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A Highlander and his Books
What's Great About Being Scottish

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA, Email:

It is a joy to welcome Clark McGinn back to these pages. Clark is a world ambassador for Scotland at large and Robert Burns, in particular. I’ve always heard there are types of people on earth: those who are Scottish and those who wish they were!  Clark McGinn is a man who will make the former very proud of their Scottish roots, leaving the other group wishing, even more so, that they were Scottish.

During the 2009 Burns Season, Clark spoke at New York, Oslo, City of London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, London, Westminster Abbey, Stockholm, Grosvenor House London, London, Chicago, and Washington, DC. All together, he has spoken at 17 such events. While a lot of us will be asked to speak next year during “Burns Season”, Clark is already booked in 2010 in New York, Harrow, Birmingham, and London.

Clark McGinn was born in Ayr and educated at Glasgow University. He now works as a senior director in a London bank. In his spare time McGinn speaks and writes on Scottish subjects, including Burns Suppers. His first book: The Ultimate Burns Supper Book, was published in 2006 and his newest publication, The Ultimate Guide To Being Scottish, were both published by Luath Press.


I am tempted to say that if you have to ask the question – then you probably won’t understand the answer! We must be lucky because being a Scot strikes a chord wherever you go in the world. Mind you, foreigners think of us as wild-haired, plaid-clad heroes standing alone on the tops of rain-soaked bens in barefaced (or actually bare-bummed) defiance with a claymore in the right hand and a big dram in the left. Wha’ daur meddle wi’ me?

This of course is a culmination of many cartoon clichés – and not a sight you tend to find in Morrisons in Falkirk on a Sunday afternoon. But like all typecasting, this does capture something about us, and  about why being a Scot is recognised internationally as a good thing. As we’re celebrating St Andrew’s Day today – let’s look at the great gifts we Scots have been given. And which we share with the world.

East West Hame’s best -  we are born in a country of amazing contrasts given its size – the unsurpassed colours of a highland ben in the sunshine, the yellow sheen on the New Town sandstone at daybreak, the towering Finnieston Crane etched against the red sunset over the Clyde, the dancing lights above Aberdeen.  So much to see and so much to do.

The landscape has evolved to be the microclimate that creates our most famous produce – uisgue beatha, the water of life, a wee nippy sweetie – Whisky.  (There is an old tombstone in a wee kirk yard where some auld drunk lies under a stone saying ’If whisky is the water of Life – what am I doing here?’).  Around the world, the only thing more popular than a Scot is a scotch!

Whisky isn’t our greatest export – it’s us – railway junctions in India, dams in Africa, schools in Australia, even the US Constitution were built by Scottish hands and minds.  Out of hope, necessity or compulsion some left the rains of Scotland for the wider world - some in peace, many in war. There’s an old saying in America ‘One Scot makes a store, two Scots makes a church.’  To which we’ll add ‘three Scots makes a Burns Supper’ –  for it’s the celebration of our national poet that is the most popular (in all senses) birthday party in the world – more people go to a Burns Night now than were alive in Scotland on the day he was born!

Of course the Burns Supper does allow us to take revenge on Scots cooking by knocking the stuffing (literally) out of a big fat haggis. Normally it’s the other way round, for our traditional diet is a bittersweet gift - the auld alliance with France didn’t leave many recipes (unless they invented the deep-fried Mars bar...). We are blessed with wonderful food produce which is only now capturing our changing taste buds (A doctor reported that some evidence of the Mediterranean diet was being seen in Glasgow, ‘albeit in the form of deep fried pizza’). But for all your Michelin stars, there’s no greater joy that a decent fish supper, if you remember that the fish has to be haddock and it should be eaten with a friend in a bus shelter in the rain.

For a nation fabled for being tight with money, we host a grand party -  and the great party is at Hogmanay – good friends, toasts to the New Year, counting down to the bells, Auld Lang Syne (probably not knowing all the words...) and opening the door nervously to see who your first foot is  (may he not be ginger haired please). Then we all gather round until the wee sma’ ‘oors at which point (or pint) it’s time to salvage what you can and leave before the fight starts.

So what’s great about being Scottish? It’s the ability to walk into a bar in Hong Kong, tell the meringue joke and get a laugh from a fellow Scot there, have a drink and make a friend for life. (You know the joke – ‘is that a doughnut or a meringue?’ – ‘no Missus,  you’re right, it’s a doughnut’...). It’s the joy of turning up at Hampden Park or Murrayfield as the underdog, and walking home the victor. It’s the noise of the waves as you play golf on the links. It’s sharing a dram with a stranger at a Burns Supper. It’s standing outside on a cold Hogmanay with only the stars for company as you wait to first foot your best friend. 

That’s why it’s great to be Scottish – and great fun too – so raise a glass to each of us – at home and abroad on this St Andrew’s Day and cheer ‘Here’s tae us – wha’s like us, damn few, and their a’deid!’(FRS: 4.9.09)

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