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A bad case of culture phobia

I flew up to North Ronaldsay the other weekend, for the Burns Supper. Burns never flew.

An as for fleein ye wadna dare, In braw balloon or Loganair, Like louse on high in a fine Lunar- di bonnet - Tae flee yirsel, as ithers flee, Ye'd sune bemoan it.

The Islander lifts like a shuttlecock in the gale, and tracks through the scud to pinpoint Orkney's most remote habitation. On board are piper (grizzled) and bard (grizzleder), plus Fiona, a self-taught fiddler in her early 20s, who has never flown.

Nor has she ever been to school. One crofter later assured me that she is the best fiddler he has ever heard in North Ronaldsay. To hear her confident path through Neil Gow's slow airs, to feel the heels lift to her vivid reels, is the high point of a very high evening.

An ad for never going to school, almost. For when you see how much worse Higher Still English is than the old Higher, how uncreative, cluttered and fusionless, you might almost (if you had the luxury) want to keep your offspring off school at times to arrange some core education yourself.

One of the selling-points of Higher Still English way back in 1996 was that it would introduce a mandatory Scottish literature element. Mandatory? Well, after all, you would have to be a pretty thoroughly colonised and subjugated set of coofs not to want a guarantee to be served your own national culture on draught at school - to relish its colours, coolness and bubbles, while glugging it down.

Mandatory Scottish literature from the Scottish Qualifications Authority? I have to tell you that there is currently more prospect of a National Theatre being established on Rockall. As far as the SQA is concerned, Messrs Dunbar, Stevenson, McDiarmid and MacCaig can go jump in the lake; Mesdames Kesson, Galloway and Kennedy can seek fresh pastures.

At a time of literary renaissance in Scotland, you might think the exam board would at least hansel the birth, and honour the earlier bairns. But maybe the SQA's reneging on the 1996 promise just reflects the bizarre national culture phobia of some current incumbents in the Scottish Executive.

A Man's a Man was written at the last, Against the unjust order sicna blast Maks sure the warld will never fast On Burns's birthday, Till each coorse Empire's chains are cast Furth an awa.

There are a few empires to go yet.

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