Hey everyone To me there is only way to spend Burns night and that is by attending the Shettleston SNP Burns Supper with some of my closest friends in the independence family. This is always a great night with an excellent top table of quality speakers and a truly amazing meal. What makes this annual event even better from my perspective is the fact it is held at a venue less than 100 yards from my home so it really a must attend and it is always a very enjoyable evening.
On Saturday night I was fortunate to spend time with some good friends and colleagues including my tartantights man of the year Chris Stephens, my good friend Steven Tierney, Mandy Morgan, and Ian Hugheton MSP amongst others. During an action packed evening I also managed catch up’s with my young politician of the year Adam Miller, local councillors David Turner and Austin Sheridan, my MSP John Mason, other party activists and all the top table guests including my favourite politician of all time, SNP members know where I’m going with this, well it doesn’t take a genius to know I am of course referring to our Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
As I arrived I was able to find a seat beside one of my closest friends in the party Steven Tierney who told me that he and his wife Andrea are expecting the arrival of their first child in early June. This is wonderful news for one of the best guys in the party and I’m sure his wee girl will be loved and cherished when she makes her appearance and for all the years thereafter. How do I know it’s a girl? Well that’s easy the proud father to be showed me pictures of the latest scan on his mobile phone.
Talking of the SNP baby boom, it was great to see to our councillor for the Carlton ward Alison Thewliss in attendance with her husband Joe and new baby daughter Kirsty. It was also good to catch up with Mandy Morgan who had the three eldest of her four boys with her at the event. Well her youngest is only two so I think it may be a couple of years before he makes his Shettleston debut.
As the piper it was George Harris who piped in the haggis and whetted our appetite as we got ready to tuck in the traditional Burns Night fayre of haggis, neeps, tatties. However sticking to tradition in the way that must be done we knew this could not happen before the company said the Selkirk grace and meal was given the traditional address. I have always enjoyed this meal and believe it is far too tasty to be restricted to one night a year. Therefore it is with great pride I say that it is a regular feast at Smith and Marshall Mansions to say it was excellent as was the soup which proceeded it. I have to say the caterers did a fantastic job and left us with full bellies and glad hearts to be able to enjoy an authentic taste of Scotland, and put us in the mood for the top table speeches which were to come after the interval.
During the break I enjoyed good banter with someone of my closest friends in the party such as the aforementioned Mr Stephens and the ever genial Mandy Morgan. However i also had time to network and a had a lovely chat with our minister for children and young people Aileen Campbell MSP. As we chatted, I told her that I had tipped her to be a future leader to two well known and well respected figures in the Scottish literary community Alasdair Gray to whom I gave a list of names within the SNP that I rated highly whilst sharing a train journey to the Edinburgh fringe in August 2011, and writer and broadcaster Carl MacDougall a man I have known for many years and am proud to call a friend. Being the modest wee missy that she is Aileen said was flattered to be mentioned in such a way and admitted to being a fan of Carl MacDougall as she had particularly his TV work.
We also discussed the future of what a post independence Labour Party might look like and I said that in the same conversation with Carl I had named the two politicians that I thought were best placed to lead it. My prediction was that it would be a battle between two women Kezia Dugdale and Jenny Marra. Carl said that he knew of Jenny but that Kezia was a new name to him. I have to say I was surprised at this, and replied she was one worth watching. My reason for this praise is due to the fact she had done and continues to do a lot of good work on debt advice and fighting pay day loans. Carl said that between the two his money was on Jenny but I said that though my heart said Jenny for cultural reasons, my money was on Kezia. It may not surprise you to know that Ms Campbell agreed with my choice saying that it can be annoying that Kezia is so good at what she does. I know exactly what she means, well it can be frustrating when someone in the opposition is so likeable that you regret the fact they are in the wrong party.
