The Soul of Democracy

The Soul of Democracy' is organised around the theme of celebration. Increasingly in Scotland, people’s relationship to the land is becoming a central issue for those calling for greater democracy, equality and social justice. It’s an appeal to such intangibles as a sense of security, hope, kindness, generosity, and honesty, which all create possibilities for social change.

Honest Poverty

Often cited as the Burns' song that sums up the Scots spirit - respect no titles or offices but respect a man when it is deserved, no matter his office. Sung at the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, much to the apprehension of the landed classes. And so it has proved, what with land reform now back on the agenda.

Champions of Freedom

Dedicated to all those who have championed land rights in Scotland, past and present, Lyrics are by Robert Nicoll set to a tune by Alan Dickson.

Song of Freedom

Lyrics by John Peacock , Greenock, published on 19th April 1845 in the Northern Star. Re-arranged by Alan Dickson and set to a variation of the tune ‘What Can a Young Lassie Do Wi’ an Old Man'.

There's A Good Time Coming

A popular song from the middle of the nineteenth century by Charles MacKay (written in 1846), set to a new tune by Alan Dickson. The future is brighter now for an increasing number of islands and rural areas through community landownership.

My Heather Land

Lyrics by William Thom, published in the Northern Star 1847. Air ‘The Highland Watch’.


This is a rewrite (by Alan Dickson) of the traditional Aberdeenshire ballad, ‘Oh! Gin I Were Whaur Gaudie Rins’. Here, Alan weaves together fragments of poems, written by local poets at the time. By the middle of the 19th century there were around 70 ‘squatters’ living in a colony on the common land of Bennachie Hill, before local lairds (in 1859) controversially appropriated the land. By the 1870s many of the tenants had been evicted as they couldn’t afford the rent. Bennachie is now owned by the Forestry Commission.

Democratic Chants

A pro-reform song by William Allan. Here he echoes Walt Whitman’s sentiments, believing that the people have the capacity to defend their liberties and are not props of hierarchy and class, dynastic rights, or the aristocratic tradition. The chorus, final verse and tune have been written by Alan Dickson.

The Land Song

An early 20th-century song that became a party political anthem of the Liberal Party. Some of the lyrics have been revised by Alan Dickson sung to the original tune "Marching Through Georgia".

Hobo Johnnie

A song written by Alan Dickson about John Muir from Dunbar, Scotland, known today as "The Father of the National Parks" in the United States. Until his death in 1914 though, Muir described himself as a tramp - it's only part of the story but undoubtedly the most picturesque part!

.This Fleeting Liberty

This Fleeting Liberty' is organised around  the theme of renewal (earth). Scotland is part history and part myth. It is steeped in legends and myths which help us to remember our relationship to the natural world. When this way of understanding is lost it results in an abuse of power by those that wield power, or seek to acquire it, giving little precedence to the common good by failing to understand the need for a more balanced political ecology.

Over Mountains | Praise of Ben Dorain (Alan Dickson/Duncan Ban MacIntyre). In Celtic mythology, the Cailleach (dark goddess) is said to have created mountains, with many named after her in ancient times. She is also regarded as the guardian spirit of animals, particularly deer, and legends tell of her appearing in the guise of an old hag and of a beautiful young maiden. 'The Golden Bough' by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer did much to keep alive such myths - powerful enough to set society free.

Our Bonny Burnsides

An early 19th-century poem (abridged) by George Henderson, Chirnside, set to a traditional tune by Alan Dickson.

Copshawholme Fair

From the singing of Spiers and Boden this song describes a hiring fair in the village of Newcastleton or Castleton, which was built by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1793. Copshawholme is the old name of the lands on which the Duke built the village (one of many villages built as a result of the 'lowland clearances').

The World's A' Gane Gyte

This was originally entitled 'Song of an Auld Scotch Chartist'. The lyrics appeared anonymously in the Northern Star, dated 6th May 1847 having been submitted to the paper by a person from Shettleston. Alan has set the song to the tune 'Coming Through The Rye'.

