an excellent film, never mind a documentary. His bearing was such that he was not threatening; he was a warm person. Members have talked about his distinguished service and the surrender. That was not about humiliation; it was about warmth and engagement on a human level.
I would not be considered a well-read man, but I have an appreciation of Hamish’s use of language. He used his warmth and humanity to paint pictures of real folk. That warmth and humanity would have been tested in the theatre of war, but he never wavered from his position. The fact that he was involved with great organisations such as the Workers Educational Association and the people’s festival epitomises his outlook and his sense of community. Mention has been made of the field recordings, which are a rich source of heritage.
Hamish’s engagement with the Travellers cannot be underestimated. His work in bringing to people’s attention the likes of Belle Stewart and Jeannie Robertson was positive and will have a lasting effect.
The motion goes on to say that the Parliament
“considers that Hamish wrote many beloved folk songs, including
which is sung at the Scottish Green Party conference. It is sung hesitatingly by me, not because I do not like it, but because it is in very broad Scots for a Highlander. Hamish touches on that issue in “The John MacLean March”, with his reference to the different communities of Scotland, including big Hielan teuchters, of whom I am certainly one. I like Tonight at Noon’s version and Dick Gaughan’s version—I am a big fan of Dick Gaughan, who also performs “The 51st Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily”. I recall from the documentary Hamish diddling along to that when he was explaining the basis of it.
Hamish will be fondly remembered by me. I loved his humanity, his regard for his homeland and the fact that he wanted to make things better, which others have alluded to. Given his role in campaigning against apartheid and nuclear disarmament, I can imagine him along with Clare Adamson protesting at Dungavel, as many of us have done. I imagine that he would be repulsed by things such as the rape clause and the siege of Gaza.
The motion says that Hamish had “a visionary talent”. I think that we do not appreciate people during the time that they are with us, even though we might appreciate them retrospectively. I mentioned Dick Gaughan. Another person like that is the late Andy M Stewart, who was not well known in his own time.
Hamish made an immense contribution to Scottish culture and we will certainly not forget him.
But I’m not going to sing. [
I am very grateful to Joan McAlpine for lodging her motion and securing the debate, and for her wonderful tribute. I would also like to thank the various members who have taken part in the debate for their contributions. Maureen Watt spoke of her personal experience of meeting Hamish Henderson, while in another personal and entertaining contribution, Alex Neil celebrated his internationalism and praised him as a hero of Scotland.
It is important that the Parliament remembers Dr Hamish Henderson, who was one of the most influential Scots of the past century, and recognises his significant achievements, which have influenced and shaped Scotland and beyond.
This is not the first time that Hamish Henderson has been the focus of debate in this Parliament. We recorded our appreciation of his lifetime devotion to international solidarity, peace and socialism and his many contributions to Scottish culture and politics shortly after his death in March 2002.
Back in 2011, we debated the 60th anniversary and legacy of the Edinburgh people’s festival ceilidh, which was set up by Hamish Henderson. Hamish also has an enduring legacy in the Parliament. He played a key role in helping us to attain it, and in reviving the confidence of Scotland. He has also played a key role both in spirit and in stone. I am sure that many of those listening will have reflected on the words in his powerful song, “The Freedom Come All Ye”, as they have walked past the Canongate wall of the Parliament. As Clare Adamson set out so poignantly, those words are still relevant today. I learned the words of “The Freedom Come All Ye” as a teenager, when I lived on Peel Street in Glasgow. I never met Hamish Henderson, or indeed the Buchans. I wish that I had.
It is appropriate that we remember and celebrate Hamish Henderson on the centenary of his birth. Centenaries are important times for us to consider and reflect on people and events that have had a profound impact on shaping our lives, our history and our country, and to consider their legacy. A number of events that have been arranged around Hamish’s centenary, including a parliamentary event this evening, will help to raise the profile of this exceptional man.