I also had a brief chat with our party’s prince of subtlety our very own Norrie Paterson who was as usual in sparkling form. Well Norrie’s chat is always good though I have to say it is not safe for unionists of a nervous disposition, and believe me many unionists are getting nervous thanks to his herculean efforts in what I call his political correction programme.
I say this because Norrie works as a taxi driver and therefore comes in to contact with many members of the public of all shapes sizes and political opinions. It is known that he particularly likes dismantling unionists by using the one thing they are not and have never been comfortable with I refer of course to facts. Being someone who relishes a challenge, Norrie will at the first opportunity that presents itself debate independence with anyone who wishes to engage and if unionists or those who say they are unionist fancy taking him on they had better be careful what they wish for because he will take them on and Norrie being Norrie he will tell like it really is and in doing so destroy their nice cosy picture of a so-called United Kingdom. However he saves his most lethal shots for the A’m no voting Yes because I hate Alex Salmond brigade who he destroys with devastating accuracy. You see there many of these voters who benefit from the council tax freeze, free prescriptions and the right to free university education and all of these policies were introduced by an Alex Salmond led SNP Government. It is I think no coincidence that many voters who have started a journey with Norrie have left his taxi with a different outlook as persuaded by the facts he has presented to them are now committed to saying Yes.
As I finished circulating I bought my raffle ticket before making my way back to my seat. On doing so I had a lovely chat with our MEP Ian Hudghton saying to him that although it was from the green book there were books of many colours it wouldn’t win because it didn’t contain the magic number Green 67 the number that reminds all Celtic fans of our country’s greatest ever sporting achievement when a team of local heroes played the game of their lives to make history and win the European Cup. As we chatted I said that there were interesting parallels between the Lisbon Lions and the Independence Campaign. Like us they were told the opposition were unbeatable, like us they were told they couldn’t break down a team with a strong defensive style, like us not one Scottish newspaper believed they could win, like us they went behind early, like us they stayed positive and stuck to their game and like them we will win. Now I don’t know if Ian is a big football fan, but he said it was interesting to note the comparisons I was able to draw between the Lisbon Lions and our campaign for our nation’s independence.
By this time it was time to settle down and enjoy the main speeches of the evening. First up was our Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who proposed the toast to the immortal memory. As she started her speech, Nicola informed the gathering that earlier in the day she had been debating Scotland’s future with the local MP for this area Margaret Curran. As they exchanged pleasantries Nicola asked Ms Curran if she was looking forward to the referendum. Needless to say Ms Curran did not answer Yes, instead she said that it was such a long campaign’ she likened it to a pregnancy. Nicola seized on this idea and said that she had no problem with this analogy providing it leads to the birth of a new nation on September 19th. Yet again another unionist presents Nicola with an open goal and believe me this is a sharp shooter who never misses the target. Honestly this woman is so deadly she could Henrik Larsson and Ally McCoist a thing or two in the goal scoring stakes.
In the course of her speech Nicola hailed the fact that Burns was a man of the people and his poetry reflected that she also said that as an Ayrshire lass she is disappointed that too much attention is given to both his drinking and his womanising ways. Yes Rabbie liked a drink with his pals god knows the Cotters Saturday Night told us that. Also as a man who fathered twelve children by four different woman it can be said with a degree of certainly that he had an appreciation of the female form. After all it was women who inspired many of his finest works and Nicola said there are no words more beautiful than the last lines of my love like is a red red rose.
