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Calton Hill

The Torchlight Procession on the Mound

They came marching out of the old year bearing flaming torches. There were 10,000 of them, citizens and visitors, led by a band of Vikings, and accompanied by the heavy beat of rock music. If I was the New Year, I’d be very frightened indeed, they obviously mean to set me alight.

The Procession ended on Calton Hill

The Procession ended on Calton Hill

There was something defiant and patriotic about the torchlight procession that launched Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay celebrations. By the time the march made its way along Princes Street to Calton Hill, there were over 30,000 people there. Mercifully, the rain held off. Indeed there was a starry sky above us, with Jupiter clearly visible and Orion beginning his tumble across the dark stage overhead.

On the ground, a carpet of lighted torches stretched across the hillside. At the west end, a huge bonfire blazed in the wind. Then the crowd was blown away by a son-et-lumiere show which began with purple lights playing on the pillars of the National Monument and the Trafalgar Tower and ended with great crackles and bangs from a five-minute firework display.

And the torchlight procession was just the beginning of the Hogmanay celebrations. The famous fireworks party marking the midnight hour in Princes Street is catering for its usual 80,000 spectators. A concert in the gardens featuring the Pet Shop Boys and Nina Nesbitt is a sell-out. So too is the outdoor Keilidh at the Mound. And, for those who enjoy their music a little more quietly, there’s a candlelit concert in St Giles Cathedral.

The rest of the country is joining in the fun with fire-work parties in Inverness, Stirling, Stonehaven, Biggar and, no doubt, a string of other towns and villages less well-known for their fire festivals. Glasgow’s George Square will be alight till 10pm but Glaswegians will all be tucked up in bed by midnight by order of the city fathers who fear the drunken revelry of Edinburgh will spread to their more godly city.

This rather special year of 2014 is to be marked by a linked son-et-lumiere show in Inverness, Stirling and Edinburgh earlier in the evening, at exactly 20.14. It’s one of the 430 events of the Year of Homecoming when Scots abroad will hopefully be coming home to watch the Bannockburn re-enactment, the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and, of course, the excitements of the Referendum.

Independence March – confusion over the numbers

I could not help being swept along by the roaring tide of blue which surged down the Royal Mile last Saturday. There were 10,000 people carrying Saltire flags, Yes banners, bagpipes, children on their shoulders. I even saw a couple of pandas. It was a huge turnout – by Scottish standards. The march ended with a rally on Calton Hill, addressed by the clan chiefs of the “Yes to Independence” campaign.

Independence Rally

Independence Rally

The police estimated the crowd at 8,000, the organisers said 30,000, which makes me suspect they were speaking about different things. But the thought that went through my mind as I stood by the Tron Church and watched the parade go by was that this was too big a crowd to ignore. Whatever the outcome of the referendum next year, something will have to be done to assuage this patriotic Scottish fervour.

No less a body than the Electoral Commission feels the same. It has appealed to both sides to spell out exactly what will happen after the referendum, whatever the result. It will be a sore and tender period. It may even be angry.

If they Yes side win, the SNP government says it will begin negotiations on separating from the UK and joining the EU. If the No side win, there have been promises of more powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament. Various conventions have been suggested. But the Electoral Commission says there needs to be greater “clarity” from both sides so that voters can make an informed choice.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon sought to sharpen the differences between the two sides this week by suggesting that in an independent Scotland, the retirement age may not go up as fast as in the rest of the UK. She said an SNP government would review the planned move to age 67 in 2025 because Scotland would be more prosperous and Scots, on average, do not live as long as the English or Welsh. Though, of course she was not against people living to a ripe old age !

The UK party conferences are all sending out frantic messages to Scotland to ignore the SNP and stick with Great Britain next year. The Liberal Democrats said they would be “heart-broken” if the Scots left the Union. Instead, they called for one of those “conventions” on more home rule for the Scots.