Airn John

From the singing of Adam MacNaughton, this song accuses coal profiteers from ripping up Glasgow Green (coal deposits were discovered there in the 1820s) and diverting funds to pay for Kelvingove Park - the west-end park, the more affluent part of the city.


A song from the north east of Scotland, sourced from Greig Duncan collection. It gives a picture of the agricultural situation during the mid 19th- century, when the word 'Depression' came into vogue.

The Deer Stalkers

This humorous song was published in 'The Scottish Highlanders and the Land Laws: An Historico-Economical Enquiry' by John Stuart Blackie, in 1885.

The Milking Song

A song of the Celtic Revival movement, which helped to renew interest in aspects of Celtic culture, pioneered in particular in Scotland by Patrick Geddes. Many tales say that the Scottish saint Bride is the other face of the Cailleach, who marks the return of the light, whose special day is February 1st.

My Leven Love

This is a Scottish adaptation by Alan Dickson  of the Irish song 'My Lagan Love', likening Scotland to a beautiful woman, which expresses a desire for freedom and love of the land through poetic sexual desire. In Celtic folklore the lenanshee is a fairy lover, a beautiful women, who takes a human love.

The Enduring Land

'The Enduring Land' is organised around  the theme of loss and longing (water). For centuries the land has endured the systematic exploitation of its natural wealth by human ingress. It has been burned, over-grazed, and stripped bare, first of its trees, then of its people, desolating lives and leaving the landscape strewn with enclosed fields, bleak moorlands and empty glens.  

The Fall of the Leaf (Robert Burns)

In this little known piece, written by Robert Burns in 1788, he uses the imagery of Nature to eloquently describe our intimate connection with it, reminding us that its pain is our pain, and its fate is our fate, if only we could develop our capacity to realise this!

We Are Lowly (Robert Nicoll)

Robert Nicoll found ingenious ways to weave social justice and spiritual themes into his work. Here he rails against the cults of property and power, yet celebrates the gifts of Nature that he regards as our common heritage. From ‘The Poems of Robert Nicoll’ (1853). 

Endurance (Robert Nicoll)

This is another offering from ‘The Poems of Robert Nicoll’, this time on the theme of poverty and inequality, reminding us that despite life’s hardships and the bearing of pain, the soul has the capacity to endure.

The Chartist Exiles (J Harkness)

Chartism was pre-dominantly a working class movement for political reform in Britain (1838-1848). Many were prepared to die for their beliefs, or face imprisonment or exile. Industrial action occurred at different times during this period, in which Chartists and their ideas played their part. Those found guilty of rioting were transported overseas, to be exiled for the rest of their lives. Published in the Northern Star (1846).

A Voice from the Glens (JHM)

Following the Jacobite rising and Culloden (1745-46) the government introduced laws which saw clan chiefs claim land which was previously held by the clan. Clan lands were opened up, and with it the ending of the tradition of "common ground". With the coming of sheep, widespread clearances followed, reaching a peak in the mid-19th century. Published in the Celtic Magazine (1878, Vol. 3).

McAllum's Lament (Anon)

This song is about a well-known poacher in Glen Tulloch, near Newtonmore, who was found guilty of killing a constable (though this is now disputed) while being arrested, then served 15 years in jail for the crime. From the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection (1983, Vol. 2).

Argyll Evictions (WOC)

For centuries the Dukes of Argyll played a central role in Scottish politics and held direct sway over large swaths of the Highlands. But as in other parts of the Highlands, many people from Argyllshire were evicted, forced off the land into urban poverty or exile.

 Published in the Celtic Magazine (1883).

The Crofter's Farewell (Robert Bird)

Between 1840 and 1880, tens of thousands of crofters and their families from Skye were forced out of their homes, with many emigrating to the British colonies, never to return. For many this was the final straw, leading to land agitation and the creation of the Highland Land League. From ‘Songs of Freedom’ (1893) in Janey Buchan Political Song Collection.

