Scots Wha Hae (“Scots, Who Have”; Scottish Gaelic: Brosnachadh Bhruis) is a patriotic song of Scotland which served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country, but has lately been largely supplanted by Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland.

The lyrics were written by Robert Burns in 1793, in the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Scotland maintained its sovereignty from the Kingdom of England. Although the lyrics are by Burns, he wrote them to the traditional Scottish tune Hey Tuttie Tatie which, according to tradition, was played by Bruce’s army at the Battle of Bannockburn, and by the Franco-Scots army at the Siege of Orleans

The tune tends to be played as a slow air, but certain arrangements put it at a faster tempo, as in the Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch and the concert overture Rob Roy by Hector Berlioz.

The song was sent by Burns to his publisher George Thomson, at the end of August 1793, with the title Robert Bruce’s March To Bannockburn, and a postscript saying that he had been inspired by Bruce’s ‘glorious struggle for Freedom, associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient.’ This is seen as a covert reference to the Radical movement, and particularly to the trial of the Glasgow lawyer Thomas Muir of Huntershill, whose trial began on 30 August 1793 as part of a British government crackdown, after the French Revolutionary Wars led to France declaring war on the Kingdom of Great Britain on 1 February 1793.

Muir was accused of sedition for allegedly inciting the Scottish people to oppose the government during the December 1792 convention of the Scottish ‘Friends of the People’ society, and was eventually sentenced to fourteen years transportation to the convict settlement at Botany Bay, Australia.

Burns was aware that if he declared his Republican and Radical sympathies openly he could suffer the same fate. It is notable that when Burns agreed to let the Morning Chronicle, of 8 May 1794, publish the song, it was on the basis of ‘let them insert it as a thing they have met with by accident, and unknown to me.’

The song was included in the 1799 edition of A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice, edited by George Thomson, but Thomson preferred the tune “Lewie Gordon” and had Burns add to the fourth line of each stanza, to suit. In the 1802 edition, the original words and tune were restored.

“Scots Wha Hae” is the party song of the Scottish National Party. It is sung at the close of their annual national conference each year.

Lyrics

Original lyrics in Scots
‘Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome tae yer gory bed,
Or tæ Victory.
English translation
‘Scots, who have with Wallace bled,
Scots, whom Bruce has often led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victory.
‘Now’s the day, and now’s the hour:
See the front o’ battle lour,
See approach proud Edward’s power –
Chains and Slavery.
‘Now is the day, and now is the hour:
See the front of battle lower (threaten),
See approach proud Edward’s power –
Chains and slavery.
‘Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha will fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sæ base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee.
‘Who will be a traitor knave?
Who will fill a coward’s grave?
Who’s so base as be a slave? –
Let him turn, and flee.
‘Wha, for Scotland’s king and law,
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa’,
Let him follow me.
‘Who for Scotland’s King and Law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fall,
Let him follow me.
‘By Oppression’s woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free.
‘By oppression’s woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free.
‘Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty’s in every blow! –
Let us do or dee.
‘Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty is in every blow,
Let us do or die!’