Ed Miliband used part of his without-notes speech to plead: “ I don’t want Cathy to become a foreigner.” Cathy Murphy from Glasgow, he told us, collapsed at Labour’s conference in Liverpool in 2011 and was rushed to the local hospital to be treated for a heart complaint. She still goes back to Liverpool for check-ups. “At the hospital, they don’t ask if she’s English or Scottish, they know she’s British.” No doubt we will get more heart-rending stories from the Conservatives in Manchester next week. It’s interesting, though, that the latest census figures for Scotland show that 62 per cent of the population describe themselves as “Scottish” and only 18 per cent as “Scottish and British.”

Kenny MacAskill Justice Secretary

Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

Meanwhile the SNP keep on governing in Scotland. The justice secretary Kenny MacAskill told parliament he was pressing on with his plan to abolish the “corroboration” requirement before cases of rape or sexual assault are brought to court. He said the corroboration rule was unique to Scotland and was formulated in a different age. “It’s a barrier to obtaining justice for the victims of crime committed in private or where no on else was there,” he said.

A review by Lord Carloway found that of 141 sexual offences not taken to court in 2010 because of a lack of corroborating evidence, two thirds would probably have led to convictions. I must say, though, that I find it rather worrying that I could land up in court on a charge of rape, simply on the say-so of a women with a grudge against me. And I am not alone. The Law Society, the Faculty of Advocates and the Police Federation are equally worried about dropping the fairly obvious need for corroboration.

As with any legal matter of course, the debate is somewhat confusing. The requirement for corroboration does not apply in the case of scientific evidence. And on his side, Mr MacAskill is taking the precaution against miscarriages of justice by requiring juries to reach a verdict by a two-thirds majority.

Cyclists - concerned about the court ruling

Cyclists – concerned about the court ruling

Another worrying case – for me as a cyclist – is the appeal court ruling this week that a driver who killed two cyclists should only be banned from driving for five years. Gary McCourt served a two year jail sentence nearly 20 years ago when he killed his first cyclist but he was back at the wheel again two years ago and knocked an elderly woman off her bike. He was sentenced on that occasion to 300 hours of community service and a five year ban from driving. The prosecution service appealed, on the grounds that that was too lenient a sentence. But the appeal court judges didn’t agree.

The cyclists’ lobby are rightly outraged. They want McCourt banned from driving for life. They also want a presumption of fault for drivers in all accidents involving a cyclist. Car drivers, they say, are in charge of a large and powerful machine and it is up to them to avoid hitting cyclists. Too right.

I suppose it’s a case of sticking up for the underdog in the war of the highways. I’m also in favour of the underdog in football. I was glad to see little Greenock Morton beat Celtic 1-nil on Tuesday night and knock them out of the League Cup….even though it was with a penalty in extra time. Justice is sometimes a hard thing to pin down.

Calton Hill, best not mentioned <em>Picture: Andrewyuill</em>

Calton Hill, best not mentioned Picture: Andrewyuill

By Diane Maclean

As Edinburgh once more puts on its glad rags and prepares for the deluge, it would be inhospitable of us here at The Caledonian Mercury not to pre-warn visitors of a few hidden dangers lurking between the cobbles and the disintegrating tram-tracks. (That’s two dangers for starters and they don’t even make the list.)

As you pack your suncream and thermals, Alka-Seltzers and The Dictionary of Pretentious Quotes, factor these potential pitfalls into your preparation. As we say here: fail to prepare and prepare to… fall victim to the dreaded Edinburgh Festival madness. You have been warned.

Altitude sickness
The Athens of the North it may be, but if you’re seeking a European capital comparison you’d be better thinking of Rome. No, not because we’re suave, drive around on egg-blue scooters and have a pathological dread of efficiency – but because, like Rome, Edinburgh is built on seven hills.

Being of a Presbyterian nature, we don’t go in for namby-pamby names like Aventine and Palatine. Here it’s simply “the big hill that goes down to the Cowgate”, “the killer hill that goes down Broughton Street”, another few bigger and smaller hills – and Arthur’s Seat, the remains of a spewed-up piece of supervolcano where you get great views and can do fantastic roly-polies.

There’s also Calton Hill, but the less said about that the better.

