Burns break from Brexit in Downing Street

LIKE many Scots in January my thoughts turn to our national bard Robert Burns and throughout much of the constituency there are reminders of his life and work.

Amongst the 2000 square miles there are window panes and framed scraps of paper on which he is reputed to have written a few words.

Most appear genuine and the comments and verses are as poignant and meaningful as some of his full length published poems.

Having participated in Burns Suppers for much of my life I enjoy revisiting his work and always marvel that, despite the progress of time, many of his words seem as meaningful today as in his own period.

Today, during such an eventful and significant time in our national life, my annual sojourn into the Bard's work has proved a welcome, if brief, break from Brexit and other constituency and ministerial duties.

I'm this year taking part in five Burns Supper events, both in the constituency and London, the most recent being on Monday evening at 10 Downing Street, hosted by Prime Minister Theresa May.

She rightly told guests: “The work of Robert Burns, one of our finest poets, continues to be enjoyed by millions of people and tonight is not only a celebration of him but the proud culture of the whole of Scotland."

One particularly moving event for me will be the Dumfries and Galloway Befriending Project Burns Supper in Dumfries on Friday February 1.

I've been asked to give the immortal memory to the Bard and will also do so as a tribute to my great colleague and friend, Sir Alex Fergusson, former Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer, who was a staunch supporter of the Befriending Project but sadly died last summer.

Burns' all too short life must be one of the most analysed in the world and his comments, writings and life experiences have led to politicians of almost all colours and causes to, at times, suggest he shared their perspective.

I think his insightful views on life were a great strength appreciated by people of many different viewpoints, even today.  

This is a true strength of his work and whatever the arguments he was above all a true Scot and an internationalist.

I'm sometimes asked what are my own favourite Burns' lines?

They come from 'Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet' -

It’s no in titles nor in rank;
It’s no in wealth like Lon’on bank,
To purchase peace and rest:
It’s no in makin’ muckle, mair;
It’s no in books, it’s no in Lear,
To make us truly blest:
If happiness hae not her seat
An’ centre in the breast,
We may be wise, or rich, or great,
But never can be blest;
Nae treasures, nor pleasures
Could make us happy lang;
The heart aye's the part aye
That makes us right or wrang.