Robert Burns in Scottish politics (1914-2014)
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The present thesis considers the political legacy of Robert Burns in twentieth and twenty-first century Scotland, explaining how iconoclastic, left-wing, and nationalist interpretations of the poet have grown in prominence during the period between the First World War and the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. By highlighting this radical shift, the following pages offer a crucial complement to previous works on Burns’s afterlife, most of which, thus far, have concentrated on the Victorian era —a time when the poet’s legacy was tinged by a sentimental, liberal-conservative, and unionist-nationalist consensus. By contrast, at the crossroads of political history and literary reception studies, the following four chapters reveal how Burns’s memory went on to depart from its Victorian framework. Chapter one (1914-1930) describes the vast reformist movement, whose ranks of Scottish socialists, suffragettes, and ‘Renaissance’ writers reacted against British imperialist uses of Burns during the Great War. Such a movement, I argue in Chapter two (1930-1959), ended the liberal consensus which defined the poet’s legacy since the nineteenth century and enabled Labour to capture the Burns movement around the time of the creation of the Welfare State. However, as explained in Chapter three (1960-1999), Labour’s Burns soon had new rivals to contend with. The rise of the SNP during the 1960s-70s, combined with the second ‘Renaissance’ of the 1980-90s, meant that political uses of the poet increasingly collided with debates about Scottish Home Rule. These developments, which climaxed in July 1999, when Burns’s lyrics inaugurated the new Scottish Parliament, are still palpable today. As demonstrated in Chapter four (1999-2014), Burns has now become a key reference-point for the debate on Scottish independence, linking ideas of self-government to issues of class, gender, and experimental literature —a situation which, I conclude, reflects the transformation of Scottish cultural politics throughout the last hundred years.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2025-06-26
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 26th June 2025
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