Nicola also said that she was proud that Robert Burns this international icon came from Scotland. A country which valued then as it does now the right to free education. There was no other country in the world where the son of a working class ploughman could gain such an education in the less liberal times of the mid to late 18th century. Robert Burns was she said a man of his time but in some ways he was ahead of it. After all when England was concerned with the rights of man as advocated quite rightly by Thomas Paine, it was in fact Robert Burns who made the case for equality by stating that ‘the rights of women merit some attention’
As for political matters and whether or not Rabbie would have been a yes voter in September’s independence referendum, Nicola took the diplomatic option stating that though we would never know, the fact that the bard admitted to having a strong prejudice for Scotland made it far more likely he would vote yes than cast a no vote though no party could claim him and she for one was glad that he wasn’t around to satarise the current Scottish Parliament. However she did say that it was obvious that Burns regretted the fact Scotland had ever given up her independence and her point can be demonstrated by the fact he penned both Scots Wha Hae and the most devastating attack on the Margaret Curran’s of the day otherwise known as a parcel of rogues in a nation. You see when the unionists try to claim a mandate for the United Kingdom they make one very important mistake, they fail to acknowledge that the union was never given the consent of the Scottish people as the Scottish people didn’t have a vote on whether we wished to join the United Kingdom. Indeed had they had that choice it is a very safe bet to say that the union would never have seen the light of day.
It is my opinion that the time has come to pass this particular parcel to lost property and hope that Westminster will accept the rogues many of whom seem to like it there as Scotland’s parting gift to our former flatmates. You see no matter how the unionists try in vain to make the case that we are better together it seems the best they can up with is second rate spin which when you dissect it says nothing very much unlike Nicola’s speech which said rather a lot about the ridiculousness of continuing this outdated arrangement. Just in case anyone in any doubt as to why we should vote yes on September 18th, Nicola asked the gathering to consider if the question was the other way round and some group was proposing to join this unequal union.
The arguments for joining it would in my opinion be so outrageous they would be laughed out of Scotland. Well who in their right mind would vote to abolish their own parliament and hand all control to another one over 450 or in some parts of Scotland over 600 miles away?. Who would vote to abolish a parliament where a government we elect is replaced by one we don’t and we hand over all our taxes to a London Treasury which would then decide how much pocket money we can get and what we can spend it on. The very idea that we would even contemplate such action is total madness and to me and any reasonable, sane individual completely destroys the case for the union.
I have to say that this immortal memory was a fine tribute to our bard delivered with style by a woman of substance and stature. An Ayrshire woman who asks us to challenge our assumptions and stereotypes we may have on Burns. A woman who has been, is and will be an asset to our country for many years to come
In an unusual but innovative move our chair and organiser of our Burns Supper Lachie McNeill invited the party’s chief executive Peter Murrell who is also the husband of Nicola Sturgeon to propose the toast to the nation. This allowed Peter a man who not being an MSP or MP we very seldom see speaking in public to deliver an excellent speech which he started by saying that in almost three years of marriage this was the first time he got the chance to speak after Nicola. This I have to say raised a few giggles from the assembled gathering and got Peter off to a good start. However joking aside, Peter Murrell is a serious man who cares passionately for his country and in our independence year he paid tribute to those who have gone before us and will sadly not be with us to cast their vote on that historic day.
Amongst those mentioned were Alison Hunter, Bashir Ahmed, Margaret Ewing, and our own Jamie Wilson. Make no mistake this is a man who values every single member of our party and the contributions they have made and continue to make in the cause of our country and in this year which he reminded us is 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and our party’s 80th birthday he urged to make an extra special effort to secure victory in September. This is a man who is not prepared to settle for being runner up especially in a race he knows he or should I say we can win not for ourselves but for our people and our future.
When it came to the issue of whether Burns would have voted yes or no to Independence Peter unlike Nicola was totally certain as I am that Burns would have voted yes. Not for him the diplomatic option of saying we’ll never know. To Peter the fact that Burns would have voted Yes is obvious and traceable through his work and I have to say I agree with this assessment. I mean this is the man who not only wrote Scots Wha Hae the national anthem of our nation, this is the man who not only wrote possibly the most damning indictment of unionist corruption ever penned when he wrote A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation. This is the man who openly slaughtered the idea of a ruling class in the words of the his anthem for equality A Man’s A Man For A’ That as Peter pointed out by reminding us of the words of the third verse of this internationally acclaimed song. ‘See yon birkie ca’d a lord. He struts and stares and a’ that
Though hundreds worship at his word but a coof for a’ that.
