THE clay, thatched building, which stands as the main attraction in a quiet Ayrshire conservation village, is an unlikely source of revolution.

The little cottage, which has stood in Alloway since 1757, was a place where songs and poems of love, superstition and tradition were penned, where Robert Burns took inspiration for works like Tam O’Shanter, with the half-cut protagonist running for his life from the ruins of the Auld Kirk just a few yards down the road to the nearby Brig o’ Doon.

Burns remains the big draw in his home village. The museum, the cottage where he was born and the neighbouring landmarks and memorials draw more visitors than any other writer’s birthplace in the UK, bar William Shakespeare.

This week, as Burns Night approaches, a steady stream of buses roll in and out of the village, packed with tourists, many of them expatriates, many of them drawn by notions of romance, heritage and a sense of belonging.

Clad in waterproofs, queuing for haggis in the café or restaurant or wiping away a tear “for auld acquaintances” as the strains of Auld Lang Syne ring out, none of them fit the bill of an aspiring insurgent – whatever that may look like.

The fact is that the voice of the bard has resonated with guerrillas, revolutionaries and agitators, his words inspiring protests and uprisings in places that are so far flung and completely unconnected with Scotland that the link is hard to believe.

In his lifetime and beyond, Burns reached the French Revolution, the American Civil War, the fight for emancipation, a worker uprising in Germany and the Communist movement in Russia.

“The tentacles reach to an awful lot of places,” said Professor Murray Pittock of the University of Glasgow. “Sometimes you can trace them directly, sometimes indirectly. Sometimes they’re hardly perceptible, but there’s so many of them in surprising and different contexts.

A Man’s A Man For A’ That was translated by Franz Freiligrath into German in 1843 as Trotz Alledem, and that was viewed as an anthem of revolution in the revolution against the Austrian empire in 1848.

“Then the words were slightly changed in the early 20th century and used again by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacists while trying to impose a communist revolution on Germany in 1919.

“It’s still used as a traditional song of the left in German clubs and the socialist underground in Germany, so you can get quite a few clips of people singing it. If you look at the views Trotz Alledem, the translation, has got, it’s almost as many hits as the original in terms of videos that are up on YouTube.

“So Burns’s anthem of brotherhood has actually been translated twice into German-speaking revolutionary politics.”

There is an obvious appeal to that particular Burns masterpiece – a universal call for egalitarianism and the universal rights of man. It connects with so many political movements which are fighting for change.

Here in Scotland, it was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in May 1999, and again in 2016 by Midge Ure, before sounding as a poignant lament at the funeral of Donald Dewar – Scotland’s inaugural First Minister of Scotland and one of the main driving forces behind the formation of a Scottish Parliament.

It is not the only song to resonate with people fighting for change.

One unusual tale has My Heart’s In The Highlands being sung by Chinese Soldiers on the staged retreat between 1934 and 1935 which became known as The Long March.

“There were significant numbers of translations of Burns into Mandarin Chinese in the 1950s and 60s before the Cultural Revolution, but I am not 100% convinced of the evidence,” said Professor Pittock when asked about that link.

THE connection with Soviet Russia is far stronger, with one Joseph Stalin among his admirers.

“Stalin commissioned Samuil Marshak to translate Burns, and Burns was commemorated with a stamp in the USSR in 1956, not shortly after Stalin’s death,” explained Professor Pittock. “Basically, Burns is presented as a kulak [peasant], who wouldn’t be opposed to collectivisation. So, he showed the potential of a revolutionary peasantry, whereas Stalin was busy liquidating a non-revolutionary peasantry.

“Marshak took huge liberties with the translation. He used to put bourgeoisie in for the word English, and Scots was swapped with working class in Bruce’s march to Bannockburn. But he did visit Scotland once in the 1950s and went to Ayrshire to listen to how Burns was recited, and get the sense of Burns in Scots from people speaking the native.

“One of the reasons that I think 82% of Russians, the highest proportion of any country in the world, recognise Scotland for having an autonomous national culture is because Burns had such an impact on 20th century Russia.”

His influence has also helped shape another global superpower. Abraham Lincoln could recite Burns by heart and in the years following his assassination in 1865, his wife visited Burns’s birthplace and cottage on a pilgrimage Lincoln once dreamed of going on.

And there was the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass – a former slave who fled the South for the northern States in 1838 and became one of the most prominent voices against slavery.

He spoke at length of Burns’s influence, saw parallels in his own life and in the museum dedicated to him in Washington, his treasured copy of The Complete Works of Robert Burns is on display.

These only bolster Burns’s revolutionary credentials, although here, in his home country, almost every political faction, from left to right, has laid claim to him at one point in the past 50 years.

No matter what the song or message, it has resonated with and been passionately adopted by all.

IT is a universal appeal that, in 2020, Scottish politicians can only dream of enjoying.

“The thing about Burns is that he’s a supreme poet of feeling and he speaks to a lot of people,” reflected Professor Pittock. “At various points in time he has been a Tory poster boy, a Labour poster boy as a friend of the oppressed working class and he’s currently a poster boy for the SNP.

“The thing about Burns is he did have views, but he expresses feeling,” added Professor Pittock. “Actually, when you ask, ‘what is behind the feeling, what is this poem saying, what is the agenda behind it,’ sometimes you find there’s actually nothing there.

“My Heart’s In The Highlands, what’s it about? And likewise, Auld Lang Syne, what’s it about?”

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and Cottage are cared for by the National Trust for Scotland. To find out more visit: