This was a real Scottish debate in that everyone was talking at once and nobody was agreeing with anyone. The 21-year old Burns, resplendent in his saffron plaid and fashionable tied-back hair, tries to keep some kind of order before drinks arrive via the person of the landlord, Jock Richards.
Burns is in his element, self-appointed as Chairman. It gives him the opportunity to decide the subject to be debated, and whether he wants to speak for or against. So adept was he, he sometimes did both.
The characters and attitude of his seven friends present are shown by the stand and expression. Gilbert, for example, is asleep; Wattie Mitchell sits apart at the top; Hugh Reid glares across the table at Willie McGavin; David Sillar agues with Tom Wright in the white chair and Alexander Brown watches over his shoulder for the tray of penny tumblers of ale to arrive. Note that Tom Wright has had his head shaved ‘for sanitary reasons’.