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A taxi driver’s pride at Scotland’s free education system

On my recent visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh, I visited event venues across the cities, from transformable university libraries to an auditorium shaped like an armadillo.

Across the three days, I met several talented and motivated heads of departments from tourism boards, convention bureaus and events venues, who each knew and loved their cities like a Highlander knows and loves his bagpipes.

During my time in Glasgow, I stayed at Radisson Red on the Scottish Event Campus and ate at The Finnieston. In Edinburgh, I stayed at The Principal on George Street and dined on Orkney scallops at The Printing Press restaurant.

But my visit began at Glasgow airport and as I stepped out of the arrival doors, I was greeted by a beaming grin and the obligatory name card, both held by my taxi driver, Stephen – I could sense I was going to have a brilliant time.

“We’re known for being ‘aggressively friendly in Glasgow’”, Stephen told me as we drove over Kingston Bridge into central Glasgow.

“We’re always here to help, if you ever need anything or if you look lost, Glaswegians will be the first to give you directions.” A claim Stephen would prove on more than one occasion during my time in Glasgow.

As we drove further into Glasgow to meet my first appointment with Fiona Keegan at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology and Information Centre, Stephen took the time to give me a mini tour of points of cultural significance in the city, including the cone-wearing Duke of Wellington.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously in Glasgow,” Stephen explained. “The council removed the cone from his head a couple of times and then just gave up because people always put it back on.

“Now at Christmas, he gets a Christmas tree-themed cone and when we won a medal at the Commonwealth Games, he got a gold-coloured one.”

Duke of Wellington statue in Glasgow.

In between meetings, Stephen delved into snippets of his own life in the city and how he felt he owes Glasgow for everything it has given him.

“Both my daughters went to university here. One is nearly a chartered accountant and the other one has lots of different qualifications, it’s honestly amazing.”

Pride exuded from Stephen as he continued to tell me about Scotland’s free education system, art galleries and museums: “We want our children to experience art and to learn, so all these attractions are free,” he added.

Between pointing out historical or anecdotal landmarks, Stephen spoke fondly about the legacy of sweet treats across Scotland. “That’s what you should take home to your family, Tunnock’s tea cakes and the chocolate bars they do, you can’t beat them,” Stephen explained.

Before I got a chance to schedule in a dash to the local souvenir shops between meetings, Stephen produced a brown paper bag full-to-the-brim with Scottish confectionery, passed it to me and said: “I’m sure your family will like these,” and of course, they did.

My short three days in Scotland was packed full of interesting information, tours, dreamy hotels, impressive venues and enough vegetarian haggis to last a lifetime, but the sugar on top of the shortbread, was my taxi driver, Glasgow-born Stephen Lalley.

Having never visited the loch-filled country before, Stephen was my first impression of Scotland and my lasting one.

The value of a passionate taxi driver is priceless. Beyond being on time, polite and well presented, a taxi driver who can offer your delegates local insights into a destination, portray a sense of pride only a true local would know how to and answer questions, not even TripAdvisor could, is more valuable and impressionable on your delegates than any five-star property or Michelin-star banquet could be.

So, if you want to represent your city in the brightest way, start with partnering with passionate taxi drivers.