Flower of Scotland: The Scottish national anthem, lyrics & history

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
Flower of Scotland - Scotland National Anthem

The Scottish song "Flower of Scotland" is the UNOFFICIAL national anthem of Scotland... but it IS the official national anthem in the hearts of many Scots.

As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland does not have its own national anthem and formally must use "God Save The Queen" at most events. For example, at the Olympic Games, it's common for TeamGB to use "God Save The Queen", even if a Scottish athlete has won a medal. In the past, some Scottish athletes and teams have caused controversy by refusing to sing the UK national anthem, while competing for the UK.

Who wrote Flower of Scotland?

Flower of Scotland is actually not a very old song as you would expect, considering the song's content. Roy Williamson, part of the famous Scottish folk group "The Corries", wrote the song during the 1960s, and it was first heard publicly in 1967 on the BBC.

It is known as "Flùr Na H-Alba" in Gaelic and "Flouer O Scotland" in Scots.

Peter Dodds McCormick, composer of the National Anthem of Australia, "Advance Australia Fair", is said to have influenced Roy Williamson's song.

Interestingly, Flower of Scotland cannot be played correctly on Scotland's most famous instrument - the bagpipes. A flattened 7th cannot be produced on bagpipes; it still sounds excellent despite the altered note.

The Corries, Oh flower of Scotland
Roy Williamson (left) and Ronnie Brown of The Corries.

What does Flower of Scotland sound like?

The song is quite simple and follows the same melody for each verse. There is no better way to hear the song than from the original songwriter Roy Williamson, playing here with the Corries.

Please follow along with the lyrics in the section directly below the video.

Flower of Scotland lyrics

O Flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again?
That fought and died for
Your wee bit Hill and Glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's Army
And sent him homeward tae think again

The Hills are bare now
And Autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
That stood against him
Proud Edward's Army
And sent him homeward tae think again

Those days are past now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's Army
And sent him homeward tae think again

The Hills are bare now
And Autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
That though so dearly held

O Flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again?
That fought and died for
Your wee bit Hill and Glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's Army
And sent him homeward tae think again

What is the meaning behind Flower of Scotland?

The song is a historical piece, referring back to the times of Scottish King Robert the Bruce and his victory over King Edward II, King of England, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The basic theme is of rising up to protect the country and sending the English King home to think twice about invading Scotland again.

Who was "proud Edward's army"?

The English army of King Edward II was defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. His "proud" army was more than twice the size of Scotland's and better equipped.

Is Flower of Scotland about William Wallace?

No, it is about Robert the Bruce and the medieval wars of independence.

Scotland national sports team anthem

It's traditional in international football matches for a country's national anthem to be played before the game begins. The pre-game anthem is a final reminder to the teams playing that they represent their country on the international stage.

Because countries of the United Kingdom all have different football and rugby teams, individual anthems are permitted. British Lions rugby player Billy Steele first championed Flower of Scotland in 1974 during the team's tour in South Africa.

The song was officially adopted in 1990 at the Rugby Union Five Nations match, Scotland vs England, at Murrayfield Stadium (Scotland won!). In 1997 the Scottish Football Association followed suit and allowed Flower of Scotland as Scotland's pre-game anthem.

World champion boxer Jim Watt also used it as his entrance song during the 1990s.  Flower of Scotland is very common at Highland games and can open or close an event.

Commonwealth Games

For each Commonwealth Games since 2010, Flower of Scotland has been used for the national anthem and replaced the song Scotland the Brave.

Why no official Scottish national anthem?

The new Scottish Parliament declined the option to discuss an official national anthem for Scotland in 2003. George Reid MSP raised the motion but was told that the parliament did not currently hold the powers to grant a national anthem to Scotland.

The debate trundles on, with just this year, Scotland's first minister commenting that although Flower of Scotland is a great song, "The words are not the most uplifting and forward-looking." Her two suggestions were Highland Cathedral and Caledonia by Dougie Maclean.

Other suggestions have included "Both Sides of the Tweed" and "Scotland Will Flourish", also by The Corries. "Freedom Come-All-ye" also has support as a potential new anthem.

What is the British national anthem?

"God Save The Queen" is the British/UK national anthem and is the official anthem of all countries within the United Kingdom - Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Still, each has its own unofficial national anthem:

  • Wales - Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

  • Northern Ireland - Londonderry Air / Danny Boy.

National Anthem Online Poll

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted a worldwide poll on their website in June 2006, asking participants to choose from one of five options. The results after 10,000 votes were:

  1. Flower of Scotland: 41%.

  2. Scotland the Brave: 29%.

  3. Highland Cathedral: 17%.

  4. A Man's a Man for a' That: 7%.

  5. Scots Wha Hae: 6%.

Why do some people not like the Flower of Scotland?

Some people think it is a bit of a dirge, with a limited tonal range and repetitive melody. Some feel it is too anti-English in these modern times and focuses too much on historical events from hundreds of years ago.

Many think that if Scotland is to gain its national anthem, it should be more upbeat and focus less on past events and look at a positive Scottish future.

I think it's a good song, but I can see why some wouldn't like it in both music and meaning.

What is the national flower of Scotland?

The thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is the national flower of Scotland. Read more about the thistle's interesting role in Scottish history in my Scottish motto article.

Scottish Thistle, Flour of Scotland
The Scottish thistle (Onopordum acanthium).

What is the Flower of Scotland tartan?

Created in 1989, the Flower of Scotland tartan was a tribute to the late Roy Williamson, who wrote the song in the 1960s. It is a popular tartan with traditional Lichen Green and Lochan Blue colours.

The tartan has no clan affiliations and is available for all to wear.

Flower of Scotland videos / tartan sample.
The Flower of Scotland tartan.

Conclusion

So there we have it - Scotland's national anthem (sort of). For now, Flower of Scotland will be Scotland's unofficial national anthem until the powers that be decided otherwise!

Further reading:

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Comments:


Robert Gardner
13th of April 2023 @ 17:31:37

Old Scot born in Glasgow. I was deeply touched by the song because I believe that the extent of King Robert The Bruce's victory safeguarded the country for generations until James (his direct descendent) became the King of England and Scotland. I respect the humility of the song and the complete lack of exaggerated phrases you find in most anthems. I firmly believe that the quiet power of the melody and words will enhance the Scots to having status as a completely independent nation. It will do what the politicians failed to accomplish, and it will do it quietly, sincerely, and without bombast. How Scottish!

Emsi
31st of March 2023 @ 15:01:53

Hello. Well, I'm part of the people (a lot of !) who find that the famous flattened 7th gives this beautiful tune its really "celtic tune". And the real damage now occuring, it that that people singing a capelle, who during years and years, used to sing the song in its correct tune (with the flattened seventh) is now more and more singing it in the bagpipe way. The song then loses its very special celtic mode. A pity. And sadness.. I don't understant why the rugby federation does not ask a nortumbriann piper to play the tune, since it has been created on a northumbrian small pipe, which may produce the flattrened seventh. Or why a great bag piper would not try, as a challenge, to produce this magnificent the flattened seventh. A mystery. And big regrets. Some day people won't even remember there was an original tune for this song. Another celtic thing passing out... (and because of some celts themselves. A peak !!!)

Jean cure
1st of March 2023 @ 00:37:53

Those who think Flower of Scotland is too anti English should read the fifth verse of God Save the King!