I know many readers of this blog will have visited the Scottish Parliament on countless occasions, but today was actually the first time I had ever ventured inside. A friend from Spain had been saying since June that she'd quite like to go and see a parliamentary debate, and we finally got round to it. When Michael Matheson rose to wind up the afternoon session, she whispered in my ear "Is that the First Minister of Scotland?", and I replied "no, no, he's just A minister, he's not the First Minister". Mishearing what I said, she concluded that Michael Matheson is the Eighth Minister of Scotland! Which of course is perfectly logical - way back when it all started in 1999, I wondered why on Earth we had a 'Deputy First Minister' rather than a 'Second Minister'.
The main downside of getting an eyeful of all (or nearly all) of Holyrood's finest in one go is that it kind of eclipsed the snail-paced pleasure of my ongoing "how many past and present party leaders can I spot on trains?" game. My tally had stood at two - Annabel Goldie and Wendy Alexander (as long-term readers know, I will forever associate the sight of Ms Alexander with excruciating pain on the Glasgow subway). Alas, I didn't spot Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott today, but I did see Iain "the Snarl" Gray, Alex Salmond, Patrick Harvie, Willie Rennie and, most thrillingly, Johann Lamont, who managed to delight almost no-one with a rambling bogus point of order that had something vaguely to do with the EU and Google (I think).
I was quite impressed with the general 'unfussiness' of the experience of visiting the public gallery. Of course that may have been because it was a quiet day - it had the distinct feel of an "after the Lord Mayor's show" occasion. But the security check at the entrance was friendly and efficient, and there was no other hassle anywhere else. It's refreshing to find that you can just wander in off the street in a relatively nonchalant manner and see the nation's democratic process in action.
Oh, and this may just be a cruel coincidence, but I can honestly say that my Spanish friend complimented the SNP and Tory members on their diction, but couldn't understand a word the Labour MSPs were saying (and that was without even hearing from my increasingly legendary namesake). Having said that, being able to understand the Tories may have been something of a mixed blessing, given that Jackson Carlaw seemed to be shamelessly indulging in a foreigner-bashing 'joke'.