Sex
You may think that here in the cold, dark north there’s a somewhat prurient attitude to sex – and in many ways you’d be right. John Knox’s “monstrous regimen of women” may well still believe that “sex is something you use to carry the coal in”. But not for nothing are Morningside’s elite referred to as dressed in “fur coats, nae knickers”.

The steely gaze of Protestant forefathers would discourage even the most ardent admirer, yet wander off Lothian Road and you find yourself in the midst of the “pubic triangle”, where sex shops and strip bars abound. So many contradictions, so much potential for a slap in the face. If in doubt, don’t risk it. Other than that, there’s not a Scottish lass or lad around who wouldn’t fall for this classic chat-up line: “If you were a burger at McDonalds I’d call you McBeautiful”. (The Caly Merc advises readers to use this gambit at their own risk.)

Time
The locals would suggest that during the Festival, time is illusory, with normal 15-minute journeys taking up to a fortnight. Time can be confusing for visitors, too. You could try turning to the locals to help, but they’ll just growl at you.

Daybreak is in the middle of the night and night-time doesn’t begin until after midnight. Your body clock is probably kaput, what with all the battered food, strong drink and getting repeatedly lost in the pubic triangle. Luckily, there is always the One O’clock Gun to keep you right – if, that is, the fright doesn’t kill you. Oh, and remember the clock at the Balmoral Hotel is kept deliberately fast in order to encourage tardy train-travellers to get a move on.

Wildlife
There’s the usual variety of animal life in Scotland’s capital. Beware the urban foxes (Stockbridge ladies of a certain vintage). Scarier, though, are the biggest and most brutal seagulls imaginable. Not only are these winged behemoths everywhere, but – even when not visible – their maniacal dawn cackling is enough to waken even the most comatose drunk. Brollies, when not needed for the rain, are to be encouraged to ward off both aerial attacks and seagull bombs.

If that wasn’t enough to worry about, there’s always the potential of jailbreaks from Edinburgh Zoo. Although it’s probable that the story of escaped wolves is a myth, the zoo has had problems in the past with its animals. As recently as July, a baboon made a partially successful bid for freedom.

Edinburgh is a city where if you think you’re seeing pink elephants, you might just be seeing pink elephants.

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Greyfriars Bobby <em>Picture: Michael Reeve</em>

Greyfriars Bobby Picture: Michael Reeve

Last week saw the statue of Charles II returned to Parliament Square in Edinburgh, having had a much-needed facelift – a sort of Botox for monuments – to repair splits and cracks in the lead. Now back on his horse, Charles is sparkling and shiny despite being Edinburgh’s oldest statue.

Monuments and statues say much about our past and present, and Scotland is lucky to have many: some triumphant, some tragic – and others so downright ugly they would turn the watcher to stone.

Animals
There’s a fair share of animal statues scattered across Scotland, with everything from kelpies to dogs. Horses are well represented – but mainly as unknown beasties bearing fighting men in victorious pose.

Edinburgh famously has Greyfriars Bobby, a wee dog whose loyalty to his master will never be forgotten. The Skye terrier was so distraught by the death of his master, nightwatchman John Gray, that he spent 14 years guarding his grave. He gave up the doggie-ghost in January 1872 and soon afterwards Lady Burdett-Coutts erected a statue on George IV Bridge outside the entrance to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar.

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Other petrified animals include a number of penguins in Dundee. These feathered friends commemorate the city’s connection to the South Pole – which is best re-lived with a tour of the RSS Discovery. There, you can walk in the freezing footsteps of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton as they battled to free themselves during the two long years the ship remained ice-locked in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

Clearances
There are monuments across the Highlands to landlords whose names have been associated with the Highland Clearances. Largest of all is the statue of the Duke of Sutherland, which broods over the village of Golspie in east Sutherland.

The 30-metre statue, on top of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh, is of George Granville Leveson-Gower, who is said to have cleared thousands from his land in order to graze sheep. The vigour with which his agents cleared the crofting settlements, sometimes setting fire to whole villages, has resulted in notoriety for both the Sutherland Clearances and the landlord who ordered them.

There have been calls for the statue to be dismantled by those who feel it glorifies a bad deed, and instances of vandalism are not uncommon. A year ago the word “monster” was spray-painted across the plinth in bright green paint.

