Hey Readers With Monday being Burns night and this being the Burns Supper season you may not be surprised to learn that I’ve attended two Burns themed events in the last week to celebrate the work of our country’s national bard.
The first of these was last Saturday night when along with my comrades and friends from the Shettleston branch of the Scottish National Party I gathered for our annual Burns Supper. This year’s event marked a change of venue for this long established event as it moved from The Robert Burns Masonic Hall in Baillieston which by the way is less than a minute’s walk from my home to the salubrious surroundings of The Fullerton Park Hotel where we hold our regular monthly branch meetings. There was also a change of organiser from Lachie McNeil to Maureen Fairgrieve and a secret auction instead of a raffle. This meant people could bid for items which were on display away from the main hall and there were some cracking prizes up for grabs including two tickets to see Frankie Boyle at the Glasgow Comedy Festival. Now I don’t know if I was the only one but I felt the event relied less on prominent top table guests than had the case in the past and ,had more of a local focus. This is in my opinion no bad thing as it is a branch event rather than a national one. That said however, I believe that though the venue may have shifted to a different location the event itself was proof of the old saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. Well it was Burns supper after all and there are certain time honoured traditions which can never be changed.
The first of these are come just after the welcome and introduction which was given this year by Convenor Alex Kerr and of course Maureen Fairgrieve and that is The Selkirk Grace the traditional Burns supper prayer which was said this year by our veteran councillor for Shettleston ward John McLaughlin before tucking in to our soup.
This is followed by one of my personal favourite parts of the evening the piping in of the haggis and this year that duty was performed for the company by Stevie Kerr as the haggis was delivered to the table by the recently elected councillor for the Carlton ward Greg Hepburn. After it had made its journey the address to the haggis was delivered eloquently as always by Norman Reid and we then placed our orders and got tucked in to our main meal. I have to say I really enjoyed the soup which had a wee bit a kick to it and though steak pie was an option I along with my good friend and political wee brother Steven Tierney went for the traditional fayre of Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties indeed had I not done so I think my granny would have rose from the grave and demanded I be convicted of sedition. Steven’s reason for selecting haggis was I have to say far less dramatic than mine and due to the fact that as he says you can get steak pie any night of the week but haggis is part of the tradition of Burns night. This of course is true and I suspect in Stephen’s case it’s all the more enjoyable as his lovely wife Andrea doesn’t like haggis
At the end of what was a beautiful meal we had a 10 minute interval before going on to the speeches which are such an integral part of occasions like this. As always we started with The immortal memory which was delivered by Grant Williamson. In a powerful, passionate, address Grant said that his Robert Burns of one his two greatest heroes the other being Robert Bruce. Grant then went on to note a couple of similarities between his heroes as both were renowned for their patience and patriotism and illustrate that contrary to the somewhat warped beliefs of certain sections of unionist society Burns was very much a nationalist who wore his heart on his sleeve as can be demonstrated by the powerful lyrics of Scots What Hae and the song which I believe will sentence all unionists to an afterlife in the company of Auld Nick the brilliant Parcel Of Rogues. If any of their ilk attempt to question this fact I would point them to these lines written in a letter in which Burns pours scorn on the value of the union by saying “Alas I have said to myself what are these boasted advantages which my country reaps from a certain union, that counterbalances the annihilation of her independence and even her name? ” Now I don’t know about you but that sure as hell does not sound like a unionist to me. Indeed I would venture to suggest that if someone after reading those lines still tries to portray Burns in this manner they may be in need of urgent medical attention.
After dealing with the question of the bard’s national political loyalties Grant then went on to speak of his concerns for equality and fairness and talked of Burns the humanitarian internationalist who had a clear vision much of which those in the Scottish National Party share today of a Scotland which plays her part in the advancement of global society. This is a Scotland which would be a good neighbour and friend to all nations and national groups in the sprit of friendship and co-operation
After what has to be said was a brilliant immortal memory Grant stayed on his feet to deliver the toast to the nation. This though shorter than what was one of the best immortal memory speeches I’ve ever heard was nonetheless passionate and well delivered by a man who it is clear to see knows his Burns and the enduring relevance the bard still has to Scotland more than two centuries after his death at the age of just 37. I wonder what if any relevance George Scotland has no culture Robertson will have 200 years after his death Indeed without wishing to mock the noble Lord I wonder what relevance he has to Scotland now. The answer I suspect is none which is why their will be no gatherings for a man whom Burns summed up perfectly not only in Parcel Of Rogues but also in A Man’s A Man Fur Aw That. Yes you what verse I’m referring to comrades. Anyway to summarise this toast to the nation I would say that though it was short it still showed many of the great things about our country and that is to me at least what a good toast to the nation is all about.