Hamish Henderson changed Scotland forever: in the way that we think of ourselves, our culture and our nation. In his polymath career, he made an impact in every avenue to which he turned his attention, whether as a folklorist and folk revivalist, a poet, a songwriter, a political activist, a translator or a public intellectual. He was a visionary and a folk hero. Alexander Stewart mentioned the importance of Hamish’s experience of the war and how that influenced his work. Central to his life and legacy was the University of Edinburgh’s school of Scottish studies, where he taught from 1951 until his retirement in 1987. The words of one of Hamish’s colleagues, Calum MacLean—brother of the poet Sorley MacLean—tell us much about the importance of the oral tradition: the songs, stories and traditional tales in Scots and Gaelic that Hamish and his colleagues collected. Calum said:
“There are two histories of every land and people: the written history that tells us what is considered politic to tell and the unwritten history that tells us everything”.
Hamish found outstanding tradition bearers in his native Perthshire and beyond who had a wealth of traditional lore that was not held or remembered by the settled population. He always spoke passionately of his work with the travelling community, including the Stewarts of Blairgowrie. As John Finnie described, Hamish was readily accepted into that community. He always said that the biggest achievement in his life was “discovering” Jeannie Robertson, one of the most acclaimed folk singers in the world. He was able to give those tradition bearers a voice, and was able to give their community, and others, recognition, helping them to be accepted by society.
Elaine Smith described that important part of Hamish Henderson’s work, as well as his politics. As she intimated, Hamish’s collec ting work ensured not only that all that traditional lore would be safeguarded for future generations in the archives of the school of Scottish studies but that it would be brought to a much wider audience. He was considered to be the father of the folk song revival, and he did so much to ensure that the “carrying stream” of tradition continues.
I am grateful for all the work that Hamish Henderson undertook, which contributed significantly to today’s truly vibrant folk culture, especially around music and song. Traditional musicians and singers play an important part in our music scene. We have figures that are nationally and internationally known and renowned. We are able to provide first-class training for them at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Its traditional music course is the United Kingdom’s only bachelor of music degree dedicated to traditional and folk music—a course that, as education secretary, I encouraged the newly established Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to support.
Professor Margaret Bennett, one of the course lecturers, was a contemporary of Hamish. Hamish thought that she
“embodies the spirit of Scotland”,
and I agree.
Celtic Connections in Glasgow is the largest winter festival in the world and the United Kingdom’s premier celebration of Celtic music. The festival, which has now run for 26 years, plays an important role in promoting our traditional and contemporary cultures. It helps to promote artistic links and cultural exchanges across countries and helps to share our traditions, which was an important aspect of the Edinburgh people’s festival ceilidh that Hamish was involved in.
We are able to support our historical languages that were so central to the lore that Hamish was collecting. We recognise that the Scots language is an integral part of Scotland’s heritage, national identity and current cultural life. We support the Scottish language dictionaries, which were housed in the school of Scottish studies in George Square for many years. We also encourage Scots writers and publishers.
Hamish Henderson recognised that our culture is always evolving and changing. It is important that it is available and easily accessible for our current and future generations to enjoy. The school of Scottish studies continues to play an important role in that regard. Our national collections, including those of the National Library of Scotland—which is the Scottish hub for the unlocking our sound heritage project and holds the Scottish moving image archive—are also important.
I am delighted to announce that, this year, the Scottish Government will give £30,000 to the Tobar an Dualchais project, which includes recordings from the school of Scottish studies. I am proud that we have been able to support the project since 2010. I have taken a personal interest in it and I recognise the important work that the project team has undertaken.
Hamish Henderson’s devotion to Scotland and, especially, its traditional cultures has left a remarkable legacy for us today. It is important that we continue to recognise and value his contribution. More importantly, we must value, protect and nurture our culture, including the spirit and values of what he communicated in those precious words. They say so much about who we are, everything that we do as a country and, as Clare Adamson said, everything that we hope to be in our country.
I congratulate everyone who took part in the debate and I wish everyone every success with the Hamish Henderson centenary events. Hamish Henderson—hero of Scotland. [