Today marked the royal opening of the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood; an unusual, modern piece of architecture cheek by jowl with other buildings which are many centuries older. In a way it is a reflection of the nation: a deeply ancient past intertwined with the leading edges of modernity; at either end of the Royal Mile where the Queen processed down this morning is the Palace of Holyrood while the great sentinel of the Castle sits atop the other end. And yet in-between these ancient symbols of the Scottish past are the areas where the Scottish Enlightenment took place. Hume arguing his case for a more humanist and moral philosophy and way of life, Hutton walking into Deep time as he became amongst the first scientists to look at the rocks of our land and use his mind to unlock their great ages and the processes which shaped the world, overturning religious superstitions and of course the thriving printing industry which communicated and inspired this revolution in thought and spread it across the continents with missionaries driven to fight the evils of slavery in Africa and Thomas Jefferson, taught by his Scottish tutor, reading ideas of personal liberty and freedom. Today within a few miles can be found in the same city headquarters of one of the largest banks in one direction and one of the leading genetic research laboratories in the other with publishing success story Canongate in-between.

The opening ceremony contained, as these occasions normally do, more than its fair share of pomp. Royal heralds and ceremony are all very well for the tourists and there are few countries that do it as well as we do. However, far more interesting and enjoyable than this royal nonsense were the reading of a beautiful poem by our National Makkar, the Scottish Poet Laureate, my dear Edwin Morgan. Full of beauty, humour, simple advice and above all, his trademark optimism, Edwin was too ill – he is in his mid 80s with cancer – too attend, so his friend and fellow poet and dramatist Liz Lochhead read it in his stead. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra played throughout but the standout moment came when they backed former Fairground Attraction singer Eddie Reader as she sang a beautiful version of Robert Burns’ Auld Langs Syne (thus linking our historical National Bard with our modern Makkar). She began with the older version but halfway through switched to the more traditionally sung version and had the entire parliament and guests on their feet singing, holding their hands as Scots (and many other folks) do when they sing this song. Some really got into the spirit of it and were fairly gie’in it laldy as we say, and the sporrans were bobbing up and down on the kilts. This isn’t something you see in the stuffy old halls of the parliament at Westminster in London or the Congress of America or indeed most other such places, but this is Scotland and if we all feel like linking hands and lustily singing Auld Langs Syne then we’ll just do it. And why the hell not?

It was a rather lovely moment and one of those times where you can only hope that the fine rhetoric will be put into action for the betterment of all. I suspect, however, that like most political arenas we will soon be back to the normal bickerings, back-stabbings, cover-ups, evasions and behind-the-scenes shenanigans that usually accompany the most dishonourable career of politics. But it would be nice to think otherwise, wouldn’t it? That said, as we look back now at the five years since an overwhelming Yes vote in Scotland returned a devolved parliament to Edinburgh I still think it was the correct thing to do and believe I was right to add my cross to the Yes vote on the ballot organised by the late Donald Dewar. Despite the many stumblings, scandals and cock-ups the existence of the parliament and it’s far fairer electoral system (mixing traditional first past the post with an element of proportional representation) have give the citizens of Scotland a much greater say in their democracy. Both private individuals and minority political parties have been elected by this system, giving a greater diversity of opinion – witness a nice brace of Green MSPs for instance. It has also allowed far easier access for individuals, groups, unions and charities to petition their representatives and influence their policy, which can only be a good thing. I am sure I will be lampooning the goings-on at the Parliament in the future, but for now let’s try and think good thoughts.

And to end on a good note, here is a nice fact for the opening day (and a subject close to my heart!): the largest chocolate cake ever baked in Scotland will be served up by the nearby Plaisir du Chocolat in the Royal Mile. If you’ve seen the film Chocolat, the French chef/baker here is along the same lines (he also does the peppers in chocolate as in the film and book). Expensive? Very, but my god it is the most gorgeous chocolate!!! I got a box from there for Melanie’s birthday one year and I can tell you as an expert guzzler of good chocolate that their goodies were heavenly, multiple orgasms in every bite. The only way it could be made better is by dribbling the chocolate over Christina Ricci for me to lick off. Hmmmm, chocolate…….