A NUMBER of years ago, the BBC outpost in Scotland broadcast a cracking programme on Burns entitled Rabbie’s Bairns.

I remember it in particular because it is just about the last first-rate programme the BBC has produced on our national bard. Indeed, with the honourable exception of the totally epic Two Doors Down, it is just about the last decent Scottish programme they have broadcast full stop.

Rabbie’s Bairns faithfully followed the progress of some of the youngsters entering Bridgeton Burns Club’s annual school competition. This competition is a seriously big deal. For a start, it’s been running and offering prizes in a range of categories to schools in the East End of Glasgow since 1872.

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In that year of the TV programme, the overall competition was won by a bubbly young girl, a Kurdish refugee who sang Early One Morning beautifully and with a pronounced Scottish accent. Another prize winner was a young lad from the Red Road Flats who saw success in his recitation as a first step on his ladder to escape. Both put their very heart and soul into their performances.

No doubt they both have gone on to great things. They certainly deserve to. Their efforts in that competition would have brought a tear to a glass een.

Would any school performance competition have produced a similar result? Perhaps to some extent, but this competition on this man’s work elevates all who take part. To recite the works of Burns, to sing his songs, is to be touched by his genius.

This Burns season, instead of an uplifting programme such as Rabbie’s Bairns, we are more likely to get another bout of revisionism, where second-rate academics and third-rate journalists trot out their latest defamations to “reinterpret” oor Rabbie.

He was, according to these clowns, variously a slaver, a misogynist, a Unionist, a compiler of doggerel and sentimental slush. None of these things are true.

The National: Robert Burns.

Burns was no paragon. He was a child of his age, he bent under life’s pressures, his head was turned by celebrity. Some of his life was indeed a long round of sex, drugs and rock and roll. In contemporary times, he would have been a poetic rock star, dominating the TV chat shows as he once graced the salons of enlightenment Edinburgh.

His Twitter feed would be worth following, at least on the rare occasions he was not cancelled.

And as a man of his age, you can hardly hold him to modern standards. No-one who wrote The Slave’s Lament could be a racist; no-one who penned The Rights Of Woman a sexist; and no-one who wrote Scots Wha Hae anything other than a full-throated patriot. And not to mention how Ae Fond Kiss is just the greatest love song ever written.

Given that Bob Dylan has cited Robert Burns in general, and My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose in particular as his major artistic inspiration, the Scots bard’s status as a romantic poet is beyond question.

However, it was not his love songs that kept Lincoln and Frederick Douglas or more recently civil rights activist Maya Angelou steadfast on their course, or saw Burns’s face on Soviet stamps or inspired Steinbeck to describe the struggles of the common man. It was Burns’s position as, what Liam McIlvanney has described as “the poet laureate of the radical enlightenment”.

Of course, not all of Burns’s verse is top rate. Some of his stuff, particularly in English, is pretty dire. But then Shakespeare’s plays are of uneven quality. It once was said of All’s Well That Ends Well that the only memorable quote is the title.

And not a single one of the tedious detractors of Burns understands the love affair that Scotland has sustained with our national makar.

Some of it is about his relatively humble origins, his cock-a-snoot radicalism, his heart-on-sleeve patriotism and his empathy stretching from common soldier to tiny field mouse. But above all, Burns is top class, first rate. Over the generations when Scotland and Scots were so often told they were inevitably in the B League, Burns was the antidote, the debate clincher, our very own premier league star.

And it was Burns as the poetic champion of liberty and equality who has captured the radical imagination for twa hundred years and mair and established Robert Burns as oor ain freen o the people. Or as the poet himself put it: “The rank is but the guinea stamp/The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.”

It is lines like this that make us all Rabbie’s Bairns.