As a counterpoint to statues like this, Alex Salmond unveiled a three-metre high bronze called “Exiles” in July 2007. Situated in Helmsdale, again in eastern Sutherland, it commemorates the many thousands of people who were forced from their homes and left to find a new life overseas.

A little bit of India
Also in the Highlands is the Fyrish Monument, whose construction is included in the Clearances story. It was built in 1783 by the local laird, Sir Hector Munro – who had just returned from action in India.

There are two versions of what motivated the building of the monument. The first heroic version sees Munro returning from India to a countryside in a state of Clearance, with many hundreds starving. He decided to erect the monument on top of a nearby hill in order to provide them with work. Such was his generosity, so it is said, that once the workers had spent weeks carrying the stones to the summit of Fyrish Hill, he arranged to have the stones all rolled back down again in order that they might be employed for longer.

The second and more prosaic version points out that as Munro was an avid Clearer, the starvation that so shocked him was directly as a result of his own greed.

Either way, the monument – which depicts the Battle of Negapatam, where British troops defeated the Dutch – remains as an example of the complex relationship between landowner and tenant.

Freedom fighters
There are some pretty dodgy statues to William Wallace around Scotland, in particular one that stands at the bottom of Calton Hill which is probably best avoided. Instead, go west to Glasgow where there is a rather endearing statue known as La Passionaria, dedicated to Dolores Ibárruri, a Republican leader of the Spanish Civil War. She was erected in the 1970s in memory of the British volunteers who fought and died fighting against fascism. Of the 2,000 who fought, 500 died, 65 of them from Glasgow.

The statue was controversial at the time of its erection, with the city’s Conservative councillors vowing to demolish if they were ever voted in (it’s still standing). The three-metre statue was meant to have been cast in bronze, but underfunding led to its eventual construction in fibreglass. She stands today on Clyde Street looking out over the River Clyde, arms aloft in triumph, one of the few statues of women in Scotland.

Thieving English
If the fate of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum has Greeks up in arms, then so too does the “kidnapping” of another famous artefact, which stands as yet another example of the perfidious Englishman’s habit of filching other people’s belongings.

Alongside Uig Bay on the Isle of Lewis is an enormous wooden statue of one of the Lewis chessmen – 12th-century chess pieces made from walrus ivory that were discovered there in the 19th century. How they came to reside in London is a long, complex story, but more simple is the Scots’ desire to have their chessmen back.

In September of this year a few of them will make it back to their spiritual home as a few of the precious pieces are driven, under police escort, to Uig Museum for a short period of residency before they’re once more taken back down south.

You’re ‘aving a laugh
We Scots know the benefit of a good belly-laugh, and aren’t afraid to show our gratitude to those that make us giggle in civic fashion. Glasgow is home to the much loved statue of Lobey Dosser (from “lobby dosser”, one who sleeps in Glasgow tenement closes) astride his two-legged horse, El Fideldo. These two bampots come courtesy of the comic pen of Bud Neill, who drew strip cartoons featuring these characters, and others, in a number of Glasgow newspapers in the 1940s until the 1960s.

Meanwhile in Dundee, one of Scotland’s favourite comic-book characters is remembered in a statue of Desperate Dan. He still features in the Dandy, a cowboy with a fondness for cow-pie and a beard so tough that he has to shave with a blowtorch. Dan and his dog, Dawg, live in Dundee, home to DC Thomson & Co, publishers of the Dandy and the Beano.

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Torchlight processionBy John Knox

Over 20,000 torchlit faces paraded past me as I stood at the top of the Royal Mile. Eager faces, foreign faces, home-grown faces, mostly young faces, all swathed in funny caps and looking up towards the flames of their wax-stick torches. They were marching out of the old year at St Giles’ Cathedral and into the new on Calton Hill.

Welcome to the Edinburgh three-day Hogmanay, largest street party in the world.

