Both Sides the Tweed

Both Sides the Tweed

What’s the spring-breathing jasmine and rose ?
What’s the summer with all its gay train
Or the splendour of autumn to those
Who’ve bartered their freedom for gain?

 Chorus: Let the love of our land’s sacred rights

To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

No sweetness the senses can cheer
Which corruption and bribery bind
No brightness that gloom can e’er clear
For honour’s the sum of the mind

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free

Bill Scott on a folk classic with a little known literary origin – a stirring, beautiful song about events of over three hundred years ago, written by two of our most talented artists, whose lyrics and sentiments are exceptionally relevant to the campaign for Independence today.

James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd

Image: shirokazan on flickr

“Both Sides the Tweed” made its first known appearance in “Hogg’s Jacobite Reliques” published in 1819.  James Hogg (1770 -1835) himself was born into rural poverty in the Borders of Scotland. He worked as a shepherd until he discovered the works of Robert Burns. Thereafter he began writing poetry in emulation of his literary hero. Taken up, like Burns, by the Scottish intelligentsia, Hogg won a contemporary fame as a poet and essayist (with Blackwood’s Magazine) that rivalled that attained earlier by Burns himself.

James Hogg

Whilst his fame as a poet has dimmed Hogg retains a place amongst Scotland’s literary giants as the author of the novel, “Confessions of a Justified Sinner”.  A magnificent, modernistic novel on the duality of “Man” (humanity) and the hypocrisy of Calvinism it is a must read to this day for anyone who wants to understand Scotland’s collective psychology.

In 1817 Hogg was commissioned by the Highland Society of London to collect songs relating to the Jacobite period (1689 to 1746) of Scottish history. He collected many great songs from the rural poor that he knew so well and also included songs earlier collected and/or written by Burns (such as “Ye Jacobites by Name”). However it is widely suspected that several of the songs in the Jacobite Reliques were not collected at all but instead written by Hogg himself. One of those songs was “Both Sides the Tweed” whose lyrics refer to the events leading up to the Act of Union in 1707.

As folk singer and songwriter Dick Gaughan has said the song has, “Hogg’s fingerprints all over it”.  The song asks if any real beauty and honest sentiment can truly be experienced in a land where corruption has been allowed to flourish and steal its people’s liberty.

Union and Scotland’s Parcel of Rogues

When political union of Scotland & England was proposed by the English Parliament in 1706  there was massive opposition from Scotland’s ordinary folk. Every one of Scotland’s burghs opposed union; the Church of Scotland and Scotland’s legal profession opposed it; there were near daily demonstrations and disturbances in the streets of the capital in opposition to it and Glasgow’s citizens rose in spontaneous armed rebellion.  Two groups until then inimically opposed, on political and religious grounds, Highland Jacobites and Lowland Covenanters, also found common cause in opposing Union.

Initially there was also a substantial majority against Union in Scotland’s Parliament.  But Scotland’s aristocracy and mercantile classes, having lost massive amounts of capital in the “Darien Disaster” (Scotland’s attempt to establish a colony in Central America), were open to persuasion. Eventually a majority were bought by the promise of having their Darien debts paid off. Thus despite massive public opposition the Act of Union was signed and passed.

So corruption and political preference was at the heart of Union from the outset.  This meant that after Union was achieved the Scots ruling class and politicians were held in contempt, on the grounds of their corruptibility, by the very same English ruling class that had bribed them! As Hogg saw it the only way that mutual respect between the peoples of England and Scotland could be restored was through achieving Scotland’s freedom, and thus equal standing, with our neighbours south of the Tweed.

A Classic Collection

Hogg’s collection of songs was popular when published and preserved many fine folk songs for later generations. When the Scottish Folk revival came along in the 1960s the Reliques were raided for material and songs like “Cam Ye Ower Fae France” and “A Parcel of Rogues” were recorded and given a new lease of life by the Corries and others. However “Both Sides the Tweed” lay unused until 1979.

The Folk revival was part of a rediscovery of Scottish culture and national identity that also took a political form at the polls. Following the 1974 election and the SNP’s greatest electoral success, thus far, the Scottish Labour Party rediscovered its commitment to a national parliament for Scotland.  This was something it had adopted as a policy some 60 odd years earlier but had done precisely nothing to implement in the intervening years – until the success of the SNP forced its hand.

But the sop granted was a grudging one and a 40% threshold was set for the referendum which meant that although a majority voted in favour of establishing an Assembly the dead and those who did not vote were counted alongside NO voters to deny the Scots’ electorate’s will.

 Gaughan and the referendum

In the aftermath of the referendum, perhaps our greatest modern folksinger/songwriter, Dick Gaughan, looking for a way of expressing his frustration at Scotland being cheated out of its own Parliament rediscovered “Both Sides the Tweed”.  It encapsulated both his anger at the continuing perfidy of Scots politicians (Labour and Tory in this case) but also his view that support for self-rule should not be confused with hatred for the English people.

Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

 Dick made a few small changes to the lyrics and wrote a new and beautiful melody for the song.  It was then included in Gaughan’s album, “A Handful of Earth”. The song has since been covered by Capercaillie and Mary Black  amongst many others.

So the song recalls two seminal moments in Scottish history – the ending of Scottish independence with the passage of the Act of Union and the denial of the Scottish people’s will in the 1979 Assembly Referendum. But it also looks forward to that day when we will rediscover our own self-worth (“For honour’s the sum of the mind”) by achieving independence once more.

Hogg’s last verse echoes the sentiments of his hero Burns’ great hymn to international brotherhood, “For A’ That”.  Virtue and honour are not to be found in riches but in the courage of those who fight for freedom.  Not bad watchwords for Scottish socialists as we enter the independence campaign.

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free


3 thoughts on “Both Sides the Tweed”

  1. The more the likes of Max Hastings says daft things like we are painyg for the Scots and their free care for the elderly and free university places for Scottish young people, the faster we speed towards Max Hastings having an England free of the yoke of us Scots. I will be helping free England by voting for Scottish Independence.

  2. Whatever befell the socialist belief in internationalism, e.g the inscription on the gravestone of Karl Marx. “Workers (i.e. people) of all nations unite”? Nationalism, sectarianism writ large, springs from egotistical feelings of exclusivity and has fuelled the hatreds which have led to death and destruction throughout history (continuing in our own time). Shame on Dick Gaughan, honour to Eddie McGuire et al.

    1. Marx didn’t mean that all Nations should cease to be but that workers in each Country strive for better working conditions and wages and unite to achieve this.
      I am sure he would have welcomed an Independent Scotland free of the restraints imposed by successive Tory Governments which were not voted for by the people in Scotland.

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