All tunes composed by Alan Dickson except traditional tunes ‘The Fall of the Leaf’ and ‘McAllum's Lament’.

Traces of Freedom

'Traces of Freedom' is organised around  the theme of hope (air). Feeling connected to the land is more than having access to it; it's about having the freedom to create a better way of life, yet the laws of Scotland govern against this. The songs in this EP remind us that the latent force of hope is a necessary prerequisite for creating a better future.

Now Westlin Winds (Robert Burns)

An 18th century song that offers a 21st century ecological vision! One of Burns's best loved songs, wriiten in 1775.

We’ll Make the World Better Yet (Robert Nicoll)

Nicoll, a much forgotten radical figure from the early nineteenth century expresses discontent against the establishment of the day, yet also offers hope. He is buried in Leith.

Nature and Freedom (David Wright)

Wright, a shoemaker from Aberdeen reminds us that through its beauty, nature offers us a path to freedom, though all men are not free. Published in the Northern Star in 1845.

The Land! The Land For Me (John Peacock)

This is a plea for a plot of ground. Extending ownership of the land was central to Scottish Chartism. Published in the Northern Star in 1846. Peacock was from Greenock.

Kinnoull Hill (Alan Dickson)

Inspired by Patrick Geddes’s period of self-reflection in Mexico in 1879; that helped shape his ecological vision ‘Think Global, Act Local’. As a boy, he'd often roam Kinnoull Hill after school.

Sowers and Reapers (William Allan)

Written in 1882, one of the earliest set of lyrics to rail against ‘laird-fashioned laws’ and to show an understanding of land values.

Freedom of the Hills (Robert Bird)

Written in 1893, Bird was from Govan, and a member of the Glasgow Ballad Club. In this song he perceives the dangers of man to nature and warns against them.

All tunes composed by Alan Dickson except ‘Now Westlin Winds’ and ‘Kinnoull Hill’ (set to the traditional Irish tune ‘Spancil Hill’).

This Land is Our Land

This Land is Our Land' is organised around the theme of protest (fire). When thinking of protest song and the land, most people might think of Woody Guthrie's 'This Land is Your Land', but Scotland has its own tradition*, where land has been the backdrop to song over the past 300 years. Owning land has meant power, but down the years, taming Scotland's landed oligarchy has proved more daunting than gaining democracy, with less than 500 people today controlling half of all the land in Scotland.

*Not necessarily Scottish per se, but a tradition that is informed by British movements in Scotland.

Levellers' Lines  

This song was sung during the Galloway Levellers uprising in 1724, when 1000s of tenants/cottars were displaced to make way for large cattle parks. Written by tenant farmer James Charters.

William Ogilvie

This song, written by Alan Dickson, is based on William Ogilvie’s influential and historic land reform treatise 'Essay on Rights of Property in Land', published anonymously in 1782. 

Scots Wha Hae/Democracy

Scots Wha Hae was written by Robert Burns in 1793 in response to the trial of Thomas Muir who championed the extension of the franchise. It was sung by radical reformers and Chartists in the 1820s ‘30s and ‘40s. 

Dark Bonnymuir

Reputedly written by Allan Barbour Murchie not long after the 'Battle of Bonnymuir' when a band of Scottish Radicals marched to take over the Carron Iron Works in April 1820. 

We'll Have Our Highlands Righted Yet

In late 19th century Scotland the Celtic Magazine helped to support the Highland cause by publishing articles, poems and songs. This was one such contribution, submitted in 1878 by William Allan.

Take Back The Land (The Scottish Marseillaise)

Following years of crofter/cottar agitation in the Highlands the Crofters’ Act of 1886 was passed. It didn’t go far enough and these lyrics were a response to this, written by Marion Bernstein.


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