Next up was the toast to the Lassies and we girls know only too well young Robert was a bit of a ladies man. As for Alex Kerr who delivered the toast this year, I am sure modesty, personal values and a very lovely girlfriend forbid him trying to emulate Mr Burns in this field. In a speech which was filled with good humour Alex gently teased the woman who once he had finished would be giving the lassies reply Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss and reminded her of her hen night misadventures. What Alex doesn’t know is that we girls may be portrayed as a fairer sex which indeed we are provided as he will soon find out men know their place and obey our rules. To be fair to Alex however he did remember to mention that the bard did write on the writes of women which considering the times in which he lived would have been a pretty revolutionary topic to discuss.
As Alex sat down after toasting our health it was time for Alison to reply on our behalf. This was a task she undertook with ease and she brought light to the subject with a liberal sprinkling of her customary wit. Alison reminded us as to just how dark a place Westminster still is with regards to the ways of women and that the antisocial hours of the parliamentary sittings are not female friendly indeed as she said in what was an excellent reply to the laddies in many ways Westminster still resembles more of an old boys club than the parliament of a democratic country though it does have to he said that is since the General Election in May last year the SNP have sent shockwaves through the corridors of power and have a powerful group of honourable women to lead the fight for change. As Alison finished a thoughtful, and good humoured reply it was our turn to be upstanding and raise our glasses to the laddies.
Speeches over it was now time for the entertainment to begin and what better way to start it than with a Shettleston SNP tradition as Norman Reid delivered his rendition of Burns classic poem Tam O Shanter. To say this always goes down well would be an understatement as for many of the seasoned regulars it is unquestionably one of the highlights of the evening and this year was no exception.
Following Norman is never an easy task but someone has to to it and this year this thankless but necessary task fell to the first of our three very gifted musicians Amanda Brown. I have to say that I really enjoyed Amanda’s work and her song choices shall we say very clearly spoke to my condition. I particularly liked the fact she sang the massacre of Glencoe which for personal reasons has always been amongst my favourite traditional songs. Well I have MacDonald blood running through me so perhaps it’s not too difficult to see why this song resonates so strongly with me. Amanda was followed to the stage by two more fantastic musicians in Jennifer Fairgrieve and Nimah McKendrick who like Amanda, sang songs which me proud of our culture and our country and our bard in whose honour we gathered.
Having listened to songs which would have brought a smile to the face anyone who appreciates culture, it was now time to reveal the winners of the silent auction. On conclusion of this matter our local MSP John Mason proposed the vote of thanks to all who had given their time freely to make the night a success and formalities over it was time to get our dancing shoes on and take the floor to the music of highly talented Fingal’s Cave Celi Band.
I have to say that though dancing isn’t really my strong point I did get up more times than was probably good for me because you see as I said to Tony and Francine Whitmore who were seated at the same table as me I couldn’t help but think there was a touch of the Roch about them and as it turns out I was right as some of the members do indeed attend the Comolthas Irish Minstrels sessions at St Roch’s secondary school on Tuesday evenings where they are tutored by friends of mine such as Colette Campbell, Paddy Callaghan, and Patricia and Siobhan McArdle. To say I was impressed by these talented youngsters would be putting it mildly and I told them that good reports would be reaching their tutors as soon as I saw them. I can confirm that as a woman of my word I passed those reports on the very next night when I bumped in to Paddy at Celtic Connections the very next night
So as we danced and sang the away to Auld Lang Syne at the end of what was a fantastic tribute to our national bard, all that was left to do was find my way home which because of the slightly different personal geography ie not being next door to my house meant sharing a taxi with a few selected others. The selected others being Alex Kerr and his girlfriend Vicki and Steven Tierney. On arriving home I reflected on a truly fantastic event and concluded we honoured traditions not just for Auld Lang Syne but for the more inclusive Scotland of tomorrow.
Love And Best Wishes