The Viking hordes from Shetland’s Up Helly Aa led the fiery procession, followed by a pipe band and then a river of flames which took nearly an hour to flow past me. Fireworks blasted into the sky as the march began and, once it reached Calton Hill, still more fireworks lit the murky heavens. The chill of the winter snow was gone and groups of friends, young families and wide-eyed visitors strolled around the streets as if this was the Athens of the South.

But this was just the beginning of a festival which has become a tradition only in the last few years. Before Edinburgh discovered the tourist trade, Hogmanay was a dark and private affair, confined to hotel dining rooms and home parlours.

Now, the Torchlight Procession is followed by a rock concert, headed this year by Biffy Clyro. On Hogmanay itself, 80,000 people are due to attend the street party in Princes Street, sing Auld Lang Syne and watch the midnight firework display. On New Year’s Day there will be a One O’Clock Run down the Royal Mile and a swim in the Forth for the Loony Dookers. There’ll be an open-air folk concert, then another rock concert with KT Tunstall. And finally, on Sunday, there’s a “Big Bash” clash at Murrayfield between the rugby teams of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Glasgow, of course, is staging its own Hogmanay celebrations in George Square headed by Celtic bands Capercaillie, Skerryvore and Salsa Celtica. Skerryvore will then scurry along the motorway to Stirling to perform again on the castle esplanade later that evening. In Aberdeen there will be a firework display from the roof of His Majesty’s Theatre. In Inverness, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Peatbog Fairies and Blazing Fiddles will give a free concert.

And among the small-town celebrations, my favourites are the whirling fireballs in Stonehaven and the bigger and bigger bonfire in Biggar.

It’s as if Scotland is trying to hold back the darkness of winter especially this year. We have staggered out of the worst snowstorms for 40 years and the worst recession for 70 years. Now we are heading into the New Year with our guttering wax-sticks, defiant fireworks and glowing faces.

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Beltane: carbon neutral? <em>Picture: Rob Brown</em>

Beltane: carbon neutral? Picture: Rob Brown

Some will see the recent report from the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust – encouraging tenement and town-house dwellers to close their shutters during the evening and at night to conserve energy – as an excellent idea that should be put into action without delay, backed up by legislation if necessary.

Others will see it as a prime example of the Let’s Make Everyone Miserable Brigade taking advantage of the current climate of financial austerity and eco-anxiety to introduce a new Puritanism.

Happily unaligned and unsure quite what to think, I offer an eight-point guide to energy-saving ideas for the modern age.

Festivals
Christmas lights to be phased out, the streets adorned with nothing more carbon-negative than tinsel, crêpe-paper garlands and sprigs of mistletoe. Bonfire night and Diwali fireworks to be banned, along with that ridiculous Edinburgh Beltane thing which is just an excuse for paint-covered students to run around Calton Hill near-naked while hundreds of cheap-thrill voyeurists look on.

Further Homecoming events will be permitted, but American “clan chiefs” and ex-007 movie stars will only be allowed to leave the country after having turned out their pockets.

Tourism
The firing of the One O’Clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle will continue but only if energy from the blast can be harnessed and used to cook a few dinners. Ditto with 21-gun salutes for Royal weddings and birthdays.

Adjustment of stock at Edinburgh Zoo, with only cold-climate or nocturnal creatures being retained. Keep the aardwolves, the striped skunks and of course the penguins, get rid of the swamp wallabies, the dik-diks and all the damn monkeys. Pack them off to Adelaide Zoo or sell them to circuses, then dim the lights and turn down the heating at Corstorphine.

Housing and community events
Underground air-raid shelters to be revived, with evening community gatherings, or “huddles”, to keep warm. Illumination to come from mobile phones and iPads, which are permanently in use anyway.

The Glasgow subway system to be used in the same way, especially given the recent announcement that it is now wi-fi enabled apart from in the tunnels. The shelters will eventually serve a dual purpose, with most of the population already safely underground when we’re invaded by some other country in response to the defence cuts.

Alcohol
Pubs to host thrice-weekly drink-in-the-dark evenings, increasing to every night by 2015. What does it matter, anyway? The clientele is perfectly capable of moving glass to lips no matter how pished they might be. They can engage in vigorous debates about football and reality TV in the dark, so why leave the lights on?

