Out with the old, in with the new?

The Burgess Ticket initiative celebrates the hard work of local figures

Last month the Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council held the fourth consecutive Burgess Awards at the Memorial Hall.

A group of seven new Burgess Elect were presented with their tickets on that occasion, bringing the total of new Burgess appointed in those four years to 39.

This now annual award ceremony has gone from strength to strength during these four years and has developed into probably the most civilised of the RBLCC’s major annual events (i.e. more temperate than the Het Pint; less solemn than the Remembrance Service and a lot less chaotic and raucous than Whuppity Scoorie). The Memorial Hall is filled to capacity these days, with the Burgess Elect and their sponsors, family and friends attending in large numbers.

These numbers are swollen by the children of St. Mary’s School Choir who entertained us all so very, very well. Our sincere thanks are due to them and to their teachers and parents who tutored them, looked after them and conveyed each of them to and from the event. Such is our local talent, the school involved varies year on year.

Each of the newly appointed Burgess accepted their ticket proudly, with each one at pains to thank the RBLCC for their award. This of course is both wholly unnecessary and ignores the fact that the award each is so grateful to receive is in fact our Royal Burgh’s way of expressing our thanks to them for all the services provided by them to others on our community.

The success of this ancient – albeit recently renewed – tradition is heart-warming and as much a source of immense pride to the RBLCC as it is to the recipients of the award but, this is Lanark after all and accordingly – to paraphrase Oscar Wilde – “no successful event shall go uncriticised!”

To be fair though (but please note that is just a trite phrase and I seldom feel an overwhelming desire to actually be fair when faced with such criticism), little or no criticism is normally proffered with regard to the event itself and is usually directed at the selection panel’s choice of Burgess Elect (and prompted by the envy of the critic?).

The rant normally splutters irately along the lines of: “Who is he/she?”; “Whit has he/she ever done fur Lanark?”; Ah’ve done mair in mah day than aw them pit thegither!”; “Ah ken furra fact ah wis nominated, so how come ah didny git a Burgess Ticket?”. The only consolation when subjected to such endearments in the High Street is the thought that the irate critic is never likely to be invited to serve on the Electoral Commission!

But it does reveal that out there in the dark devious depths of the Royal Burgh, there may be a few who are not wholly aware of how the process works and who might be greatly aided by some guidance on same. (I don’t believe that myself even as I write it).

For example, the cry is oft heard, “He canny be a Burgess! He’ no’ frae Lanark!” Wrong. Anybody can be nominated for a Burgess Ticket, provided that the proposer and seconder are resident in Lanark, and that the service for which they have been nominated is/was provided to an organisation or group based within the community of Lanark.
Two people - both residents of Kirkfieldbank - have thoroughly deserved and thus received Burgess Tickets to date.

Another example includes “That’s no’ fair! She’s only lived in Lanark for five minutes. It should only go to folk that were born here”. It has nothing whatsoever to do with place of birth (thank Goodness, I was born in Bellshill – but only because my mother was there at the time! – and I was only there for a week but I was 10 days premature!). It is entirely based on the contribution made to the commonwealth of the community of Lanark.

I know many ‘died in the wool’ serial Lanarkians, born within the Marches and now liable to be buried nearer Tinto, who have never contributed anything of note (other than some very imaginative abuse towards those who do) that is likely to promote Lanark’s past, enhance its present or secure its future.

Similarly, I know many proud Lanarkians who, born and raised far from the influence of genteel and civilised society (if you’ve ever travelled beyond the Clyde, the Mouse or Tinto, you will know whereof I speak) and who, having happened on Lanark while visiting the provinces (usually for the Lanimers), were so impressed by the obvious strength of the community spirit on display that they  subsequently chose to settle among us and went on to immerse themselves in - and greatly enhance - that same community spirit.

If the former would stop moaning long enough to seek alternative accommodation in some far flung airt where folk might give a toss about their opinion, we might better recruit more of the latter to secure the energy, wit and imagination that will be required to secure a future for the Royal Burgh.

At the last Burgess Awards, we also introduced a new Burgess of the Royal Burgh of Lanark medal. These medals were given out to all of the new Burgess that night and also to any of the recent Burgess Ticket awardees of the past four years who were present on the night. Medals will also be provided for the remainder of the 39 Burgess appointed since 2013.

The RBLCC has as yet to assess the costs involved in presenting one of these medals to any and all living Burgess Ticket holders awarded their Ticket prior to 1975. Watch this space.

And – speaking of space – it is a fact that many people who were heavily and constructively involved in the community in that ‘space’ of 38 years twixt 1975 and 2013 and who would undoubtedly have been nominated and appointed Burgess if there had been no lapse in the tradition, are unfortunately and accidentally penalised for several reasons, any of which might prompt the High Street rants.

A: Is that they were and are still so well-known that everybody assumes that they were made Burgess years ago. RBLCC V-C Leonard Gray is a classic example of that genre which happily, in Leonard’s case, was noted and rectified by his sponsors in 2014.

B: The second is that the qualifying service was itself provided 20-30 years ago, thereby limiting any potential proposer/seconder to the 55+ demographic. For obvious reasons this will increasingly tend to exclude worthy nominees who, in their day, would have been automatic choices.

C: The selection panel consists of six prominent and active members of the community. Since no-one who has been nominated, or who has nominated or seconded someone, is permitted to be on it this panel varies from year to year. Members of the panel choose independently from the nominations and apply their own criteria. Thus the demographic of this panel may reinforce B above and favour candidates whose service to the community is current.

If you have questions, send them to this site and I will attempt to clarify!



Frank Gunning shares his views on various local issues in his Let's Be Frank column.