Happy Burns Night!

On 25th January 1759, Robert Burns was born. 263 year later, Scotland celebrates its most famous national poet with haggis, neeps, tatties, poetry, song and more than a small amount of decent single malt.

Whoever runs the Scottish Government digital comms for today is probably going to be feeling a bit sheepish tonight:


I got to wondering how Burns would deal with social media. Imagine the Twitter pile on the lady with the louse on her bonnet would get if Rabbie had live tweeted from the church service. The wider points Burns was trying to make about social justice and the importance of all life would have been entirely lost.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Burns’ poetry. You might have the vividness of Tam o’Shanter, the tenderness of Ae Fond Kiss and the humour of odes to mice and lice, but there’s the dark side. Telling henpecked husbands to charm their wives with the magic of a switch is never going to spark joy in my feminist heart. And he also advises the guy to kiss her maids and kick the perverse….well, it rhymes with switch.

And in the Rights of Women, he said women should have protection, decorum and admiration. You know, the vote would have been nice. You know, some actual political power. If I was writing this in Burns’ time, the copyright would have belonged to my husband. 

Nevertheless, the Edinburgh South Burns Supper is one of the highlights of my year. On Saturday, I gave the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies in a virtual event. It was bittersweet to be doing it over Zoom.

I had never been to a Burns Supper before about 2012 when I first went to the South one. Since then, I’ve been on the Naughty Table every year.

For those of you who don’t know, a traditional Burns Supper goes something like this:

The Selkirk Grace kicks off the proceedings. It’s simple:

Some hae meat and canna eat,And some wad eat that want it,But we hae meat and we can eat,Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

The Haggis is piped in and someone does a dramatic reading of Burns 1786 Address to a Haggis. On Saturday this was performed by Edinburgh South’s Rebecca Wright with so much spirit and passion. She really needs to think about a career in acting. And I am a bit scared of her, having seen her wield that knife.

Then the Chief Guest of Honour delivers the Immortal Memory, a personal reflection on Burns’ life and relevance to the modern day. On Saturday night that was delivered by Alex Cole-Hamilton and was one of the best that I have heard. He had us all in stitches with his Burns Style account of the Downing Street parties.

Then there’s a Toast to the Lassies. In the not too distant past, Burns Suppers were all male affairs and this element was served with a large amount of cringeworthy sexism. In these more progressive times, Angus Councillor Ben Lawrie, also the Scottish Party’s Spokesperson on the Drugs emergency was absolutely brilliant  He talked abut his love of Tam O’Shanter:

I’m a big fan of Tam ‘o’ Shanter. I remember reading about the eponymous character who after a night on the bevy is making his way hame to his sulky, sullen dame.
On the way, he looks into the window of a noisy church and sees warlocks and witches, rogues and thieves presided over by the devil himself in a hedonistic scene that can only be described as a Conservative Party Work Event.
And I completely agree with the conclusion he drew about To a Mouse:
There was another poem we learned in school about a wee sleekit, cowerin, timrous beastie. I think it was an ode to the Prime Minister.
It’s actually called To A Mouse and in it we hear how “the best laid schemes o’ mice an men gang aft agley”, which is actually a very polite way of saying that women should be the ones making decisions. Not mice and certainly not men.
But it was his comments about the similarities between Burns and Lib Dems that had me crying with laughter:
So what do Robert Burns and the Liberal Democrats have in common?
We both hate potholes. In Burns’ Epigram on Rough Roads he says:
“I’m now arrived – thanks to the gods! –
Thro’ pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that making roads
Is no this people’s study.”
Now judging from that I can only assume Burns lived under an SNP-run Council.
Ben talked about some of the wonderful Council candidates we have in Edinburgh – Louise Spence, Louise Young, Hal Osler, Sanne Dijkstra-Downie and Elaine Ford. We are hoping for a much bigger Council Group in May.
The final big speech, the Reply on Behalf of the Lassies, used to be given by a bloke. But on Saturday it was my chance. You are supposed to be funny and go on about the foibles of men. I’ve never been one for convention, and, one cheap joke at the leader’s expense aside, I felt like being generous.
This was the first Burns Supper since our much loved Derek Barrie died in February last year. We miss him so much so I felt he deserved a mention. Similarly, our Data Dynamo Gregan Crawford, our constitutional guru John Lawrie, Willie Rennie and Edinburgh South’s local councillor Neil Ross. Honestly, when we were phoning in Lothian Region during the May elections, you knew when you were on his patch because people were full of praise for him.
And a cultural icon of this age had died the day before, so I wondered if Two out of Three ain’t bad was the Ae Fond Kiss of our times. Thanks to Christine Jardine for pointing me in the direction of Paradise by the Dashboard Light which actually is a good song but seemed to be exactly the sort of thing Burns would have got up to.
The evening ended on Saturday with a medley of songs sung, as usual, by Edinburgh South’s Selda Dow.
So, Happy Burns Night to all those celebrating. Enjoy a wee dram with your haggis, neeps and tatties. Jennie Rigg is having Cranachan which is delicious.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jennie (she/her) 26th Jan '22 - 1:26pm

    The Cranachan was indeed delicious.

  • Steve Griffiths 28th Jan '22 - 11:49am

    Some of us do celebrate Burns Night in England too, although clearly not as widespread as north of the border. Usually I am playing the music for such events (when not doing my Lib Dem councillor duties, I am often a ceilidh musician).

    I mention this because the most memorable Burns Night event I ever attended was a fund raiser for the party. When I was a member of the Witney Constituency Lib Dems, one of our Executive members was a Scotsman moved south. He used his connections to persuade the late Sir Russell Johnston MP to attend to deliver the Immortal Memory. He normally attended Burns Night at a regular event in Scotland, so we were very honoured that night. The brilliance and eloquence of his delivery of the Immortal Memory was unforgettable – I have a wonderful memory of meeting a real Liberal and Lib Dem stalwart completely in his element.

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