Likely to prove popular with the anti-bevvy lobby, especially given the recent problems with the minimum pricing bill at Holyrood.

There will be a limited lifting of the smoking ban, but only as a means of navigating to the lavvies using lighters and glowing fag-ends.

Sport and leisure
Few things are as energy-wasteful as football matches played on winter evenings, so floodlights will be turned off, players will be required to wear luminous bibs, and the crowd will be equipped with Petzl headtorches. Given the parlous state of Scottish football, teams will be just as (un)likely to score in the dark, and there would be a marked decrease in refereeing disputes. Results would be unaffected, with the Old Firm winning the SPL regardless.

Skiing to continue, but without any form of mechanical uplift. The Cairn Gorm funicular and the Aonach Mor gondola to be dismantled and sold for scrap. Skiers encouraged to work their way uphill using skins made from flayed animal hide, as part of an ongoing programme of rewilding.

Munrobagging to be outlawed, with walkers restricted to climbing hills no more than 25 miles from where they live. New “Wrong to Roam” legislation to be introduced.

The network of gyms to be expanded, in both urban and rural areas, with all exercise bikes and rowing machines wired directly into the grid via the Beauly-to-Denny powerline.

Parliament
Heating to be turned off in the chamber at Holyrood. It’s completely redundant, given the amount of hot air generated on a daily basis. Some kind of thermal capturing device – akin to the midge-swallowing machines seen in the western Highlands – will be placed in front of the government front bench, with surplus supplies piped to Dumbiedykes, Merchiston and other poor parts of town.

Currently the main energy input would come courtesy of Salmond, Sturgeon and MacAskill, but May 2011 could see it being fuelled by Gray, Kerr and – should she ever emerge from her dormouse-like hibernation – Wee Wendy.

Annabel Goldie to be given a concessionary two-bar electric fire, a tartan scarf and a chunky knitted cardigan, due to the unlikelihood of her party ever finding itself in control of proceedings. Contingency plans are being drawn up for a wholesale restructuring of this hot-air system should George Galloway ever be elected as an MSP.

Transport
There will be a nationwide park-and-ride tram project, although no timescale or budget has been set. Until it comes into operation, the tram carriages currently parked in Princes Street will be used as soup kitchens and lottery booths.

All streetlights to be switched off. The A9 between Perth and Inverness to be closed to motorised traffic and converted to a cycleway.

Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games infrastructure to be drastically downsized, with remaining road junctions sponsored by Greggs the baker. Aberdeen Union Terrace Gardens to be sold to Donald Trump and transformed into a luxury pitch-and-putt course following the unqualified success of his Menie venture.

Plans for a new Forth crossing will be scrapped. Instead, decommissioned warships will be lined up end-to-end between Rosyth and Queensferry and converted into a combined pedestrian footbridge and tidal energy barrier.

The arts
All tall buildings such as the Wallace Monument, Kelvingrove Museum and the Duke of Sutherland statue at Golspie to be fitted with wind turbines, as part of an ongoing Energy Art project. Smaller devices to be fitted to the Donald Dewar statue in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street and to the traffic-cone horse statue at Royal Exchange Square.

There will be a ban on all paintings such as those by Avril Paton, which show beautifully lit interiors of cosy tenement flats on autumn and winter evenings. Such visions of contented, comfortable life are to be discouraged in the face of the grim economic and ecological reality.

PART ONE: FROM HADDOW’S TO THE MOUND

<em>Picture: Andrewyuill</em>

Picture: Andrewyuill

GLASGOW, April 1999: Alex Salmond stood outside Haddow’s off-licence with a bunch of daffodils. The SNP leader wasn’t waiting for a date, but campaigning for the first election to the Scottish Parliament. The daffodils came courtesy of campaigners trying to save a local allotment. Later, I watched as he marched past the somehow aptly named Wee Scone bakery. I’m not just referring to Eck’s shape, but fancied that he might like to be crowned on the Scone of Destiny (hey, and we could all sing Flour of Scotland).

Then he stopped across from Donut Magic – did I mention we were in Glasgow? – to address a comatose infant in a pram. At least, it was comatose by the end of the exchange.