This is Burns at his best openly mocking the idea the riches or any kind of snobbery be it social, cultural or political can in any way make a man better than his neighbour. So bearing those sentiments in mind it was perfectly correct for Peter to ask why Burns would even consider voting for a union in which the rank and privilege of the House Of Lords still plays a very important part?
The answer is simple he wouldn’t and they know it. Burns like the vast majority of Scots would be appalled at the inequalities which are still allowed to exist within this United Kingdom and would I am sure would be voting to end it by voting for a new start in a new Scotland. This was an inspiring toast to our nation delivered with reason and intellect by a man to whom our party owes a tremendous debt. It is not often Peter Murrell gets the chance to speak to the public, but trust me when he does he is a voice worth listening to.
Next to entertain us was Norman Reid who was delivering his annual rendition of Tam O Shanter. This is a long standing Shettleston Burns Supper tradition and is always one of the highlights of our evening. Now considering that Norman also delivered the address to the haggis before we started our feast I hope the party have agreed that he should be given a living wage for his night’s work. I say this because he wasn’t just busy he was also brilliant.
Next up was Rebecca Harris who sang a Burns classic and later on regaled the company with a beautiful rendition of Ma Ain Folk and believe me I know a singer when I hear one and with a fantastic voice which had the company smiling in awe It is surely safe to say Rebecca Harris can certainly sing.
After Rebecca had enchanted us all with her magical music it was time for the youngest veteran in politics to David Linden to deliver the toast to the lassies. Now I hope young Mr Linden doesn’t mind me calling him a veteran particularly since he is still in his early 20’s but the fact that he took part in his first SNP campaign at the tender age of 11 and delivered leaflets for our constituency chairman Lachie McNeill before he even started Bannerman High does tend to suggest he almost qualifies for the title. Anyway he delivered an excellent toast and didn’t feature too many blonde jokes. However good and enjoyable as David Linden’s toast to the lassies was, I have to say it was eclipsed by a brilliant reply on behalf on the lassies devastatingly delivered by Aileen Campbell MSP.
Right from the start Aileen got ripped right in there and gave the laddies there character sparing nobody including her poor dad and David Linden. As she kicked off her speech she told us that she was sure there were lots of charming, intelligent, handsome men but none of them could be with us at the gathering. She then took us on a journey to her childhood recalling those family away days which turned in to mystery tours because her dad, the only man in the family who was the driver on those road trips refused to ask for directions and the mystery how she her mum and wee sister ever got home. She then had a few good natured digs at Mr Linden before reminding us that men present women with a problem we can’t live with them and we can’t live without them.
At the end of the speeches it was time for the raffle and as I predicted I didn’t have a winning ticket. As the night drew to its close it fell to our local MSP John Mason to wind up the evening by thanking everyone who contributed the success of yet another excellent night.
As tradition dictated we finished the evening in the only way we know how
with a rousing rendition of Scots Wha Hae. This song is not only a Burns classic which he wrote as Bruce’s address to the troops before the battle of Bannockburn, it is also regarded by many party members as the national anthem of this nation. As I reflected on the power of the words I thought to myself now’s the day and now’s the hour to get rid of a parcel of rogues. and Scots Wha Hae to do it.
You know the Shettleston SNP Burns Supper was initiated by a man I never had the privilege of meeting but I know of him and am proud to know of him by reputation. I refer to the late Jamie Wilson a former office bearer of the branch. However as he looked down from heaven on the branch he called his own I think he can be proud, not only of the bard but of the night that he created but of the fact his memory will live on each time there are poems to read and songs to be sung. After all I am sure the bard himself would agree, he wasn’t the only one to leave us a legacy. So in our independence year let us do all we can to bring the banner home and pay Jamie Wilson the only tribute he would ever have wanted.
Love And Best Wishes