Pre-empting Rabbie Burns
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd January, 2012
Burns Night has become an even more quintessentially Scottish celebration than Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). It is normally celebrated on the 25th of January up and down the country with haggis, tatties (potatos) and neeps (swede), usually washed down with great quantities of alcohol, not least the whisky used in toasts. Apart from the wonderfully theatrical address to the haggis and its belabouring with a dagger, the toasts to the lassies (girls) and the lads (boys) are a great opportunity for a fine mixture of gallantry and sexist jokes. Burns himself was, of course, a great ladies’ man, a seducer with his poetic words as well as with his looks, though as fickle as a bumble bee flitting from one ripe blossom to the next. Given the migration of Scots worldwide over the centuries, it is not surprising that Burns Night is celebrated almost everywhere, from Buenos Aires to Dubai, but what is maybe astonishing is the relish with which Sassenachs (English) have taken the ceremony and the celebration to their hearts. It is not only in the grand London Clubs, such the Caledonian (predictably) and the National Liberal Club, that Burns Night features in the annual calendar with due pomp. Even local Liberal Democrat parties have got in on the act. Merton LibDems’ Burns Night is famous for its authentic food and traditions and they usually get a Scottish MP to make one of the speeches. Haringey LibDems are also starting to make a reputation for themselves in similar vein. But Lewisham LibDems’ Burns Night, which I joined (for at least the third time) last evening, is unique. Apart from the fact that it occurs on a convenient Saturday, rather than on the day itself, it is a totally English (or at least, Scots-free) affair, albeit with the requisite food and drink. Local activists and visitors (me included) act out the toasts and readings of poems by the Master in accents that would make any true Scotsman weep, but a great time is had by all. And if by any chance Alex Salmond does hoodwink the Scots into opting for independence, I trust the English Burns Nights will continue to flourish.