A few days later, the prince from over the water – Sean Connery – arrived at a nouveau-glib conference centre in Edinburgh, not far from the hoose in which he’d been born and raised. Handsome as a mature oak, he glad-handed the adoring crowds – at the back of which stood two Scottish Socialists bearing a big placard saying “Shcottish Shoshialisht” in mockery of Sean’s affected lisp – and fended off the usual question from the press: “Why don’t you live here?” How I wished he would answer: “Because it’s full of traitors like you.”

The election was a dull affair. In 1707, when Scotland lost her Parliament (sold off by the Craven Scotch of their day, described by Burns as “a parcel o’ rogues”), there were riots in the street and talk of raising an army to take back our freedom. Fast forward 302 years, and there was little sign of political life on the streets, apart from the occasional SNP car belting out Caledonia. It’s the same all over the western world, of course (though they tend to eschew Caledonia), but you’d think a brand new Parliament might cause a bit more stir than the now traditional apathy of a sophisticated – ken? – democracy.

In the line of duty (I’m a professional dipsomaniac), I visited Milne’s Bar, in Edinburgh, former haunt of Scottish literati such as ardent Nat Hugh McDiarmid, but couldn’t find anyone who gave a hoot.
Maybe they found politics too ludicrous, taking McDiarmid’s life as an inspiration for that perception: Hugh was banned from the Communists for being a Nationalist, and banned from the Nationalists for being a Communist.

The dullness continued at a Nat rally on Calton Hill. I’d been to one of those a good few years before, and was gobsmacked at the Brigadoon finery in which the largely eccentric crowd had clothed itself. Today, it was suited and booted or otherwise sober and civic. Realpolitik had banished the romantic and fantastical. Alex Salmond banged on like a self-help guru about confidence and positive thinking. Given Labour’s scaremongering, the Nats could have called their manifesto: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

However, among the electorate it was more a case of Feel the Sneer and Sod It Anyway. Not that democracy was totally dead in Scotland and the rest of Britain. One million people allegedly wrote or phoned Kellogg’s to demand that Choco Crispies should revert to their old name of Coco Pops. Surreal, or at least, cereal.

At the count in Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, leading political candidates minced hither and yon. These included Sister Athletica, William Wallace, and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.

Lord James was standing for the Revolutionary Lesbian Collective Front. No, in a surprise development, he was a Tory and was to become one of the more engaging adornments of the Parliament, after he was voted in on the vote-one-get-one-free deal, or proportional representation as psephologists call it.

William Wallace, at least as recreated here, was a woad-faced bloke clad in plaid and brandishing a shield, that essential accoutrement of 20th century democracy. He was standing for the Braveheart Party, having been selected unanimously by its entire membership: himself.

I asked an election press officer who the person in a nun’s outfit was, and he replied: “I’m not sure, but he’s got a bit of a moustache.” It turned out that Sister Athletica was what he called the Liberal Party, though nothing to do with the Lib Dems, of whom he said: “This time they have gone too far. Underneath, they’re all cross-dressers.” Yes, that’s what I’d heard.

Proceedings weren’t helped by the city officer’s inaudible announcements, as he declared things like: “Ahenshin plea. Embra Wess. In hootenanny two coleslaw adjudication of honk tweet. Arf.”

Hacks desperately chased press officers for a translation, which would turn out to be something like: “Please note that pies are not to be thrown in the main seating area. Thank you.”

If you don’t want to know the result of these first elections, look away now:
Labour (56 seats); SNP (35); Conservative (18); Liberal Democrat (17), Green (1), Socialist (1), Independent (1).

The poll was carried out on the basis of a simple form of proportional representation, which I am far too busy to explain to you here. Suffice to say that, this being Scotland, the Conservatives didn’t actually win any constituency seats, and the party that came fourth joined the government.

More interestingly, the Nats were now an official opposition. Suddenly plunged from a handful of MPs in a London Parliament that never took them seriously, here they were – in numbers, in suits, in an actual Scottish Parliament.

It was all a little odd, a little new, and a little exciting. But then Scotland is, after all, a little country.